The Buckeyes had to play two games, back to back, in temperatures in the high 80s just hours after losing a heart-breaking 5-4 game to top-seeded Purdue. Facing quality Nebraska and Michigan State teams with the specter of the season being over, in the heat, in a 24-hour span, was just hard to overcome.
And in the end, the Buckeyes didn't. After downing fourth-seeded Nebraska in the opening game of the day by a 6-2 score, Ohio State lost to the Spartans by the same margin in the middle game of the day to close the double elimination event.
"We started to run out of gas," head coach Greg Beals said when his second campaign came to a close. "I really, really was proud of the way our guys competed in this tournament, but I felt like we ran out of gas a little bit."
OSU finished the tournament at 2-2 – winning two games for the first time since 2007 – and the campaign at 33-27. The Buckeyes improved their win total by seven for the season after the team went 26-27 in Beals' first year, leaving the team proud of the progress it made but hopeful of more in the future.
"Purdue the other night was one of the top-ranked teams in the country," first baseman/closer Josh Dezse said. "We're this close. We've played teams like that … and beat good teams. We just need to put it together where we can go out and play our style of baseball every day."
The loss to Michigan State (37-20) in Game 7 also served as the final game for senior right fielder David Corna, infielder Brad Hutton and pitchers Andrew Armstrong and Paul Geuy. Freshman catcher Aaron Gretz led the OSU attack with three hits, an RBI and a run.
Ohio State struck first with a pair of runs in the fifth. Corna's swinging bunt got him on to start the frame, shortstop Kirby Pellant sacrificed him to second and Gretz drove a single through the hole on the left side to plate Corna and make it 1-0.
An MSU error kept the inning alive, and designated hitter Mike Carroll later laced a bases-loaded single to right that scored Gretz. However, Cypret was gunned out at the plate by MSU right fielder Jimmy Pickens – though he may have gotten under the tag – to end the inning.
Michigan State players and head coach Jake Boss Jr. pointed to the play as a possible turning point, but Beals disagreed.
"I don't know if it's a momentum shift," he said. "We're winning 2-0 at the end of that play. It took a perfect throw to get us out. There were two outs and in that situation, we're off on contact. I'm sending that guy 9½ times out of 10 in that situation. I'm not second-guessing that. I give the guy credit for making the throw."
Freshman starter Trace Dempsey allowed an MSU runner to reach scoring position in each of the first four frames but had emerged unscathed. His luck ran out in the bottom of the fifth.
Dempsey – whose scoreless innings streak reached 12.2 coming into the frame – hit Justin Scanlon to start the inning and gave up a single to Jordan Keur that moved Scanlan to third. After two flyouts made it look as though the freshman might get out of the jam, Ryan Krill singled home Scanlon.
That was all for Dempsey, who ceded things to Brett McKinney, but two days after a dominating relief outing of 4.2 innings vs. Penn State, the OSU junior didn't have his best stuff. He was greeted by a double by Pickens that tied the game at 2.
Dempsey finished allowing two runs on five hits and four walks in 4.2 innings in just his second career start, though he had earned the win in three straight appearances entering the game.
"You run a freshman into an elimination game of the Big Ten tournament for the second start of his career and he puts four zeroes on the board to start the game – he gave us a fair opportunity to win today's game," Beals said. "I liked what Trace Dempsey did for us."
Michigan State took the lead for good in the sixth, plating three runs on two hits, two walks and a hit batsman off McKinney (5-6) and Armstrong. Keur plated the first run with a fielders choice to Pellant, as the shortstop's throw home wasn't in time to nab Anthony Cheky. Torsten Boss followed with a sacrifice fly and Pickens was hit with the bases loaded as well.
Ohio State could have answered in the seventh when it chased MSU starter David Garner (6-3). Gretz walked with one out and center fielder Tim Wetzel followed with a single, but Boss summoned Bryce Jenner from the pen and the reliever coaxed Cypret into an inning-ending double play.
"That was the big play," Beals said.
The Spartans added a final run in the eighth. Michigan State will go on to face either Purdue or Indiana in Game 9 on Saturday, with the winner of that game playing entering the championship series.
Game 6: (6) Ohio State 6, (4) Nebraska 2
Ohio State coach Beals liked the way his team played the first two games of the Big Ten tournament in downtown Columbus' Huntington Park.
The team's third game was even better.
Ohio State never trailed Friday afternoon against fourth-seeded Nebraska, posting a 6-2 win in Game 6 of the event.
Pellant had an excellent game, going 3 for 3 with two triples, two runs and an RBI, while starting pitcher Brian King went six excellent innings.
"I liked game one," Beals said. "It kind of went as scripted, so to say, as far as the bullpen and how we pitched. Brian King was very good and it was good to see Greg Greve get out there, Armstrong do his thing and Dezse close it down. That's a good ballclub. Nebraska taxed us, no question about it."
OSU took a 2-0 lead in the second inning when Dezse doubled, moved to third on a single by left fielder Patrick Porter and scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Corna. Carroll came around to score on a bases-loaded walk by leadoff hitter Wetzel, which chased Nebraska starter Dexter Spitsnogle (0-1).
The Buckeyes made it 3-0 in the fourth when Pellant led off with a triple and scored on catcher Greg Solomon's single.
Nebraska got two in the sixth off King, but that was all as the junior lefthander improved to 5-5 by allowing only six hits and three walks while striking out five.
"I just tried to go out there and attack the zone," the junior said. "I knew if I was low in the zone I could get some ground ball outs."
OSU pulled away late, as Wetzel singled and later scored on an error in the seventh to make it 4-2. Corna singled to lead off the eighth and scored on Pellant's second triple before the OSU shortstop came home on Solomon's sacrifice fly.
Buckeye relievers Greve, Armstrong and Dezse combined on three scoreless innings with only three hits allowed.