Buckeyes Rout Iowa, Stay In Big Ten Race

Excitement came and went Thursday night at the ballpark. First, No. 29 Ohio State battered Iowa to the tune of 13 runs in the first three innings on the way to an easy win. After the game, the Buckeyes turned their eyes eastward, but Minnesota staved off a late Penn State rally to stay ahead of OSU by a half-game in the Big Ten standings with two to go.

The most excitement provided at the Ohio State baseball game on Thursday night might have been had in the Buckeye clubhouse moments after they finished off a 13-4 win against Iowa.

A roar went up when the No. 29 Buckeyes found out that Minnesota, the team they entered the night chasing for the Big Ten championship, had watched its 6-0 lead at Penn State evaporate into a late 6-6 tie.

By the end of the night, the players were flocking to anywhere they could find a radio feed of the clash between the Golden Gophers and Nittany Lions, but it was a fruitless quest when Minnesota finished off a 7-6 win thanks to an unearned ninth-inning run.

Never did a 13-4 win against a conference rival seem so inconsequential. Instead of entering the final two games of the league race in charge of their own destiny, the Buckeyes stayed a half-game behind the Golden Gophers with Friday (6:35 p.m.) and Saturday (1:05) clashes left against the Hawkeyes.

If the last two games of the series are anything like the first, the pressure is on Minnesota. The Hawkeyes, 4-17 in the league, couldn't hit, field or pitch, and Ohio State (37-15, 16-6) ended the competitive potion of the evening after three innings by taking a 13-0 lead.

"That obviously takes the pressure off of you," head coach Bob Todd said after his 400th Big Ten win. "I thought our players came to the ballpark today focused, and I thought they came here with a purpose. It was great to see our hitters did what they're supposed to do. It looked like they were focused at the plate."

The Buckeyes plated one in the first, nine in the second and three more for good measure in the third. The first nine runners to come to the plate in the second scored, and every starter except for first baseman Matt Streng had a hit by the time the third inning had concluded.

"In order to play good baseball you have to come out relaxed," said center fielder Michael Stephens. "You can't come out tight. That's just what we did. We kept it really light today and had a lot of energy."

Stephens provided the big blow – and ended a personal jinx – with a three-run homer in the second that made the score 6-0. His blast to center field chased Iowa starter Nick Brown, who fell to 2-4.

The homer, Stephens' team-best 12th of the year, came with his parents Lisa and Mark in the audience. The pair flew in from the Stephens' California home to watch the final series of the year, though Michael, who blew his mother a kiss as he crossed the plate, may have been cautious when the tickets were booked.

"My mom actually is really bad luck," he said. "Every time she comes out I don't perform too well. But the first two at bats were all right. I had to show her some love."

Stephens finished 2 for 4, while left fielder Zach Hurley was 3 for 4 with two RBI, third baseman Justin Miller was 2 for 5 with three batted in and DH Ryan Dew had two doubles, one of which plated two runs. Miller moved into second all-time at OSU in career hits with 263.

The run support was plenty for Buckeye ace Alex Wimmers, a Big Ten and national pitcher of the year candidate. The Cincinnati native improved to 9-1, going six scoreless innings while walking two and allowing five hits, all while battling back spasms.

"I hate coming out of the game," he said, admitting that he asked Todd to keep him in as long as he could. "As long as I'm doing the job and helping my team win, that's all that matters."

He struck out 12, including eight in a row at one point, to move into fourth in the single-season OSU annals with 122 strikeouts.

Junior Josh Barrera, who has battled arm injuries this year, threw two scoreless inningsi in relief, striking out three and allowing one hit.

Eric Shinn gave up four unearned runs in the ninth when Hawkeye center fielder Kurtis Muller hit a two-out grand slam.

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