COLUMBUS — This weekend had been circled in red ink on Michigan’s calendar for a long time.

It wasn’t just a series with the capability of becoming a turning point to separate two teams tied for fourth in the congested Big Ten standings.

It was Michigan and Ohio State. The rivalry.

But for three Wolverines, it wasn’t just about facing their bitter rivals; it was a homecoming.

And given Michigan’s outcome, it made the losses — two of which came in back-to-back double-header fashion in extra innings — that much harder to swallow.

“It sucks, especially to those guys,” freshman rightfielder Michael O’Neill said, summing up the weekend’s 7-2, 7-6 and 4-3 losses to the Buckeyes.

Fifth-year senior captain and second baseman Anthony Toth — a native of suburban Cleveland — was a lifelong Buckeye fan until the Wolverines offered him a chance to play college baseball, something Ohio State (9-6 Big Ten, 19-18 overall) didn’t offer.

Sophomore shortstop Derek Dennis was born in Ohio and grew up a Buckeye fan until moving to Michigan when he was seven.

But neither was as excited to return to their home state as O’Neill. O’Neill, who grew up in the shadows of the Ohio State campus, has been talking for weeks about returning home to play in front of friends, family and most notably, against his best friend: Buckeye freshman first baseman and pitcher Josh Dezse.

But it was a Dezse-led Ohio State squad that got the best of the Wolverines (6-9, 13-28). Dezse went 6-for-10 with six RBI including a three-run homer over O’Neill in right field. He also closed out two games, striking out all six batters he faced.

“(Dezse) had an unbelievable weekend, so props to him,” O’Neill said. “He played phenomenal. That’s the best I’ve ever seen him play.”

Added Michigan coach Rich Maloney: “You’ve got to give Josh Dezse a tremendous amount of credit. If he’s not the (Big Ten) Player of the Week, then I don’t know who is.

“He should be Player of the Week and he might even be Pitcher of the Week — he might get them both, and rightfully so. He was the MVP of (Saturday), and let’s be honest, this weekend.”

Though O’Neill hit just 2-for-13 on the weekend, things weren’t all bad for the right fielder.

His fifth-inning single in the first game of the Saturday double header evened the score at two, and he later scored the game-tying run in the eighth inning of the nightcap.

Then in the bottom-half of the eighth, a two-out single into right field prompted Ohio State’s manager to send home his lead-off man, Brian DeLucia, from second. But O’Neill showed off his rocket-for-an-arm, gunning down DeLucia at home for the final out of the inning.

But when O’Neill reached base in the 10th inning of the same game, he was caught stealing to end the inning with junior catcher Coley Crank — the Wolverines’ most productive hitter — left standing in the batter’s box without a chance to play hero.

Ohio State scored the next inning to complete the sweep.

Toth — playing in his last career series against the Buckeyes — made two of his team-leading nine errors on Saturday.

An error in game one of the double header led to an unearned run by Ohio State in a game it went on to win by one. Junior third baseman John Lorenz fielded a grounder and threw to second to try to get the lead runner, but Toth dropped the ball. The runner later scored, allowing the Buckeyes to tie the game entering the ninth.

But no one struggled more than sophomore shortstop Derek Dennis. Dennis was just 1-for-13 from the plate with eight strikeouts, while leaving seven men on base.

“Yeah, that was rough,” Maloney said of Dennis’ struggles, shaking his head. “He did struggle.”

But the most notable moment from Dennis over the weekend didn’t come from the plate. It came from the shortstop position, where he was otherwise spectacular.

With one out and a runner on third in the bottom of the 10th inning in the series finale, Dennis fielded a routine grounder. Instead of throwing to first for the second out, he rushed his throw to try to get the lead runner out at third. The throw went astray.

Moments later, the Buckeyes were celebrating on the field while a stunned Dennis was left sitting, hanging his head to avoid watching the celebrating that ensued from his error.

For the three players that hail from Ohio, they couldn’t leave the state any sooner. But the outcomes of three games have the ability to turn a three-hour drive into an eternity.

“As much as it sucks, this is going to be a long bus ride home,” O’Neill said.

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