During a 1-0 complete-game win at Rutgers on March 29, starting pitcher Ryan Riga broke the program record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched. He increased his still-active mark to 29, breaking the previous record of 22 1/3 set by Bob Spears in 1995.
He almost lost not only the streak but also the lead in the bottom of the ninth. Clinging to a 1-0 lead, Riga gave up a one-out single to Tom Marcinczyk with Joe D’Annunzio already on second base. As the ball was fielded by right fielder Pat Porter, D’Annunzio raced toward home. Porter uncorked a one-hopper to catcher Aaron Gretz, who applied the tag before D’Annunzio could swipe the plate.
Gretz had previously gotten the first out of the inning when he gunned down pinch-runner T.J. Perkowski at second base on a stole base attempt. The game ended on a diving catch from Ronnie Dawson in left field to preserve the shutout and the win.
“I still can’t believe that happened,” Riga said of the trio of game-saving plays. “I probably said that 20 times after the game. That ninth inning, Aaron Gretz makes a throw to second base. That’s the first out. The second out’s a throw home. And the third out was a diving play by Ronnie. I owe all three of them dinners, I think.”
Beals said it’s been a while since he’s seen an inning as wild as that one, but he was happy to see his players doing whatever they could to get out of New Jersey with a series win.
“I think it says something about our players and it says something about the fact that they’re willing to just play the game,” Beals said. “They don’t have to be getting hits. Ronnie Dawson didn’t get a hit on Sunday, but he makes two diving catches in the outfield that affected the scoreboard. To have players like that, that can do things both offensively and defensively, is very important to playing winning baseball.”
Riga was beaten to the record books by senior right fielder Pat Porter and senior closer Trace Dempsey. Porter’s 14th career triple March 27 allowed him to pass the previous record holders Jacob Howell (2004-07), Steve Caravati (2001-05) and Drew Anderson (2002-04), all of whom finished with 13. Dempsey who earned his 30th career save in a 3-0 win against Michigan State on March 22, besting the previous record of 29 set by Jake Hale during a career that spanned the 2006-09 seasons.
More than those records, though, these Buckeyes want to be the group that breaks the program’s NCAA Tournament drought that dates back to the 2009 season.
“Since I’ve been here we really haven’t done anything,” Riga said. “We haven’t gone to the postseason and I haven’t gotten a ring. We haven’t won a Big Ten Tournament yet, and that’s ultimately what I want to do and I know that’s what Porter wants to do and what Dempsey wants to do. It’s our last time that we’re able to do that, and I’m pretty sure that’s what’s on our mind.”
The Buckeyes are currently in the midst of a 10-game homestand that will continue on Saturday when they host Penn State for a three-game series that was pushed back a day due to weather. With a 19-7 overall mark and 4-2 Big Ten record, the Buckeyes have a chance to rack up some victories before the schedule stiffens.
They’re 1 for 1 in this stretch of home games, having beaten non-conference foe Ohio on a 10th-inning walkoff home run by L. Grant Davis on April 1.
“Any time you can play at home, it’s a great time,” junior reliever Michael Horejsei said. “The fans come out and hopefully we have some nice weather. Getting on your home turf, it’s just… there’s a different feeling. You feel comfortable, you feel relaxed, you’re at home and you get to go through your daily routines when you wake up and come to the field. Any time you get come here and get these wins, it brings more fans, brings more energy to the stadium and that’s what we need right now.”
With a record of 10-2 at home compared to 6-5 on the road, the Buckeyes are looking to build up their winning percentage in the next two weekends against Penn State and UNLV.
“Our record is showing that (playing at home) does help, and I think it does with the fans here,” sophomore center fielder Troy Montgomery said. “Having a home schedule like this is going to help us out throughout the season. We’re trying to get to 40 wins, and playing at home is definitely going to help us out.”
Farmer’s Impact Still Felt
Prior to a Wednesday practice at Bill Davis Stadium in perfect weather – one of the few times the Buckeyes have been able to practice outside this season – players passed the time by interrupting interviews and kicking around a soccer ball.
It’s the sign of a loose team that knows how to have fun, but the Buckeyes also know when to get serious. Players said that guys have been getting to practice sooner and characterized this year’s team as a more mature bunch than last year’s squad. Beals didn’t have to think long when asked how the Buckeyes were able to put everything in perspective.
“Without getting too serious, I think the Zach Farmer situation has been a big part of that,” he said. “We went through some adversity and we went through some tough times and very learning times. While our win-loss record wasn’t where we wanted it to be last year, our guys learned an unbelievable lesson.
“I think that has helped our guys grow a sense of urgency and sense of opportunity and not taking things for granted. They realize they’re playing baseball here at Ohio State University, and that’s a pretty darn good thing that they have. They’re absolutely maximizing the opportunity that they have.”
Beals Monitoring RPI
Ohio State’s performance thus far has been good enough for a 19-7 record, but the Buckeyes haven’t been mentioned in any of the five major college baseball top 25 polls – Baseball America, USA Today/Coaches, Collegiate Baseball, Perfect Game and D1baseball.com.
That’s fine with Beals, who is more concerned with the all-important RPI. He shaped Ohio State’s non-conference schedule around improving the team’s RPI, and it appears to have paid off. As of April 3, the Buckeyes sat at No. 27 in the Boyd’s World RPI, which is the closest replication of the NCAA’s RPI formula.
“The thing I look at is the RPI,” Beals said. “The ranking, those are votes. The RPI is a computer, and the RPI has us in the top 25. That’s what we can control. We can control our winning and losing. We can control how we play on a daily basis, and that’s what we’re staying focused on – controlling what we can control.
“At the end of the day, if our RPI is in the top 25, we’re going to be playing in the national tournament at the end of the year. That’s what we can control. We can’t control whether a coach or a media member or whatever puts us in the top 25 poll.”