Baseball Buckeyes Win Big Ten On Final Day

The No. 29 Ohio State baseball team battled all season long for a Big Ten title, so why should the final day be any different? OSU came from behind to beat Iowa in thrilling fashion on Saturday afternoon, then waited around before finding out the good news: Minnesota's loss on the season's last day gave the Buckeyes their first league crown since 2001.

Going into Saturday's home game with Iowa, the No. 29 Ohio State baseball team knew its situation clearly.

Win and a first-round bye and top-two seeding in the Big Ten tournament next week was assured. A win also might earn the Buckeyes a regular-season Big Ten championship based on what first-place Minnesota did at Penn State.

Good news, then, came in waves for the Buckeyes. At 3:37 p.m., OSU finished off an 8-6, come-from-behind win over the Hawkeyes to finish 18-6 in the league. More than three hours later, Minnesota was upset by the Nittany Lions, meaning the Golden Gophers finish 17-6 and a half-game behind OSU because of an earlier rainout.

The Big Ten regular-season championship is the Buckeyes' first since 2001.

"You want to go out on top," said captain Justin Miller, who celebrated his Senior Day. "This group of guys has just battled and battled and battled all year, and I'm so proud of these guys."

The win over the Hawkeyes was textbook for this Ohio State team. The Buckeyes never stopped battling, overturning a 4-0 deficit with a five-run sixth inning and then scoring three in the eighth after entering that frame down 6-5.

"We competed," said head coach Bob Todd, who won his seventh ring in 22 seasons. "That's exactly what it is in a nutshell. We didn't do much offensively the first five innings, but you could sense there was a lot of determination on that bench."

The hero for Ohio State was shortstop Tyler Engle. A .266 hitter who missed the opening weeks of the season with a leg injury, the sophomore bounced a bases-loaded grounder over the third-base bag in the eighth to score Miller and Ryan Dew with what turned out to be the championship winning runs.

"Hitting a ground ball was the last thing I wanted to do in that situation," Engle said afterward. "I wanted to elevate something, not hit into a double play, but it worked out. I'd rather be lucky than good any day."

Ohio State (39-15) was plenty of both throughout the season, and the Buckeyes showed the resolve necessary to capture the crown by winning the final five Big Ten games of the season, including a three-game sweep of Iowa.

It did not come easy, especially when the Hawkeyes took a 4-0 lead with four runs off of OSU starter Eric Best in six innings.

But in the bottom half of the inning, the Buckeye bats came alive off of Iowa starter Jarred Hippen, who had cruised up to that point. Junior second baseman Cory Kovanda doubled in two runs to start the rally, a hit followed two batters later by an RBI single from catcher Dan Burkhart.

Dew reached via a fielder's choice, bringing Miller to the plate. The Virginia native has seen his power numbers grow over his OSU career, and he drove a pitch from Hippen over the wall for a career-best 10th homer that gave the Buckeyes a 5-4 lead.

"That was the most emotion I've ever showed on a home run," the normally quiet Miller said. "It was just unbelievable. Senior Day, to hit a home run like that and to give us the lead is just amazing."

The lead did not hold, however, thanks to a seventh-inning sacrifice fly by Iowa's Wes Freie and an eighth-inning homer by Sean Flanagan, his second bomb of the day, that gave the visitors a 6-5 lead.

OSU's Drew Rucinski gave up both runs, but the Buckeyes' eighth-inning rally gave him the win. He improved to 9-2.

The Buckeyes got an insurance run off of Mike Schurz (1-2) after Engle's double in the eighth thanks to an error by Hawkeye shortstop Chett Zeise. It wouldn't matter, though, as senior Jake Hale completed his Bill Davis Stadium career by working a 1-2-3 inning, the final out recorded with the 1,808 fans on their feet. The save was his 15th of the year, pushing him one past Matt Davis (2003) for the OSU single-season record.

"This record was huge," the twice-drafted Hale said. "This year, knowing I was going in as a closer, it was one of my main goals – apart from us getting a Big Ten championship."

Hours later, he had a ring to go along with his record.

"We knew what we had to do today," Miller said. "We knew we had to win that game. It was just a great game. It was awesome."

The league tournament starts Wednesday at Huntington Park in downtown Columbus, though OSU will not play until Thursday evening.

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