Rally Nets Win For First-Place Baseball

The No. 23 Ohio State baseball team increased its Big Ten lead Friday night. It wasn't easy, but that's OK with the gutty Buckeyes, who played as a team to fight back from an early three-run deficit and earn a walkoff win in the ninth inning over visiting Northwestern.

Head coach Bob Todd was worried that Cory Kovanda wouldn't get his due, but he should have known better given the way the Ohio State baseball team has played this year.

The 23rd-ranked Buckeyes have shown character and played fundamental baseball all year long, and Friday night in front of a rowdy season-high home crowd of 1,758 was no different. Ohio State battled back from an early deficit to take a 5-4, walkoff win against last-place Northwestern to improve to 30-9 on the year and stretch their Big Ten lead to one game over Illinois.

The Buckeyes scored two in the ninth to get the win, and Kovanda was in the middle of the rally. His sacrifice bunt allowed Zach Hurley to score the tying run on Dan Burkhart's single, and Justin Miller's RBI fielder's choice sent his teammates racing onto the field in celebration as fireworks went off in the background.

"Everybody's kind of fell into their role and they know their part," Kovanda said. "There's not much selfishness on this team, and that's a good sign. That's where championships come from. I just tried to do my part and then everybody else did theirs and we won the game."

The team win was Ohio State's seventh straight triumph in Big Ten play after they started the league campaign 3-3. Three of the last four have been by one run.

"I'm proud of our team because they showed some character, they showed some heart," Todd said. "This team is starting to understand what it takes to win one-run ballgames. It was good the way we came back, especially late in the game."

Ohio State trailed 3-0 after the opening frame when Northwestern (11-25, 2-9) manufactured three runs in the first inning off OSU ace Alex Wimmers thanks to RBI singles by Paul Snieder, Chad Noble and Jake Wilson.

But Wimmers bore down and kept NU at bay for most of the rest of the game to set up the Buckeye comeback. He ended up allowing four runs in 7 2/3 innings while striking out 10, the fifth time this year he's reached double digits.

The Buckeyes pieced together runs the rest of the way. Miller, finally showing signs of breaking out of a season-long slump, doubled in Burkhart in the second, then first baseman Matt Streng, a late injury replacement into the lineup, homered to lead off the fifth to make it 3-2.

NU plated a run in the sixth but Streng came home on a wild pitch in the seventh to set up the wild ninth.

Hurley, 0 for 3 up to that point, singled to start the inning. Kovanda's bunt moved him to second, and after center fielder Michael Stephens was hit by a pitch, Burkhart drove NU closer Cole Livermore's offering to left field to bring Hurley to the plate.

"My first swing, I was trying to hit it out of the park, but I missed it a little bit," said Burkhart, who plated his team-best 44th RBI. "After that, I was like, ‘All right, I just need to focus and just put a nice little base hit in here, score the run and we'll get it step by step.' He threw me one low and outside and I was able to just throw my bat at it and go with it. That's what I was trying to do. I put a good swing on it. I was happy with it."

Following Burkhart, Miller was fooled by a slider from Livermore (0-1), but his weak ground ball to short allowed Stephens to race home and beat the throw of shortstop Tommy Finn.

"That was a great feeling, even though I didn't get all of that ball," said Miller, who was mobbed near first base. "I was just going to run to the plate and celebrate with them. I didn't want them to come find me for rolling over, but it was awesome. That's what I love about this team. We fought in there until the very end."

Drew Rucinski, who was tagged for eight runs in his previous 1 2/3 innings over two outings, was lights out in 1 1/3 innings of relief to improve to 7-2.

The teams play both Saturday and Sunday at 1:05 p.m.


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