Box Score (PDF)
ATHENS, Ohio -- Redshirt senior designated hitter Michael Klein (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) and freshman second baseman Aaron Levy (Cincinnati, Ohio) each hit a three-run home run in bottom of the fourth inning to help power the Ohio baseball team (14-12, 3-3 MAC) to a critical 12-4 victory over Northern Illinois (8-18, 2-4 MAC) in the rubber match of a three-game Mid-American Conference series on Sunday (April 1) at Bob Wren Stadium.
The Bobcats picked up their first MAC series win of the 2018 season after topping the Huskies in the finale. Ohio and Northern Illinois split a Saturday (March 31) doubleheader at The Wren. The Bobcats posted a 6-1 victory in the opener but dropped a 6-5 decision in 10 innings in the second game of the twin bill.
"It's enormous," said sixth-year head coach Rob Smith of Ohio earning its first league series victory. "I think we had to get a win today. This series was critical. We're sitting at 3-3, and that's fine. We've just got to keep collecting wins. Thirteen is the number we're shooting for; 13 or 14 conference wins, and, if you can get there, you'll be playing in Avon."
Ohio scored a season-high 12 runs and collected a season-high 17 hits in Sunday's win. Five Bobcats enjoyed multi-hit days, with four of them tallying three hits. Klein finished 3-for-4 with his third home run of the year while Levy went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and tallied his fourth dinger of the year, which ties him for second on the team. Levy has now gone deep three times in the last four contests. Both Klein and Levy drove in five runs. Klein is now tied for the team lead with five multi-RBI games this year. Sophomore right fielder Tanner Piechnick (Canonsburg, Pa.) went 3-for-5 with a double and three runs scored. He is now tied for second on the team with nine multi-RBI games this season and is now the owner of the team's longest current hitting streak at eight-straight games. Sophomore shortstop Trevor Hafner (Perrysburg, Ohio) went 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored while senior third baseman Tony Giannini (Carmel, Ind.) collected two singles, drove in a run and scored another.
"We try to swing hard, and, if it happens, it happens," said Levy of Ohio's success hitting the long ball this year as the Bobcats have now gone deep 25 times in 26 games in 2018. "We've been swinging well, and it's been happening."
Senior left-handed starting pitcher Butch Baird (Big Prairie, Ohio) set the tone for the Bobcats on the mound, throwing five shutout innings and giving up just two singles and a walk. He struck out two en route to improving to 2-2 on the mound on the season. Redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Cory Blessing (Mayfield, Ohio) threw the finale three frames for the Bobcats, fanning five while permitting two unearned runs on two hits and two walks. He notched his first save of the year. Northern Illinois did not muster an extra-base hit against Ohio's arms.
"Just the fact that he was able to throw strikes," said Smith of Baird's success. "He had predominantly favorable counts, which kept their hitters in a defensive mode. We knew that was going to be the key. He did a good job throwing strikes, and, for the most part, the guys after him did as well."
Ohio used some two-out lightning to grab a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Junior first baseman Rudy Rott (Holmen, Wis.) coaxed a two-out walk, and Piechnick followed with a single to left center. Giannini drove in the game's first run with a single to right that scored Rott. Levy then sent a base hit back up the middle to give the Bobcats a two-run edge.
The Bobcats saw their lead swell to 6-0 with a four-run third inning. Piechnick led off with a triple to center -- his first of the year. One out later, Levy plated Piechnick with another single back up the middle. After redshirt sophomore left fielder/right fielder Ryan Sargent (Algonquinn, Ill.) sent a single to left, Hafner hit a single to center to score Levy. Redshirt freshman catcher Dan McCauley (Pittsburgh, Pa.) loaded up the bases for Ohio when he drew a walk. One out later, Klein cashed in with a two-RBI base hit through the left side that brought in Sargent and Hafner.
Ohio broke the contest open by scoring six more runs in the ensuing frame to take a commanding 12-0 lead. Piechnick got the hit parade started with a leadoff single to left. Giannini then singled through the left side, setting the table for Levy to smack a three-run home run to right. One out later, Hafner singled to left, and McCauley was hit by a pitch to put two on for Klein, who delivered a three-run blast to left.
"It's fun," said Klein of putting together a big inning. "Hitting is contagious, so when you see Aaron go deep, it's fun. We get a lot of energy and juices from it, and it's fun to keep it going and contribute that way."
That proved to be all the runs that Bobcats needed to get the win. Baird retired the side in the first, third and fifth innings and forced the Huskies to strand a runner in both the second and the fourth. Northern Illinois scored two runs in the sixth on RBI singles through the left side by both senior second baseman Samuel Vega and sophomore first baseman Jake Dunham, then added two more in the seventh when redshirt freshman left fielder Kam Smith singled and later scored on an Ohio fielding error and redshirt sophomore right fielder Josh Mutter singled and later scored on a sacrifice fly to center by senior third baseman Brad Wood. That's as close as Ohio let the Huskies get, though, as Blessing forced the Huskies to strand a runner in both eighth and ninth.
Sophomore right-handed starting pitcher Blake Walker took the loss on the mound for Northern Illinois, dropping to 1-1 on the year. He allowed two earned runs on six hits and a walk while striking out one in two innings. The Huskies were forced to utilize the services of six pitchers in the loss.
Ohio plays host to its first non-conference midweek home game of the 2018 campaign next Tuesday (April 3) when Shawnee State visits Bob Wren Stadium for a 6 p.m. ET matchup.