Sunday, May 17, 2009 3:19 AM
By Mark Znidar
The Columbus Dispatch
At approximately 3:30 p.m. yesterday, Ohio State baseball players headed to a picnic with parents and friends just beyond the right-field wall of Bill Davis Stadium.
The meal went down hard.
The Buckeyes had come from behind twice to defeat Iowa 8-6 and sweep a three-game series, but it looked as if their reward would be a second-place finish in the Big Ten and a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which starts Wednesday in Huntington Park.
What Ohio State needed to win the regular-season championship was a Minnesota loss to Penn State, and the Gophers were leading 8-5 in the fifth inning.
Shortly before sundown, however, Penn State pulled off a 10-8 upset and Ohio State (39-15, 18-6) was celebrating its first Big Ten title since 2001. Its first-round conference tournament game will start at 7:05 p.m. Thursday.
"We're going crazy -- absolutely crazy," designated hitter Ryan Dew said. "I can't explain how happy we are. We tried to focus on Iowa, and we took care of our business. But we were so depressed when our game was over and we saw that Penn State was down. I'm going to get on Facebook and message a lot of those Penn State guys for what they did for us."
Ohio State didn't back in. It won five of its last six Big Ten games and seven of its last nine.
The Hawkeyes led 4-0 and 6-5 yesterday, but the Buckeyes refused to fold. Third baseman Justin Miller capped a five-run sixth inning with a two-run homer to provide a 5-4 lead, and Tyler Engle drove in the deciding two runs with a bases-loaded single in the eighth.
Jake Hale pitched a perfect ninth inning to record his 15th save, an Ohio State season record.
"I had to get the win for my team," he said. "When I hopped the fence (to come into the game), it was a total blackout. I was focused."
Ohio State's portfolio is so impressive that it might have sealed a bid into the NCAA Tournament and jumped to the forefront among those teams seeking to play host to a first-round regional.
The Buckeyes have an RPI of 30, have been ranked much of the season and have a signature victory over the University of Miami.
"Now we have to win the conference tournament to take doubt out of anyone's mind about Ohio State deserving to host a first-round regional," Miller said. "We set a goal early to get that ring, and we've got one. We've crossed off the first goal."
Coach Bob Todd reminds incoming freshmen that players from the Big Ten regular-season championship team, not the conference tournament champion, get rings.
"We're all speechless," second baseman Cory Kovanda said. "That ring is going to be special. It's something to cherish. It's a year's worth of memories on your hand. We've worked so hard to do this since coming to Ohio State."