The bus ride brought elation and some angst.
As the Ohio State baseball team returned from West Lafayette, Indiana, on Saturday afternoon, crossing the interstate roads after a weekend sweep of Purdue, its future remained uncertain.
The Buckeyes needed one more scenario to unfold before they qualified for the Big Ten tournament. Minnesota had to beat Northwestern, which could pull even in the conference standings and snag the tiebreaker.
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Players found a way to follow the final innings of the conference game by creative measure. They arranged a laptop on top of stacked pizza boxes, allowing most of the rows to get a glimpse at the screen. The computer showed a live stream of the game through a phone’s data connection.
Most players sat behind the laptop and followed along in anticipation.
Others could hardly stomach watching. Coach Greg Beals kept to the front, averting his eyes.
“I was kind of agonizing,” he said.
The Golden Gophers ultimately pulled through, winning 6-5, and Ohio State clinched a spot in the eight-team conference tournament. The bus erupted with cheers.
“Pretty loud,” outfielder Brady Cherry said. “Got a little wild.”
Ohio State (31-24) will be the seventh seed when it opens the tournament Wednesday afternoon against second-seeded Michigan in Omaha, Nebraska.
The task of again extending its season, though, will be all the more challenging. To make the NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes must win the Big Ten tournament, a route that involves winning at least four games this week in pursuit of the conference’s automatic bid. Their RPI of 135 hampers their chances of attracting an at-large bid.
“The message to the guys is we just ran off four in a row; let’s go run off another four in a row,” Beals said. “We’re not just happy to be in the tournament. We’re going there on a mission, with a mindset to go win it.”
The Buckeyes do have a bit of momentum, riding a four-game winning streak and wins in seven of their past eight games.
It was only six weeks ago that the Buckeyes were in a more difficult predicament. They had been swept at home by Northwestern and seen their record drop to .500 as they lost four of their first six conference games. And at the start of May, they were swept at Minnesota, before embarking on a turnaround.
“Our backs are against the wall,” said Andrew Magno, the Buckeyes’ junior closer. "We knew we had to come together and compete hard.”
Outfielder Dominic Canzone, who was named an all-conference first-team selection on Tuesday, thought the Buckeyes had been helped by their performance at the plate. They scored a combined 26 runs in their three-game sweep of Purdue, a boost for a group that had been one of the better hitting teams in the conference. Only Michigan (.285) and Illinois (.282) had higher batting averages this season than Ohio State (.273).
“Everybody is getting their confidence back at the plate at the right time,” Canzone said.
The Buckeyes will rely on starter Seth Lonsway on Wednesday. The redshirt freshman left-hander is 7-4 with a 3.91 ERA this season, and led the conference with 110 strikeouts.
In the regular-season series against Michigan in mid-April, Ohio State took two out of three games.