Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ohio State Takes Series From Illini, Move Into 2nd

Have A LOT of catching up to do. Here goes...
Recaps courtesy Ohio State Athletics

Game 1

League-leading Illinois scored three unearned runs in the ninth inning to snatch the first game of this crucial series with Ohio State, 5-4, before more than 5,000 fans at Illinois Field.

Ohio State led, 4-2, after another fine outing from Alex Wimmers, who pitched 7.2 innings and appeared to have the win after closer Jake Hale got out of a runners-on-second-and-third jam in the eighth inning.

Ohio State had been unbeaten entering the ninth inning with the lead this season at 30-0. Hale got the first out of the ninth, but then walked Pete Cappetta to bring Willie Argo, the tying run, to the plate. Argo reached on an error. Then pinch hitter Mike Giller reached on another infield error to load the bases, bringing up Joe Bonadonna. Two-run single to left center to tie the game. The next batter, Casey McMurray, then laced a sharp single to right to win the game and send the record Illinois crowd into a joyous celebration, topped off by fireworks that the Buckeyes had to watch because the place was too crowded with people to make leaving an option.

The loss dropped Ohio State two games behind Illinois and one-and-one-half behind Minnesota, which was taking care of business at Michigan. Heading into Saturday play, Illinois is 15-4, Minnesota is 14-4 and Ohio State is 13-6 with just five Big Ten Conference games to play. Overall, Ohio State is 34-14 and has lost four consecutive games.

This was Ohio State’s game. Michael Stephens hit his third home run in two games – a two-run shot in the first inning – to give the Buckeyes a quick, 2-0 lead. Also scoring on the play was Cory Kovanda, who had singled.

Wimmers kept Illinois in control through the first four innings, not allowing a man to reach base while facing the minimum 12 batters. But Dominic Altobelli led off the fifth with a home run to right that cut the lead to 2-1. The home run ended two amazing streaks for the talented Wimmers: 15.1. hitless innings and 14.2 scoreless innings.

Illinois threatened with a man on second and two out in the sixth, but Matt Streng made a nice play to his left to stab a Brandon Wikoff liner and make the unassisted play at first for the final out of the inning.

The Illini came right back in the seventh, with back-to-back, two-out singles by Matt Dittman and Cappetta to put runners on first and third. But Wimmers reared back and struck out Argo, the .348-hitting freshman with 11 home runs, swinging on a 3-2 count. Whew!

Ohio State extended the lead in the eighth. Stephens reached after getting hit on his right shin. Dan Burkhart then went opposite field – to left center – for his ninth home run of the season and a 4-1 lead. The two RBI were Burkhart’s team-leading 52nd and 53rd of the year.

With the intensity of the game rising with every pitch, Illinois bunched three hits together in the eighth to score a run, making it 4-2, and prompting Ohio State coach Bob Todd to the mound to relieve Wimmers.

So in came Hale (0-1) with runners on second and third and two out. His first three pitches to Aaron Johnson were balls, but Johnson swung at the fourth and Tyler Engle hustled to make a play behind the mound and throw Johnson out to end the inning.

Winning pitcher John Anderson (1-2) worked a scoreless ninth, setting the Illini up for a ninth inning that will probably never be forgotten by their players or the huge crowd on hand. There’s a Big Ten championship at stake, after all, and the home team took a big step toward it tonight. There are two more games left to be played in this series, though.

Game 1 Recap & Notes

Game 1 Box Score

Game 2

Ohio State pounded out 16 hits, including four by team captain Justin Miller, and rebounded from its Friday loss to defeat league-leading Illinois, 10-7, in Game 2 of the series Saturday at Illinois Field. The win keeps Ohio State in third place in the Big Ten standings, 1.5 games behind the new leader, Minnesota. Illinois falls one-half game back of the Golden Gophers with the loss.
There were seven ties and lead changes in the contest, but this game changed within a 60-second span of the first inning. That’s how long it took for Ohio State to get out of a serious situation.

Illinois, sky high after its come-from-behind ninth-inning win Friday, loaded the bases with nobody out in the first, courtesy of a leadoff walk and a pair of singles. But Dominic Altobelli hit a hard bouncer right back to Ohio State starter Dean Wolosiansky, who snapped the ball out of the air and teamed with catcher Dan Burkhart and first baseman Matt Streng to complete a textbook, 1-2-3 double play. Wolosiansky then fielded Aaron Johnson’s grounder and threw to first to get out of the inning without allowing a run.

Wolosiansky, the sophomore who was seeking to become the first 11-win pitcher at Ohio State since Justin Fry in 1999, pitched well enough to get a win, but after giving up two walks in the fifth inning, he yielded the game to reliever Drew Rucinsky, who pitched 3.2 innings to get the win and improve to 8-2 on the season. Jake Hale pitched a perfect, seven-pitch ninth inning to record his 12th save of the season.

This game, unlike Friday night, was more about the hitting than pitching, though. A game-long breeze reaching speeds of 15-to-20 mph out of the west made for a precarious afternoon with every well-hit fly ball. Advantage Ohio State in that department. Miller hit a two-run home run and had a double as part of his four-hit day, which included three runs and three RBI. Tyler Engle had two doubles, three hits and three runs scored and Ryan Dew also had three hits and three runs to lead the Buckeyes offensively.

Two of the biggest hits of the game came from Cory Kovanda and Matt Streng. Kovanda had the big hit in a three-run fourth inning...a two-out, two-strike, two-out single to give the Buckeyes a 4-3 lead. Zach Hurley, who had two hits and two RBI, drew a two-out, bases loaded walk to bring home the first run of the inning...a play that won’t be in the headlines but one that was certainly crucial at a critical point of the game.

Streng’s big hit came in the ninth with the Buckeyes clinging to an 8-7 lead. He singled to right, driving home two insurance runs to increase the lead to three at 10-7.

“My first few at-bats I had some good swings but things didn’t work out,” Streng, a sophomore from Upper Arlington said. “I was looking for a good pitch to drive in my last at-bat. I fouled a few pitches off and then I worked into a deep count and was able to drive one up the middle. I saw it get past the second baseman and I had to clap and cheer a little because I was excited. We needed those two runs.”

The win not only improved Ohio State’s record to 35-14, but it also stopped the only losing streak the team has been on all season at four games.

Game 2 Recap

Game 2 Box Score

Game 3

Ohio State pounded 16 hits for the second consecutive game to win the series with Illinois on the strength of a 12-7 victory Sunday at Illinois Field. The Ohio State win, coupled with a Sunday win by Michigan over Minnesota, leaves the Buckeyes and the Illini just one-half game behind Minnesota heading into the final weekend of the Big Ten season. Ohio State is now 36-14 overall and 15-6 in the Big Ten. Illinois is 32-16 and also 15-6.
Just two days after losing a Friday night game that appeared in the bag, the Buckeyes were backed into a corner and one loss away from being eliminated from the Big Ten championship picture and a couple losses away from being a fourth or fifth seed in the upcoming Big Ten tournament at Huntington Park.

But this team didn’t quit. It didn’t give in to the pressure and it quite simply didn’t care about its predicament. Instead, it came out of that corner a big way.

This was a championship game from the start. Illinois had Best on the ropes early, scoring two runs off two hits in the first inning and then getting two men on in the second, but failing to score a run. The Illini also had men on in the third but could not add to their 2-0 lead.

The Buckeyes scored a run in the fourth. Burkhart doubled to center, moved to second on a ground out and with two out, Miller’s seventh hit of the series – a single to center – scored Burkhart, making the score 2-1.

Arp started the fifth off on a positive note for the Buckeyes, first-pitch swinging and collecting a single to left. Engle then crushed his first home run of the season out of left center field for a 3-2 Ohio State lead. Matt Streng walked and singles by Hurley and Kovanda increased the lead to 4-2 and closed the day on Illinois starter Bryan Johnson (5-3).

Stephens then greeted reliever Ben Reeser, in his first relief appearance of the year, with a sharp single to left that scored both Hurley and Kovanda for a 6-2 lead.

After Illinois’ Dominic Altobelli countered with his second home run of the series to cut the lead to 6-3, Ohio State retaliated with a single run in the sixth, a single by Kovanda that scored Engle.

Then leading 7-5 heading into the eighth inning, the Buckeyes delivered a series of knockout blows with two out that clinched the win. Burkhart doubled off the center field wall to drive in two. Dew followed with his seventh home run of the season to left center to drive in two more. The very next hitter, Miller, crushed his ninth home run to give the Buckeyes a 12-5 lead.

Hale gave up a home run in the eighth, but that was all and after a 3-up-3-down, ninth, the Buckeyes celebrated with their sixth series win of the season.

Game 3 Recap & Notes

Game 3 Box Score

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