The difference, in the end, showed why Purdue was the league regular-season champion and why the sixth-seeded Buckeyes had to back into the tournament.
In two words, that would be star power. Big Ten Player of the Year Kevin Plawecki gave the No. 18 Boilermakers the lead for good in the seventh inning and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Joe Haase just outpitched OSU hurler John Kuchno as Purdue took a 5-4 victory.
"Give those guys credit," Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said. "Joe Haase competed the way that he does, makes those pitches very well, kept us off balance in the middle of the game very well. And then the player of the year, their catcher, got a big hit and it ended up being the difference in the ballgame."
For the second day in a row, the Buckeyes battled – did they ever. They took a 1-0 lead, fought off a number of Purdue charges to stay in sight of the Boilermakers, reclaimed the lead at 3-2 in the sixth and then nearly overturned a two-run deficit in the ninth before leaving the tying run in scoring position.
The last out – a strikeout on a 3-2 pitch by freshman catcher Aaron Gretz – subdued the mood of most of the 2,257 in attendance, but there was no denying the spectacle provided by the tense, back-and-forth contest in which no one had a lead of more than one run until the eighth inning.
"Obviously it's a tough loss for the Buckeyes tonight," Beals said. "I like how our guys played. I like how we competed. I thought it was a very well-played, very competitive college baseball game. The No. 1 team in our conference and the hometown team went head-to-head in a one-run ballgame. It was a good college baseball game to me."
Plawecki finished with three RBI while Haase gave up just six hits and no walks for the Boilers, who face second-seeded Indiana tomorrow night to advance to the championship game.
Ohio State was led by two hits from co-captain Ryan Cypret and a pair driven in by designated hitter Mike Carroll. But it wasn't quite enough, and OSU will face fourth-seeded Nebraska tomorrow at 12:05 in an elimination game – with another such contest on the docket vs. No. 5 Michigan State at 3:35 should the Buckeyes win the first.
It's a similar situation to a year ago when the Buckeyes lost a heartbreaker Thursday night to Illinois in walkoff fashion before having to play again Friday at noon. This time, Cypret hopes things will be different, as OSU lost the noon game a year ago.
"I think a lot of the guys on the team realize that it is very similar to last year," the second baseman said. "We have a game tomorrow we have to be ready to play. We're playing for something a lot bigger than ourselves – Buckeye Nation right here in Columbus. We have to be ready."
Ohio State (32-26) struck first when center fielder Tim Wetzel and Cypret had back-to-back singles off Haase (10-1) to open the contest. Wetzel ended up coming home on a safety squeeze laid down by Carroll to make it 1-0.
Purdue battled back quickly with runs in the first and second. Plawecki had the RBI in the first with a sacrifice fly into foul territory in deep right to score Eric Charles, while David Miller doubled in the second and came on a fielder's choice – though Tyler Spillner's grounder to short could have been an inning-ending double play ball had shortstop Kirby Pellant not thrown the ball into right field.
The next three innings were an exercise in evading trouble for Kuchno. First baseman Josh Dezse ended a threat in the third by diving to snag a two-out grounder down the first-base line and landing on the bag, while third baseman Hallberg raced behind the plate to snag a bases-loaded foul pop with a sno-cone catch to end the fifth.
That grittiness kept the Buckeyes in the game and allowed them to retake the lead in the sixth. Hallberg singled with two outs and scored a batter later when Carroll split the gap in right-center for his first career triple.
One batter later, Dezse lined a pitch deep into the gap in left center, plating Carroll and giving OSU a 3-2 lead.
But things changed for good in the seventh. Pellant's error allowed leadoff hitter Cameron Perkins to reach, and Plawecki quickly jumped on a Kuchno offering to blast a home run just inside the foul pole in left field.
"John Kuchno is a great competitor, and he got after it today," Beals said after the sophomore righthander's six-inning, 10-hit, four-run outing. "Sure, he'd like to have some pitches back here and there, but I thought the ball Plawecki hit was a quality pitch."
Kuchno fell to 8-4 but hit up to 96 on the radar gun.
Purdue added a run in the eighth when Stephen Talbott singled to lead things off against Andrew Armstrong and scored on Perkins' fielders choice.
Carroll and left fielder Patrick Porter walked in the ninth off Purdue closer Nick Wittgren, with the former scoring on Pellant's two-out, two-strike single to left. But Porter was left at second when Gretz worked the count full but foul-tipped the last offering into Plawecki's glove.
Wittgren earned save No. 10 as Purdue improved to 42-12.