Indiana State coach Mitch Hannahs correctly noted after the Sycamores’ loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday the importance of having quick memory loss to get ready for a Sunday afternoon elimination game against Ohio State at the Nashville Regional.
It took a bit of time, and an inspired choice by the Sycamores at designated hitter, but ultimately the Sycamores accomplished their mission of staying alive with a 10-5 over Ohio State at Vanderbilt’s Hawkins Field.
With the win, ISU advanced to its first regional final since 1986, when it last advanced to the College World Series. The Sycamores earned their 43rd victory, the most for the program since 1990.
Offensively, Joe Boyle was the star of the game for the Sycamores. A starter of much of the season, Boyle has played sparingly in the last month. He made his last start on May 12 and has batted just twice since.
However, Hannahs used his delayed designated hitter approach – Hannahs names the previous day’s starting pitcher as the starting “DH” and then decides whom to start based on the game situation – to maximum effectiveness. Boyle was 2-for-2 with a solo home run and two runs scored. Ohio State never retired him.
“There’s some thought that goes into [who is starting at DH], but some of it is just luck. Joe had a really good B.P. It seems like everyone we’ve put in that role to come in late has been really good. I don’t know if it’s because some guys get anxious in batting practice. Sometimes not having the time to build up anxiety? I don’t know. I liked the matchup. Most of [Ohio State starter Griffan Smith] his pitches were middle-away. I did not see him command the inside of the plate which is where you can go sometimes to get Joe. He was the best matchup,” Hannahs said.
Per NCAA rules, Boyle was not immediately available for comment after the game.
ISU’s pitching did enough to survive against a potent Buckeyes attack. Starter Tyler Whitbread went 5 1/3 innings and allowed four runs and 12 hits, but also struck out six. Austin Moralis and Jake Ridgway pitched 3 2/3 innings of relief and allowed just one run.
“Even though he didn’t have his best stuff, he really battled against a good-hitting team to give us a chance to win,” Hannahs said.
As it has in all of its Nashville Regional games, ISU (43-17) got off to a fast start at the plate. Leadoff singles by Clay Dungan and Jake Means were cashed in with RBI singles by Jarrod Watkins and Roby Enriquez to make it 2-0. ISU got brave on Enriquez’s single and tried to send Watkins home, but he was easily thrown out at the plate. ISU had its first six batters reach, but only got those first two runs out of it.
For a time, that seemed damaging as Ohio State’s solid lineup hit ISU pitching consistently throughout the game. The Buckeyes amassed 15 base hits and ISU did not have a 1-2-3 inning on the mound in the game at all.
In the bottom half of the first half, the Buckeyes took a 3-2 lead, all runs scored with two outs. A RBI single by Brady Cherry started the scoring, but the big blow was a two-run home run by Conner Pohl.
The Buckeyes (36-27) tacked on another run in the third before ISU got its bearings and began to claw its way back. Boyle hit a mammoth solo home run to left in the fourth to make it 4-3. A key play that occurred before ISU’s offense could pull ahead came in the Ohio State half of the fifth ISU pitcher Tyler Whitbread picked off Ohio State’s Dillon Dingler at second after a leadoff double. The Buckeyes subsequently got two more singles, either of which could have scored Dingler or sustained a rally. As it was? The Buckeyes didn’t score.
“That was a big play for us. Me and Wat [Watkins, the ISU second baseman] work pretty well together. I saw him creeping in, he had a pretty big lead at second. It was a big momemtum booster for us,” Whitbread said.
That pickoff loomed large as ISU’s offense came alive in the top of the sixth.
Boyle started ISU’s four-run rally with a double to left. A single and hit-by-pitch followed to load the bases with no outs. Luke Fegen then tied the game with a single to left. Dungan, who was 3-for-5 with two RBI, put ISU in front with a two-run single to right. A Jake Means sacrifice fly finished the surge as the Sycamores had a 7-4 lead.
ISU made it 8-4 in the seventh via a Max Wright RBI single. The Sycamores nearly tacked on another, but Boyle was thrown out 9-2 on a would-be sacrifice fly that became a double play.
The Buckeyes’ threat never subsided. Brent Todys drove in a run in the seventh to make it 8-5, but the Buckeyes’ pitching shortage reached critical mass late in the contest. ISU tacked on two runs in the ninth via a throwing error and a steal of home plate by Chris Ayers via a double steal attempt.
When asked who might pitch against Vanderbilt on Sunday night? He didn’t have an immediate answer. Zach Frey, Evan Giles and Austin Cross haven’t pitched yet. Geremy Guerrero has pitched minimally. Guerrero would likely be the first choice.
“I’m open to all suggestions,” Hannahs said. “Ohio State played 13 innings yesterday and they came into this game the same mode we’ll be in tonight. It’s really unfair when you play that rough game and use up your bullpen. We’re in the same boat Ohio State was in today.”