SURPRISE, Ariz. – The difference between Ohio State’s first two games in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge was night and day. Literally and figuratively.
Falling to Utah on Thursday night, 12-0, Ohio State (3-3) bounced back to knock off #5 Oregon State (5-1), 6-1, on Friday afternoon, giving the Buckeyes a signature early season victory and the Beavers their first loss of the season.
“The same team. It’s unbelievable isn’t it?” said seventh-year head coach Greg Beals. “As frustrated as I was last night in not being able to be productive offensively, not being able to make plays on defense, just all of the little things, today was the flip side of that.”
From their first at-bat a different Ohio State showed up in Surprise.
Junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt worked a 10-pitch at-bat before doubling to right field. Moving to third on a single by second baseman Noah McGowan, Gantt scored on an errant pickoff attempt by Oregon State starter Bryce Fehmel. Less than 16 hours after being blanked by the Utes, in a game where Ohio State was twice picked off in the first inning, the Buckeyes grabbed the lead in the opening inning against the Beavers.
“Tre’ Gantt set the tempo of the ballgame with that at-bat in the first inning,” Beals said. “A 10-pitch double, he came and showed us what we wanted to do, the toughness, the competitiveness.”
For most of the game, it appeared Gantt’s run would be enough for the Buckeyes.
Senior right-handed pitcher Yianni Pavlopoulos was dialed in, shutting down an Oregon State offense which averaged 6.4 runs in their first five games.
With Oregon State looking to quickly counter and atone for the early unearned run, Pavlopoulos worked around a one-out double in the first inning by Christian Donahue, stranding the Oregon State right fielder at third base. Oregon State would advance another runner to third with two outs in the third inning, but again the Buckeye starter escaped the inning unscathed. Leaving the two runners 90 feet away would be the closest Oregon State would come to pushing a run across on Pavlopoulos.
“Just getting ahead with the fastball,” Pavlopoulos said on what was key to his strong start. “The changeup for the middle innings was pretty good, I’ve been working on that a lot. Just getting timely groundballs and timely outs when I needed to was the big thing.”
“He pounded the strike zone, got ahead in counts,” Beals said on Pavlopoulos’ second career start. “He was able to use his breaking ball and mixed enough changeups to keep guys honest. The thing I liked was the action on his fastball, he was able to roll a lot of groundballs not necessarily with velocity, but with action. Then mix in the tilt of his breaking ball, it was a great outing for us.”
“The thing I liked was the action on his fastball, he was able to roll a lot of groundballs not necessarily with velocity, but with action. Then mix in the tilt of his breaking ball, it was a great outing for us.”
Keeping Oregon State off the scoreboard for six innings, Pavlopoulos induced eight ground outs, with the Buckeyes playing strong defense behind him. A game after committing four errors in the loss to Utah, Beals noted the support his errorless fielding unit gave their pitchers.
“It started on the mound, we got a great start but we made plays,” Beals said.
The Buckeyes’ standout pitching performance and clean defensive showing was complimented by an offense which received contributions up and down the lineup.
After Ohio State scored the game’s first run, Fehmel retired the next seven batters, keeping the score 1-0 through the fourth inning. But in a matter of two pitches, that changed.
Working a full count, Buckeye senior DH Zach Ratcliff reached first on an infield single which deflected off Fehmel. In the next at-bat, Ratcliff moved to second on a failed pickoff attempt. On Fehmel’s first pitch home to third baseman Brady Cherry, the sophomore sent a hanging breaking ball to the left-field bullpen, putting the Buckeyes up 3-0.
“There’s a man on second, nobody out, he’s trying to drive the ball to right field,” Beals said. “He gets a hung breaking ball and drives it out of the park to left field. That’s the product of a good approach.”
An RBI-single in the seventh scored right fielder Shea Murray, making it a 4-0 game, but the Buckeyes weren’t safely out of danger.
Pavlopulous was relieved at the start of the seventh inning by junior right-handed Seth Kinker. Forcing a pop-up in his first at-bat, Kinker surrendered a single up the middle to Elliott Cary and a double to deep right field to Michael Gretler, as Oregon State made it a 4-1 game. A walk in the next at-bat put runners on first and second, with the tying run at the plate, But Kinker buckled down, inducing a 6-4-3 double play end the inning.
“We got some double play balls. We didn’t help Adam last night with our defense, we helped out pitcher today with our defense,” Beals said. “It was really good Ohio State baseball today.”
Ohio State scored two more runs in the ninth to close the scoring in the 6-1 victory. Eight of Ohio State’s nine batters reached base, seven via a hit, with six multi-hit efforts in the 13-hit Buckeye attack. Cherry and Ratcliff combined to go 4-for-8 with two runs and two RBI.
In an 85-pitch start, Pavlopolous scattered three hits and struck out four batters with three walks. Kinker pitched the final three innings to receive the save, allowing one run off two hits and a walk, with one strikeout. Fehmel received the loss, conceding three runs on seven hits over five innings.
On a team with 14 newcomers, Ohio State’s ability to not only bounce back from a top defeat but to knock off one of the best team’s in the country is something Pavlopoulos hopes resonated with the club.
“It just shows the guys anyone can beat anyone, no matter the situation, on any give day. It was a big confidence booster for the younger guys to just know what we’re capable of when we play a clean game.”