October baseball brings a ring of postseason competition, and Ohio State brought its annual Scarlet and Gray Series back for fall 2021.
Team Gray overcame a 2-1 series deficit and won back-to-back games with their backs against the wall, taking a deciding Game Five in a 7-6 defeat of Team Scarlet Saturday. Senior right-handed pitcher Will Pfennig struck out nine over four innings while redshirt freshman outfielder Brady Emerson and senior utility Marcus Ernst helped Team Gray score three runs in the first inning with RBI singles.
Head coach Greg Beals, who will lead the Buckeyes for a 12th season in 2022, said he watched from the third base coach’s box as he enjoyed watching his players catch up on game-like experience.
“It’s exactly what our guys need to be in a pretty darn normal setting. We missed all this last fall,” Beals said. “The full practice schedule that we’ve had all fall, being able to play a five-game series like this and really compete, being able to have fans and up the ante a little bit, it’s been a great fall.”
The series began Oct. 15 when Team Gray overcame a four-run deficit and triumphed in a 6-5 affair. Freshman outfielder Trey Lipsey and senior shortstop Zach Dezenzo hit back-to-back three-run and solo home runs, respectively, to pull their team back in the game.
Team Scarlet then rode 5 2/3 scoreless innings from sophomore righty Nate Haberthier to knot the series during an 8-0 shutout Oct. 16. Redshirt senior catcher Brent Todys powered the offense with a grand slam in the first inning.
Rising sophomore and Second Team All-Big Ten outfielder Kade Kern hit two home runs during the series, including a three-run inside-the-park knock Oct. 19. Team Scarlet took a one-game advantage behind a 7-1 win in Game 3, thanks to a pitching staff that held the opposing offense to one run over the last 14 innings to that point.
Team Gray bounced back with a shutout of its own with five shutout innings from sophomore southpaw Isaiah Coupet and a save by junior right-hander Ethan Hammerberg when the series resumed Friday. Hammerberg impressed in the series, notably punching out all six batters he faced during his save in Game 1.
“This past summer, he’s really started to come along. It’s been a great fall for him,” Beals said. “Hammer is going to get the ball in big situations for us come springtime.”
Team Gray held off a Team Scarlet comeback in which Kern went 3-for-4 with three RBIs. The Freshman All-American flashed in the series, as well as Dezenzo, who collected five hits.
After going undrafted in July’s MLB Draft, Dezenzo will boost a Buckeyes lineup after leading the team in runs scored and finishing second with nine home runs. Beals said Dezenzo has taken his return as a chance to both keep working and step up as a leader.
“I’m so proud of Zach and how he’s handled. Obviously, there was a level of disappointment after the draft,” Beals said. “Zach is going to be a pro someday. He has taken this opportunity to come back to Ohio State and he’s worked his tail off.”
The loss of team RBI and home run leader Conner Pohl will call for someone to step up in the left-handed bat’s place. That might be Ernst, who’s waited his turn, playing 64 games and hitting .228 with eight extra-base hits over three seasons.
Ernst collected four hits during the Scarlet and Gray Series, and Beals said the 6-foot-1 versatile player has put on muscle, gaining development time that’s helped him make strides both on and off the field.
“He knows he’s physically prepared,” Beals said. “He’s prepared from a mechanical standpoint. His body is right, too.”
Less than four months remain until Ohio State begins the 2022 season. The Buckeyes released their schedule for the upcoming campaign, beginning in Florida for the Snowbird Classic and seeing the return of midweek ball games. The first home game will be March 22 against Wright State at Bill Davis Stadium.
With the return to familiar offseason routines, Beals said player development has sped up across the Buckeyes roster. They’ll have the chance to display their work come Opening Day Feb. 18.
“Guys that are coming into their own,” Beals said. “The experience of being on the field is a big part of that.”