Down 3-0 going to the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 1 of the Big Ten tournament at Huntington Park, Ohio State had only three hits off Minnesota starter T.J. Oakes with first-team All-Big Ten closer Scott Matyas warming up in the bullpen.
But the Buckeyes never stop believin'. Head coach Greg Beals said the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" is constantly played on the team bus, and the fourth-seeded Buckeyes channeled that classic hit to stage a remarkable comeback, putting up five runs in the eighth to earn a 5-3 win and advance to the winners' bracket of the event.
"I think our guys feel that," Beals said of the mantra. "It's kind of become a rallying cry for us."
OSU center fielder Tim Wetzel, second baseman Ryan Cypret, third baseman Matt Streng and left fielder David Corna came through with runs batted in, while the fifth-seeded Golden Gophers committed two errors, including one that allowed the winning run to score.
"We have confidence in ourselves that we'll succeed when we need to," said OSU catcher Greg Solomon.
It was Solomon, the team's No. 8 hitter, who started the rally, putting down a picture-perfect drag bunt down the third-base line to reach on a single to start the eighth. He did exactly the same when Ohio State came back late to beat North Florida on May 4, and once again a bunt from the catcher served as the catalyst.
"It's not an accident when Greg lays down a drag bunt," Beals said. "He has that skill in his game. If he executed the bunt he was going to beat the play out. The third baseman was playing back. It gives you a chance to get things started. It's what we needed."
Shortstop Tyler Engle followed with a ground out, but senior leadoff man Brian DeLucia broke a 3-for-34 slump next with a single to end Oakes' day.
Matyas – who entered with a 1.95 ERA and 0.66 WHIP – was summoned by Minnesota head coach John Anderson, but that only put fuel on the fire. Wetzel greeted him with a sharp single up the middle, scoring Solomon to make it 3-1.
Cypret followed, lining a 3-2 pitch off the foot of Matyas and at Matt Puhl, but the Minnesota second baseman couldn't handle the odd hop, allowing DeLucia to score and leaving two runners on.
Matyas coaxed a strikeout out of Josh Dezse for the second out, but Streng lined a pitch through the hole into right field, and Wetzel barely beat Justin Gominsky's throw to the plate to tie the score – and admitted he might not have touched home base.
"It could have went either way," he said. "I sold it, I guess."
The RBI went down as Streng's 40th of the year, second on the team.
"I was just trying to go out there and hit a fastball," he said. "I faced him a couple of days ago and I knew he was going to try to bust me in because that's what he did at Minnesota. He left a fastball up in the zone a little bit and I was able to drive it through the hole."
Next, a mistake by Minnesota catcher Kurt Schlangan allowed the winning run to score. Streng took off for second, and Schlangan faked a throw before trying to nab Cypret off third, but the throw got by the third baseman and bounced into left. All Cypret had to do was jog home to make it 4-3.
Corna followed with a double off the left-field wall to make it 5-3, putting an exclamation point on the outburst. Matyas was charged with three runs, all unearned, but fell to 1-1.
"Most of the year we've been able to finish close games like that one," Anderson said. "Scott Matyas proves he's human."
Dezse came on to finish the game and threw a 1-2-3 inning, reaching as high as 97 mph before finishing things off with a eyes-high, 96 mph fastball that A.J. Pettersen swung through. It was save No. 6 for the freshman closer.
With the win, OSU (26-25) moves into the winners bracket and will face either No. 1-seeded Illinois tomorrow at 7:05 p.m. or No. 2 Michigan State at 3:35, depending on the result of the matchup between No. 3 Purdue and No. 6 Penn State currently taking place in downtown Columbus.
"We stayed positive in the dugout," Streng said. "We just had to string together a few big hits and we were able to do that."
That Ohio State would be in the winners' side of the equation looked unlikely before the rally. Riding an excellent slider, Oakes, a third-team All-Big Ten choice, had allowed only two OSU runners to reach scoring position in the first seven innings.
Minnesota hadn't fared much better against Buckeye ace Drew Rucinski, but the Golden Gophers did enough to scratch out the 3-0 lead.
First, Gominsky and first baseman Nick O'Shea had consecutive singles in the fourth with one out, and Gominsky crossed the plate when DH Dan Olinger hit what should have been an inning-ending double-play ball but Dezse was ruled to have been off the bag at first for the final force.
Rucinski limited the damage until the eighth when he gave up consecutive singles to Andy Henkemeyer and Gominsky before being pulled. Lefthander Andrew Armstrong came in but was greeted by a two-run double by O'Shea that made it 3-0.
Senior righthander Jared Strayer got the last out of the eighth and stood as the winning pitcher, improving to 4-3.