The bad news – despite that fact, the Buckeyes still have an 8-10 Big Ten record.
"You see how close you are, and it makes you say ‘Oh man' again," head coach Greg Beals said.
Last weekend at Penn State, the Buckeyes had their share of "oh man" moments, too. After winning the first game of the crucial set, the Buckeyes lost game two by a 5-4 score. Ohio State actually took a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning, but Penn State came back in the latter half of the frame to score two without the benefit of a hit.
A day later, OSU came back from another eighth-inning deficit to force extra innings, and the Buckeyes took a 7-5 advantage in the lead half of the 10th. Then, with two outs, closer Josh Dezse walked two batters before giving up a walkoff three-run homer.
Considering Beals and his staff seem to prize competitiveness – or maybe it's grittiness – over almost all else, those close losses are doubly frustrating.
"We need to find a way to win those one-run games," Beals said of a team that has lost five straight one-run contests. "I would think that the competitive nature of our team would get us over that hump. It just hasn't seemed to have paid off for us, especially of late."
There's no time for moping, though, with the Wildcats coming to town. To that end, the coaching staff had the team only lift weights Monday and took Tuesday – originally scheduled to be a contest vs. Youngstown State before that game was scrapped – off. When the squad arrived at practice Wednesday, energy-boosting pop music was blaring from the speakers at Bill Davis Stadium.
"Losing one-run games, especially the walkoff on Sunday, that's demoralizing to any team's morale," center fielder Tim Wetzel said. "But I think the guys in the clubhouse know we have each others' backs and that's really all that matters so we'll get through it."
A rebound is necessary, and the team – which once flirted with the top 30 in the RPI and a possible at-large NCAA tournament bid – knows it. The Buckeyes' Big Ten mark leaves them in eighth place in the league, a game and a half behind the fourth-place tie of Nebraska, Michigan State, Illinois and Penn State, all of whom are 8-7. Ohio State has only six Big Ten games left while the others have nine going into the three games with Northwestern.
Making the conference tournament, which features the top six teams, is a priority with it taking place in Columbus' downtown Huntington Park.
"We have to win the series," Beals said. "But we're not going to try to do anything different than we've done every weekend. We need to win this series this weekend. We go out every weekend trying to win the series. Our preparation, our game plan, how we're going to go about doing it really isn't changing at all."
The series should be low-scoring, as college baseball has turned with new bat standards adopted a season ago and the game's general move that way as well. That has helped eliminate some of the margin of error in games, which has hurt Ohio State in recent contests.
While Ohio State is hitting just .249 in conference games (ninth) with four homers, while Northwestern is at the bottom of the league in batting average (.229) and runs per game (3.0). On the flip side, the Wildcats are fourth in the league with a 3.62 ERA.
"They're going to pitch," Beals said. "Their offense has not been producing a whole lot for them. They're going to pitch the ball extremely well. I expect it to be a hard-fought, low-scoring type of weekend."
Ohio State will try to start the series on the right foot tonight at 7 p.m. with the game televised on the Big Ten Network. Jaron Long, who is 4-2 with a 1.98 ERA, will try to start things on the right foot before the teams meet Saturday at 6 and Sunday at 1.
"We still have six games to go, and we're definitely in the heart of it," Long said. "We're a game and a half back. You've seen crazier things happen this game for sure, I can tell you that."