Just last week the Ohio State baseball team was entering a pivotal home series against conference foe Iowa that would provide a glimpse into whether OSU would play in the Big Ten tournament in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 25-29.
Following Sunday’s 8-2 victory against the Michigan Wolverines (34-16, 12-8) at Bill Davis Stadium, there’s a bit more clarity into the Buckeyes’ postseason hopes. The win on senior day completed a three-game sweep over the 19th-ranked Wolverines. With one week to play in the regular season, the Buckeyes have now moved into a tie for third place in the Big Ten standings with Nebraska.
Including a midweek contest at home against No. 18 Florida Atlantic University, OSU (35-16-1, 13-8) has claimed four top-25 victories and has climbed five spots in the Big Ten in a week’s time. Barring a monumental collapse in the final week of the regular season, coach Greg Beals’ squad has likely played into the eight-team Big Ten tournament as well as possible consideration for a NCAA regional berth.
Beals said that this past week has built the team’s confidence in each other.
“I think the confidence is in everybody. Not just confidence in themselves, but confidence in their teammates,” Beals said. “It’s a trust factor. Trust is something that’s in our cultural blueprint.”
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Adam Niemeyer toed the rubber for the Buckeyes on Sunday. The Minster, Ohio, native came into the game sporting a 3-2 record and a 3.54 ERA in 10 starts.
Niemeyer had only walked seven batters the entire season entering Sunday, but he found himself in trouble after walking two straight Wolverines with one out. Pitching coach Mike Stafford came to the mound to calm down his starter, but the next two hitters singled, giving Michigan a run and the early 1-0 lead.
In the bottom half of the first, OSU quickly answered with a leadoff double by senior co-captain Nick Sergakis. The third baseman then moved to third on a passed ball and scored on a Craig Nennig single to center to knot the game at 1-1.
Niemeyer threw 29 pitches in the first inning, but he cruised through the next four. The 6-foot-3 right-hander retired 12 of the next 13 batters, including five strikeouts. Niemeyer effectively located his fastball and fooled opposing hitters with his curveball, making the second-ranked offense in the Big Ten a non-factor.
“I wasn’t executing in the first inning like I should,” Niemeyer said. “After that I settled in and got into a groove.”
He finished five-and-a-third innings pitched, allowing one run on four hits and three walks while striking out seven.
Still tied at one through four, OSU had not had a baserunner since the first inning with Michigan’s lefty Evan Hill inducing weakly hit balls early on. However, in the fifth, OSU took control of the game and never looked back.
Following a walk drawn by redshirt junior Jacob Bosiokovic, co-captain catcher Jalen Washington drove a first-pitch fastball over the right-field wall for his third homerun of the year, putting OSU on top 3-1.
Designated hitter Ryan Leffel — one of 10 seniors recognized before the game — doubled, and two batters later Sergakis walked forcing Wolverines coach Erik Bakich to go to the bullpen. With two outs and two men on, junior outfielder Ronnie Dawson delivered a backbreaking laser to the right-center gap, scoring Leffel and Sergakis to stretch the lead to 5-1.
Dawson had struggled earlier in the year with his ability to produce with men in scoring position. His double in the fifth against the team’s rival was the pinnacle of how important he is to coach Beals’ lineup.
“Runners in scoring position I’m like, ‘OK, I got to get these guys in,’ and that’s when I struggled,” Dawson said. “Now it’s, ‘OK, let’s just hit and let’s just compete,’ and that’s what I’ve been doing lately.”
OSU tacked on one more run in the sixth and hung a two spot in the eighth to clinch the team’s first sweep of Michigan since 2011. Relief pitchers Ryan Feltner, Michael Horejsei and Seth Kinker allowed one run over three and two-thirds innings out of the pen.
Beals said that ending senior day with a sweep of Michigan was a perfect finale to a great class of seniors.
“I’m happy for those guys to know the work, the effort, trials and tribulations that those seniors have been through in their years here,” he said.
OSU sits two and a half games back of Minnesota for first place in the conference, with a three-game set to end the regular season in Minneapolis starting on Friday. Before that, the Buckeyes will host Eastern Michigan in the home finale on Tuesday at 6:35 p.m.