With its back against the wall, the Ohio State baseball team did what it had to do this weekend against Northwestern.
The Buckeyes’ reward is the chance to sit back and watch now.
Ohio State completed a three-game sweep of Northwestern on Sunday in front of 1,448 on a sun-drenched day at Bill Davis Stadium, downing the Wildcats by a 4-1 score.
The win moved the Buckeyes back to 11-10 in the Big Ten (27-20 overall) and in the thick of the Big Ten race as the top six teams try to make the league tournament. Next week, the Buckeyes will face Oklahoma State and Seattle in nonconference play while league rivals face one another in series that will determine just what OSU needs to do when it closes the season May 17-19 at Indiana.
“The fun part is going to be watching the rest of the Big Ten beat up on each other on our off weekend,” head coach Greg Beals said. “If you look at the standings, we’re all jammed up in that .500 range, so to put ourselves a game ahead of .500, three more games played than everybody else in the middle of that pack, and then you can sit back.
“There’s four teams that are right around us that are playing head to head next weekend so somebody is going to lose a series.”
The sweep against last-place Northwestern (16-29, 5-16) was Ohio State’s second of the Big Ten season after an April whitewashing of Minnesota in Columbus. Ohio State improved to 8-4 at home in league play.
Tim Wetzel, Mike Carroll and Brad Hallberg each had RBI for Ohio State, which opened a 3-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back. That lead was more than enough thanks to a gritty outing by starter John Kuchno, who improved to 7-3 by allowing one run and six hits in six innings, and excellent one-inning relief stints by Andrew Armstrong, David Fathalikhani and Josh Dezse.
The strong pitching was no surprise, as OSU finished the weekend against the Big Ten’s worst hitting team having allowed only three runs, 19 hits, four walks and one error in 27 innings.
“We preach hitting and defense,” Wetzel said. “If we can play that lights out, we’re going to win a lot of games. When we do that this year, we generally win. That’s what we were able to do this whole weekend and it worked.”
Kuchno didn’t have his best stuff but induced two inning-ending double plays out of Northwestern. The sophomore righthander walked two and struck out three.
He was staked to a solid 3-0 lead by the end of the first, as Ohio State was able to push across the trio of runs on only one hit thanks to an NU error, two balks and a pair of RBI ground outs.
Wetzel started things with a single to right then moved to second on the first balk of the inning by starter Luke Farrell (2-4), the son of Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell. Ryan Cypret reached on a bad throw by shortstop Kyle Ruchim and Dezse was plunked with a curveball to load the bases.
Carroll followed with a run-scoring grounder to second to plate Wetzel, Cypret came home on another balk and Hallberg grounded out to short to bring home Carroll after a steal of third.
It was slightly ironic, though, as OSU had just one run on 12 hits the rest of the way.
“There were a couple of times in that game where we get a hit, we win by five or six runs probably,” Beals said. “We weren’t able to get that big hit when we needed to, but our guys are putting themselves in the right situations. If we keep sticking to our guns, I feel like our hitters are taking better swings.”
Northwestern got its lone tally in the sixth when Ruchim singled and scored on an error by Dezse at first, but Wetzel provided insurance in the eighth with a bases-loaded chopper in front of the plate that hung up long enough for him to beat the throw to first, scoring Hallberg.
Wetzel, Cypret, Dezse, Patrick Porter and David Corna each had two hits.
“We know what we have to do to get into the tournament, and this was high up there in the toughness range,” Dezse said. “Sweeping is pretty hard. We had a chip on our shoulder. We knew what we had to do, came out and got it done.”