After 12 long innings behind the plate Saturday night, Stetson sophomore Garrett Russini came to bat with a chance to give his team a much needed victory against Ohio State.
Despite battling the cold weather and the fatigue of a long game, Russini mustered up the energy to rip a game winning RBI double to deep right-center, scoring Tyler Bocock from second for a 3-2 victory over the Buckeyes.
The win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Hatters (3-5) but, more importantly, gives a struggling young team a major emotional lift.
“That was pretty awesome,” Russini said. “It was brutal out there, but you just have to suck it up.”
The sophomore got his chance to face Ohio State junior right-hander Tyler Giannonatti (0-1) after Bocock reached on a throwing error and was sacrificed to second. The Buckeyes (5-4) decided to walk Carlos Garmendia intentionally to bring the left-handed hitting Russini to the plate with one out.
“He came up huge,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said. “He is a pretty good hitter, a much better hitter than what his average is right now. He had a home run last night. I had a feeling when they walked Carlos to get to him. I was happy to see that. I felt that he would come up big there and he did.”
It was Dunn who told Russini what to look for when he got to the plate.
“Coach Dunn told me to look for something down, and if I see a fastball down to jump on it,” Russini said. “That is exactly what I saw. The first pitch was a ball, but the second was a fastball down and I just drove it.”
The walk-off double gave Stetson junior Cameron Griffin (1-1) a victory in his first relief appearance of the year. The left-hander opened the season in the weekend rotation, but made the move back to the bullpen going into this weekend’s Bright House Networks Invitational Tournament.
“When we talked to him the other day after making the decision to put him at the back end of the game, we told him the reasons,” Dunn said. “First was that we could use him more than once during the weekend and second was that we felt he could be very good at the back end of games. He came in tonight and got some big outs, some big strikeouts when they had runners in scoring position and could have taken the lead. He also got a big double play to get out of an inning.”
Griffin went five shutout innings in relief of starter Josh Powers, allowing just two hits with three walks (two intentional) and a career-high seven strikeouts.
“Going into the game, all I wanted to do was keep the game even to give us a chance to win,” Griffin said. “I wanted to make sure they didn’t get a run to give our offense a chance to win the game. I felt good tonight.”
Russini said both of the Hatters’ pitchers did a great job against a good-hitting team.
“It was a helluva job by both of those guys,” Russini said. “JP went out there and filled up the zone, like he always does. Cam was spot on. If he does that every time he will be great. I guess he is more comfortable coming out of the pen.”
The walk-off double capped a night in which the Hatters had just seven hits against five Buckeyes pitchers, but left 11 runners on base. Stetson got a surge of energy in the third inning when, after Ohio State scored on a delayed double-steal in the second, the Hatters were able to push across a run against OSU starter Brad Goldberg.
The Buckeyes senior came into the game having allowed just two hits in 13.1 innings of work over two starts with 17 strikeouts, but the Hatters were able to get five hits against him and score a pair of runs.
The run in the third came after Robert Bruce, starting for the first time this year, tripled to center. He then scored on a sacrifice fly by Kevin Fagan.
OSU went back on top in the fifth when Tim Wetzel walked, stole second and then scored on a single by Aaron Gretz. Stetson came right back in the bottom of the inning to tie the game at 2-2 when Russini walked, moved up on a sacrifice bunt by James Rasmussen, and then scored on a throwing error by Buckeyes’ third baseman Troy Kuhn.
That was where the game stayed until Russini’s double in the 12th inning ended it.
“That is a needed win,” Dunn said. They competed. That was the thing that was most disappointing last night was not competing and giving in to Central Michigan. We talked long and hard about competing and I think we might have grown up a little tonight. The win is obviously much needed, but I am really proud of the way we competed.”
Bocock and Russini had two hits each in the game for Stetson while the Hatters were also able to get down four sacrifice bunts in the game. Freshman first-baseman Patrick Mazeika was also able to extend his season-opening hit streak to eight games with a first inning single.
The Buckeyes had 10 hits in the game, with two each coming from Ryan Cypret, Mike Carroll and Joe Ciamacco.
The Hatters will try to turn the momentum of their late-inning victory into a win streak on Sunday against a Connecticut team that defeated Central Michigan 6-2 on Saturday after topping Ohio State 5-2 on Friday night.
Junior left-hander Austin Perez (1-0, 1.69) will make his first start of the year for Stetson and will square off against the Huskies’ junior left-hander Brian Ward (0-1, 2.08). That game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. start, following the conclusion of Sunday’s opening contest between Ohio State and Central Michigan, which is scheduled for an 11 a.m. start.
“With the way we have been losing, as a coach you are looking for something to build around,” Dunn said of Saturday’s victory. “I hope that we can use this game as a template on how to compete.”