The Ohio State baseball team went into its final week of the season looking to enact revenge on in-state rival Cincinnati for a 6-5 loss March 2 earlier in the season. The Buckeyes got their revenge behind a strong offensive performance from junior outfielder Mitchell Okuley to win 5-3 Tuesday.
The Buckeyes (20-29, 8-14 Big Ten) rode a strong start from graduate right-hander Aaron Funk as the Bearcats (21-28, 10-11 American Athletic) were limited to five hits on the night. Okuley went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and fell a triple short of the cycle in the victory.
“We needed to get some depth out of our starters,” head coach Greg Beals said. “Our guys wanted this game no doubt about it. We lost a tough one last time out there on a walk-off and we felt like we let it get away from us. We felt like we were better than them and we wanted to prove it tonight.”
Ohio State pitching shut down the highest-scoring team in the American Athletic Conference with quality pitching.
Notably, Funk ended his day with a season-high five innings pitched, three earned runs given up, one walk and another season-high eight strikeouts — in his final start in an Ohio State uniform. He said mixing his pitches helped him gain an edge against opposing hitters.
“Using off-speed and fastballs to try and keep them off-balance so I’d be able to put them away later,” Funk said.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes scored in back-to-back innings with two runs apiece during each of the sixth and seventh frames to put away their in-state rivals. Okuley reached base four times and senior infielder Zach Dezenzo doubled in the fifth inning to extend his 17-game hitting streak.
Ohio State struck first in the second inning off redshirt sophomore lefty Alex Shea. After Okuley got hit by a wild pitch and later advanced to second base, freshman designated hitter Josh McAlister hit an RBI single to give the Buckeyes a 1-0 advantage.
However, in the fourth inning, the Bearcats took the lead on back-to-back solo home runs by redshirt freshman infielder Kerrington Cross and redshirt sophomore outfielder JP Sponseller to give Cincinnati a one-run advantage 2-1.
In the fifth inning, Cincinnati added to its lead off another solo home run — courtesy of redshirt sophomore infielder Kameron Guidry — to extend the lead to 3-1.
Redshirt freshman left-hander Garrett Peters relieved Funk and pitched two scoreless innings. After giving up leadoff walks in the sixth and seventh innings, Peters buckled down and produced the spark Ohio State needed.
“It means a lot,” Peters said. “I’ve waited my turn. I bugged coach saying, ‘Anything I can do to get a shot, I’ll do.’ I’m going to do whatever I can to get out there and when coach told me it was my turn and I told him I was good to go.”
In the bottom half of the sixth inning, Ohio State capitalized on an opportunity after senior infielder Colton Bauer reached on a fielding error. Okuley blasted a two-run home run over the right field wall off sophomore right-handed pitcher Max Bergmannto tie the game at three apiece.
“That was huge,” Okuley said. “I was trying to hit the ball on the ground on the right side to move the runner over. But, man, I got out in front and under it a little bit and it got out of the park and it gave us the momentum back.”
The next inning saw Ohio State take a lead it would never let go. Three-straight walks by freshman outfielder Trey Lipsey, sophomore outfielder Kade Kern -– his career-high third of the game -– and redshirt senior catcher Brent Todys loaded the bases, a run scored on a fielder’s choice to give Ohio State the advantage.
One batter later in the form of a white-hot Okuley, a bloop double down the left field line scored Kern to make it 5-3 after seven frames.
Okuley said he looked to make hard contact again and felt lucky the ball dropped where it did. In a season where Ohio State seemed to be on the wrong end of every break, he said it felt nice to have breaks go the Buckeyes’ way.
Cincinnati’s attempts at a comeback fell short as junior right-handed pitchers Nate Karaffa and Ethan Hammerberg pitched scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to close the door on the game and give Ohio State a much-needed 5-3 win.
Ohio State will play its final series of the regular season starting Friday against USC Upstate at 6:05 p.m.