OMAHA, Neb. — The durable left arms of Griffan Smith and Andrew Magno carried Ohio State to a surprising Big Ten Tournament title.
The two combined to hold down Nebraska’s offense, and seventh-seeded Ohio State mustered just enough of its own to beat the Cornhuskers 3-1 in the championship game Sunday.
Smith, coming off two days’ rest following a 110-pitch outing, threw 89 in 5 2⁄3 innings. Magno, who threw 32 pitches in a 21⁄3-inning save against Minnesota in the semifinals, returned less than three hours later and threw 59 in a 3 1⁄3-inning save.
Together, they limited Nebraska to four singles and worked around six walks. Magno was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after recording the saves in each of the Buckeyes’ four wins, and Smith made the all-tournament team.
“It just felt good all day,” Magno said. “I got through that first game pretty efficiently, and that helped a lot. The rest was adrenaline. I’ll feel it at some point. Right now it feels great.”
The Buckeyes (35-25), who had to scramble to make the eight-team tournament field after sitting three games under .500 in conference play May 5, claimed the Big Ten’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid with their 11th win in 13 games.
“The adversity we went through throughout the year to fortify ourselves into a championship-caliber team, that showed up this weekend, and for the last three or four weeks we’ve been playing at this clip,” Buckeyes coach Greg Beals said.
The Buckeyes won their 10th Big Ten Tournament championship by beating Minnesota 8-6 in a semifinal postponed until Sunday morning and then winning in front of the overwhelmingly pro-Huskers crowd of 17,503 at TD Ameritrade Park, about 50 miles from Nebraska’s Lincoln campus.
“Man, Husker Nation was strong today. No doubt about it,” Beals said. “I think there was something in that crowd that helped us. The second game of a doubleheader, you could be tired. But an electric crowd kept our guys fired up pretty well.”
The Huskers (31-22) are in line for an at-large NCAA bid.
“We’re going to get back to Lincoln, rest up and find out where we’re going for regionals,” the Huskers’ Joe Acker said. “It’s hard not to think about today’s game, but when we get off the bus, we’ll focus on what’s ahead. We’ll flush this game. We couldn’t be more thankful for Husker Nation to come out in full force. We hope to get back here for the College World Series.”
Two crucial video reviews swung the championship game.
The first was in the fourth inning, when Brent Todys came home on a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead. Nebraska right fielder Aaron Palensky made a perfect throw to the plate, and Todys was initially called out as catcher Luke Roskam made a sweeping tag. Ohio State requested a review, and the call was overturned when video showed Roskam’s glove missed Todys’ chest just before Todys’ hand touched the plate.
In the seventh, with runners on second and third and the Buckeyes ahead 2-1, Ohio State third baseman Nick Erwin picked up Palensky’s chopper and made the throw to first in time for the third out and deny Nebraska the tying run. Nebraska asked for a review, and the call was upheld.
“I didn’t think any of them would go our way just based on the fact there were so many Husker fans out there,” OSU’s Brady Cherry said. “For those umpires to make the right call knowing there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people in the stands, I didn’t think that was going to happen. I was happily pleased.”
Nebraska had scored 8, 11, 8 and 7 runs in its first four tournament games but was shut out on two hits through five innings. The Huskers broke through for a run in the sixth on an error and three walks.
Smith (7-4) said he didn’t blink when Beals asked him if he wanted the ball.
“I went out and gave everything I had in my tank,” Smith said. “Short rest, but as a baseball player growing up you dream about stuff like this — a huge crowd, adrenaline flowing. We’ve worked so hard since the end of our season last year for this moment.”
Nebraska starter Matt Waldron (6-4) gave up one run in three innings. Freshman Shay Schanaman, pitching for the first time in the tournament, allowed two hits and one run in a career-long four innings.
But the Huskers were never able to sustain offense against Smith and Magno.
“Some guys did some superhuman things,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said of the two.