COLUMBUS - Everybody at Bill Davis Stadium knew they were witnessing something special, a developing situation, on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon. Yet, only a few were party to the actual outcome, mainly former grade school and Cincinnati Moeller classmates Alex Wimmers and Dan Burkhart.
Wimmers, a sophomore right-hander, hurled the first nine-inning no-hitter in 126 seasons of Ohio State University baseball, facing one batter over the minimum even though he had walked four in the opening game of a three-game set with the University of Michigan, a 6-0 victory over the Wolverines before 3,219 fans.
Burkhart, the Buckeyes' main catcher, threw out three UM attempting to steal, but it was two stellar infield plays, including one by ex-Fort Frye standout Tyler Engle, late in the game that preserved Wimmers' gem.
In the seventh inning, OSU second baseman Cory Kovanda went parallel to the ground on a dive to his right two snag a two-out liner off the bat of Michigan's Ryan LaMarre.
With the pressure building with each out Wimmers recorded, including 14 by strikeout, it was Engle that turned in the game's most dramatic defensive play. After UM's Mike Dufek opened the top of the eighth by reaching on a walk, Kenny Fellows took Wimmers' 3-1 offering back up the middle. Engle, playing shortstop for Ohio State, instinctively ranged to his left and extended himself fully to glove the hot two-hopper. Engle landed face first in the dirt with his forehead taking the brunt of the impact, but recovered to make the back-hand toss to Kovanda to record the force out on Dufek at second.
"I got a little whiplash on that," Engle said of the hard landing.
Still, he was fully aware of what was at stake.
"I wasn't even thinking about it either," he said. "I just wanted to do my part and help him get there."
In the ninth, Wimmers nailed down the no-hitter by fanning John Lorenz and Kevin Cislo, both looking.
After he got the called third strike on Cislo on the 133rd pitch he had thrown, Wimmers tossed his glove high in the air and let out a celebratory scream. The OSU dugout emptied and all of his teammates converged on the mound to congratulate Wimmers.
"He gave me a hug," Engle said. "He didn't say much to anybody. He was talking on emotion."
OSU head coach Bob Todd called Engle's contribution "unbelievable."
Speaking Sunday after the Wolverines salvaged one win in the three-game series, Engle also grasped for words to adequately express the emotions involved in being involved in Wimmers' historic effort.
"It was amazing," he said. "It was the best experience I've ever had playing baseball.
"Everybody knew about it but nobody said a word. They just let (Alex) be. I knew what was at stake and tried to complete it for him."
On Saturday, Wimmers could barely get through the post-game interview on the Big Ten Network before OSU relief ace Jake Hale raked a handful of shaving cream across his face.
In Sunday's series wrap up, Engle displayed his range once again as he lunged to right to cut off a ground ball ticketed for left field off the bat of Michigan's Nick Urban.
Engle righted himself and threw on to Kovanda to force out Dufek again.
A year ago, Engle likely would not have been in position to make either one of the more difficult plays. Due to a shoulder injury, Engle played not as deep to save the wear on a torn labrum. Over the winter, he had arthroscopic surgery and subsequently rehabbed in order to be back in the Buckeye lineup this spring.
"I had to play in a lot last year just because I knew I wouldn't be able to make the throws when I did get to the ball," Engle said. "This year, I just think it's a year of being more experienced and being more comfortable. The game has slowed down a little bit for me. I just go out there and play my game."
Ohio State managed to take 2-of-3 from the Wolverines with designated hitter Ryan Dew going 5-for-5 at the plate, including his sixth home run of the season, to key a 9-6 victory in the second game of the series Saturday.
On Sunday, Michigan's Eric Katzman and Alan Oaks subdued the Buckeyes, who were pretty much punchless as they left 13 stranded on base.
"Coming off (Saturday) and two energy-filled wins, I don't know what happened today," Engle said. "We knew what we had to do and we didn't get it done, so we're not going to make any excuses."
For Ohio State, now 34-11 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten, the action shifts to Louisville where the Buckeyes are set to play a two-game set today and Wednesday.
OSU resumes conference play at Illinois, the current front-runner with a 30-13 overall slate and a 14-4 league record. Minnesota (30-13, 13-4) currently holds down second place in the Big Ten.
"Louisville went to Omaha two years ago and came here last year and played good ball, (with the Cardinals winning, 13-12). It will be a good stepping stone to get ready for this weekend," Engle said.
Engle had been hampered by a hamstring injury earlier this season, but believes he's becoming more consistent at the plate. Through Sunday, Engle was batting .250, but sported a .447 on-base percentage due to a keen batting eye. He has drawn 24 walks in 26 starts through Sunday.
Ultimately, the Buckeyes need to nail down one the top seeds in the Big Ten baseball championships at Nationwide Park beginning Wednesday, May 20.
The goal remains to finish as the Big Ten regular-season champs, Engle said.
Joe Davis covers sports for The Marietta Times.