Buckeyes bounced from tourney, await fate
COLUMBUS – There will be a championship game in the Big Ten Tournament at Huntington Park tonight but it will not include the regular season champs after Ohio State was bounced from the loser's bracket 9-6 Saturday by Minnesota (38-16).
The second-seeded Gophers will go on to play No. 3-seed Indiana in the tournament title game – their fourth game in two days – while the Buckeyes (40-17) can do nothing but wait as their post-season fate as an NCAA at-large team is now in the hands of the committee.
"I think we will be playing next weekend," said Ohio State coach Bob Todd after his team's second loss in as many days. "Now it's a matter of whether it will be in Columbus or somewhere else."
The top-seeded Buckeyes tallied 15 hits off Gopher pitching, but 13 of them were singles as OSU hitters failed to come up with the clutch hits in the key moments as they left 10 men stranded in a 3-run ball game.
"All it does is put people on base and then we didn't get the big hits to drive in the runs," Todd said of his team's 13 one-baggers. "All it does is set the table."
After coming from behind to win their tournament opener 7-4 over Illinois Thursday, the Buckeyes were sent crashing to the loser's bracket Friday following a 13-3 loss to the red-hot Hoosiers. Ohio State had junior Eric Best on the mound Saturday as they attempted to earn at least one more shot at Indiana –the Buckeyes would have had to beat the Hoosiers Saturday night and again on Sunday to win the tournament title – but the big lefty could not get out of the fourth inning, as he allowed five runs on nine hits in just 3.2 innings of work.
"There were a couple pitches he was throwing over the play and they came out swinging," catcher Dan Burkhart said of his battery mate. "They really took advantage of every little mistake he made out there."
Best, who fell to 7-4 this season with the loss, allowed four runs in the top of the first inning as Minnesota tallied six hits in the opening frame, including two doubles. The Buckeyes responded with three runs in the bottom of the first as they started the game with five straight singles off starter Scott Fern.
They tied the game at four runs apiece on an RBI-single by centerfielder Michael Stephens in the second inning, but Minnesota quickly regained the lead on a solo home run by their own centerfielder Eric Decker – yes that Eric Decker – on a ball that clipped the scoreboard in right centerfield.
Best found more trouble in the fourth inning after allowing the first two batters to reach base and coach Todd elected for the quick hook as he went to Drew Rucinski out of the pen. The right-handed sophomore was able to get out of the inning – much like he did in the seventh inning against Illinois Thursday – but the Gophers got to him for four runs over the next three innings as they took a 9-5 lead into the eighth inning.
The Buckeyes added a run in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI base hit to center by second baseman Cory Kovanda, but Stephens could not deliver the big hit with two runners on and two out. In the ninth inning, designated hitter Ryan Dew ripped a line drive to center with one out but it was hit too well and Decker was able to roam over and make a play. Captain Justin Miller ripped a double just short of the leftfield wall but Michael Arp popped up to end the game.
"During the Big Ten season we brought it 100 percent every day," Kovanda said. "We brought it that first day but after that we kind of relied on eachother; we were looking for someone else to come through and make a play."
With 40 wins this season, the Buckeyes are still very much alive for an at-large bid to an NCAA regional. The university submitted a bid to host one of the 16 regional tournament next weekend, and the chosen sites will be announced Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
The entire NCAA field will not be released until Monday, but the Buckeyes will feel very good about their chances if Columbus comes out as one of the host sites tomorrow.