July 23, 2019 | 73° F

Walker helps Rutgers Walk-Off against Ohio State

Closer Trace Dempsey is about as sure a thing as any for the Ohio State baseball team during his four years in Columbus. As the top reliever all time, Dempsey has the most saves in the Buckeyes history with 30 – a number he eclipsed earlier this season.

With the Rutgers baseball team down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Scarlet Knights would have to do something out of the ordinary to win. After all, they have been held to three hits and one run in the first 8 innings.

The 6-foot-1 submarine reliever came in to build on his already impressive career trying to claim his 31st career save. And, it started out as good as he would have liked – Dempsey forced a fly out of senior left fielder Vinny Zarrillo. Up next was junior second baseman Chris Suseck.

On the second pitch, Suseck shot a screaming line drive to the gap in left field. After he reached on a standup double, head coach Joe Litterio sent jack-of-all trades Gaby Rosa to pinch run. Coming into the batter’s box was junior catcher R.J. Devish.

After five pitches, Devish forced the tying run into scoring position with a walk and sat on first as the winning run. Next up was freshman designated hitter Kyle Walker – he was 0-for-2 with a walk going into the at-bat. What happened next was one of many firsts.

With a 1-1 count on Walker, Dempsey looked to get ahead on the rookie with a breaking ball – catcher Aaron Gretz set up his target inside on the left hander Walker. The ball didn’t end up inside, it ended up over the right field wall.

Dempsey hung a slider over the middle of the plate and Walker made him pay for it with a walk-off three-run home run. The game was over and Rutgers won 4-2 Saturday – their first conference win at Bainton Field.

The unique pitching delivery that Dempsey uses – where he delivers the ball from around his hip area as opposed to over the top like a normal throw – ended up being used against him by Walker. Walker said he was able to adjust to the angle the ball was thrown.

“I knew the guy was a right submariner, so I was looking low and away – where the ball was diving all inning,” Walker said. “Third pitch he came with a slider that kind of floated over the middle and I just got around on it. I got lucky and put it out into the wind – It was awesome.”

To say that many homeruns die in the wind of right field at Bainton would be an understatement. During the coldest part of the game – with temperatures capping out at 40 degrees – the wind was howling like a normal day at the wind tunnel that is Bainton Field.

The last ball to sail over the right field wall during a day with significant wind like Saturday was last season against Temple when former Knight Brian O’Grady hit a walk-off into the wind in the 14th inning of that game – O’Grady now plays in the Cincinnati Red’s farm system.

Litterio said that while both home runs – the only two walk-offs to happen under his managing career at Rutgers – were special, this one proved a little different.

“That walk-off was a little more exciting,” Litterio said of Walker’s game-winner compared to O’Grady’s last season. “No offense to Brian – his was the 14th inning and he hit the crap out of the ball. But, this one right here – when you are winning the game 1-0 the whole time and then you go into the 9th inning down— it’s tough. We had the game in our hand and we let it get away from us. But, to step up and hit a home run in that situation – it’s huge. We have a new win streak at Bainton.”

For seven and one-third inning, junior ace left hander Howie Brey held the Buckeyes in check. Although Brey allowed five hits and five walks, he held Ohio State scoreless while also striking out four batters.

Brey used his craftiness and command to work out of the trouble he caused. Brey’s talent does not come from a high velocity fastball or a breaking ball that moves all over the strike zone. He possesses an elite ability to locate his pitches – especially his fastball – to throw batters off and make them take weak attempts at his stuff.

And, that’s exactly what was working for Brey, he said.

“Usually I throw first-pitch fastballs for strikes and get ahead,” Brey said. “Today, I was throwing my off-speed today first pitch for strikes – that’s what really kept them off balance. I was a little wild with my fastball. My whole style is to stay composed – I can’t get too big – especially since I can’t throw 90 miles per hour, I just know I have to stay composed throughout the whole game and that’s what I did.”

Litterio let Brey breeze through 32 Buckeyes, but his pitch count made it so the Middletown South (H.S.) product had to come out of the game. But, after throwing 119 pitches, Litterio knew he had to take out Brey or risk injury. Litterio could only describe how well Brey pitched with a simple explanation.

“Howie had a great outing,” Litterio said. “I wanted to run him to the 8th and 9th inning, but we just couldn’t. We ran him to where we could. But, that’s pure Howie Brey baseball right there. That’s Howie Brey.”

While Brey had one of his best outings of the year, it was still a career day from Walker that made everything possible on Saturday after his first-career home run.

Brey said it was the best walk-off he had ever seen in his life. Litterio already declared it the most special while he has coached. Walker said he hadn’t done anything like it in his life.

“I can’t say I ever really had anything like that happen to me in my life,” Walker said. “It was pretty special – that moment was definitely pretty high up there. I don’t know if it has hit me yet, but it’s pretty big since we needed a win against such a good Big Ten opponent. [Getting it off of Dempsey] makes me feel so much better – he was throwing so well and he made one mistake. I just got to take advantage of it.”

Tyler Karalewich

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