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The Big Ten season is still more than a month away, but the early season tournaments that prepare the Ohio State softball team (7-3, 0-0) for the grind of conference play are starting to heat up.
The OSU softball team travels to Cathedral City, Calif., on Friday to participate in the Mary Nutter Classic, where it will play five games over the weekend, two against ranked opponents (No. 11 LSU and No. 14 Arizona, both on Friday).
“The Mary Nutter Classic is one of the premier tournaments every year, so of course the girls are excited,” said first-year coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly. “We’re going to play some ranked opponents … but the game doesn’t know who’s ranked, so you just have to go out there and play it.”
The tournament comes about a week after OSU’s participation in the Jacksonville University Tournament, which saw the unranked Buckeyes go 3-2 on the weekend, including a 1-0 upset of No. 16/17 Louisville.
“We came out strong,” said sophomore outfielder Taylor Watkins. “We should have beat some teams, but we did our best and stuck together in all the situations we were put in.”
The biggest news from the weekend in Jacksonville was the emergence of sophomore pitcher Alex DiDomenico. The 5-foot-9 right-hander from Youngstown, Ohio, completed 15 innings for the weekend, holding batters to a .130 average. Her four-hit, eight-inning shut-out of Louisville was the centerpiece to a weekend that saw her named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on Monday, her first such honor.
“I was really happy about it,” DiDomenico said. “I was shocked actually, but I mean, it felt really good.”
Her coach echoed the Big Ten’s praise.
“I think Alex has grown a lot in the last six months,” Schoenly said. “When she hits her spots, she can have a lot of success, and I think it’s a really big confidence boost for her.”
The Buckeyes sport a 2-1 record against ranked foes on the year. Their single defeat was a 6-1 loss against then-No. 8 Georgia on Feb. 8 in Athens, Ga., a defeat they avenged the next day with a 5-4 win.
“The competition is what I’m really looking forward to,” DiDomenico said. “I think it will be a good experience … we’re just working to get better. We can never get too good.”
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The Buckeyes are using these early season tests as measuring sticks as they head toward the Big Ten season, which for them begins on March 22 at home against Indiana.
“It shows us who we can beat and how good we are and what we need to work on,” Watkins said. “It shows us that we can play against those ranked teams.”
While OSU knows these early season games are valuable learning tools, the team knows the real test begins once conference play starts. Schoenly is focused on keeping the team concentrated on the present and getting better each day as conference season looms.
“We fully expect to be better a month from now than we are now, because we’re better now than we were a month ago,” Schoenly said. “If they just keep buying into the fact that we need to continue to get better as the season goes on, we’ll be ready when conference season comes.”
The Mary Nutter Classic begins Friday and ends Sunday. OSU is scheduled to play No. 11 LSU, No. 14 Arizona, California Polytechnic State University, San Diego State and Utah on the weekend.