Any college softball team in the country would love to have the kind of player crazy enough to run into an outfield wall at full speed just to make a single catch. Ohio State (12-14, 0-0) has three of them.
Three outfielders — sophomore left-fielder Cammi Prantl, junior center fielder Taylor Watkins and junior right-fielder Caitlin Conrad — have been a bright spot in the Buckeyes’ season.
While all three players have excelled at the plate this season — all three players are hitting higher than .250 this so far this year — it is their collective fearlessness in the field that has made other teams take notice this season. After playing teams like No. 2 Florida and No. 4 Oregon, Prantl said she thinks as a group they can match up with anyone in the country.
“The outfield I think really solidifies the team, us three being together,” Prantl said. “I honestly think we have the best outfield, throwing wise, speed wise, how smart we are.”
Coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly agreed that from what she has seen so far this season, her outfield is among the best defensively.
“There has been great players I’ve seen make great plays, and I would rank our outfield with them,” Schoenly said. “They’re not afraid to make the big play, they’ll dive if it’s close, you rarely see them pull up on a ball that could be close.”
Nicknamed “The Cannon Crew” because of their strong throwing arms and the initials of their first names, all three have become moral and statistical leaders on team. When all three players are at the top of their game, it serves as motivation to see who can top the other, Schoenly said.
“I think they feed off each other. When Taylor started the year off, she was diving all over the place, I think the rest of them wanted to live up to that standard,” Schoenly said. “Then Cammi was diving into the fence and Caitlin was making great plays, I think they have such a good dynamic between the three of them that they want to live up to it.”
One of the keys to the outfielders’ success is their ability to communicate with one another from across the field, Watkins said.
“We’ll look at each other and Caitlin will say ‘I’ve got this spot,’ I’m like ‘OK, I’ve got you right here,’” Watkins said. “I just really feel like it helps us have confidence in our other outfielders, knowing that the communication is there so we’re not going to run into the wall, we know where everything is at.”
That communication has transformed into a well-oiled machine, with each player knowing exactly where to be at all times, Prantl said.
“I know that Taylor has my back and then Caitlin has her back, we’re always knowing who has the front and who has the back, and what will happen if it’s between us, so we definitely talk a lot more,” Prantl said.
Offensively, the outfield also sets the tone for the Buckeyes as more times than not they are stepping up to the plate as the 1-2-3 hitters. Conrad has been OSU’s standout offensive leader this season with a .365 batting average, 27 hits, five homeruns, and 18 RBIs.
“I had good expectations for myself, but I think I’m doing a lot better than I imagined I was going to, — I am very happy with the results I’m producing,” Conrad said. “I can see the ball really well this year, so I’m hoping it continues.”
Even though Conrad currently leads the team in batting average, slugging percentage (.689), hits, homeruns and RBIs, Watkins and Prantl have also been efficient at the plate. Watkins is tied for the team-lead with Conrad in on base percentage (.442), leads it in runs scored (20), triples (two) and walks (17). Prantl is tied for second on the team with five multiple hit games and tied for third on the team with three multiple RBI games.
“They show up every day at practice and do it too which is really nice, it’s not just like we see it in games, they do that stuff all day every day,” Schoenly said. “It’s a nice pick-me-up as a team when you see them out there working their butts off, I really appreciate it.”
The commendable hustle all three players exert on each facet of the game also provides some ease of mind for their teammates, Conrad said.
“I think that it is reassurance for everybody else, that with us three out there we’re going to back them up easy,” Conrad said. “We’re going to get everything that comes to us and it helps the team feel more comfortable in the infield and it makes the pitchers feel more comfortable.”
Although the goal for the OSU pitching staff is to keep the ball out of the outfield altogether, Schoenly said the pitchers value the safety net that Watkins, Conrad and Prantl provide.
“Nothing pumps you up more as a pitcher than if you happen to slip a pitch and a line drive gets hit out there and they save your butt, so I know they appreciate them,” Schoenly said.
The outfield and the rest of the Buckeyes are set to play their first home game of the season against Michigan State Friday at 4 p.m. at Buckeye Field.