In a rivalry game, anything can happen. Heading into a weekend series against Michigan in Ann Arbor — currently ranked fifth in the country — the Ohio State softball team is playing its best ball of the year.
The last time OSU (17-15, 5-1) played the Wolverines (26-6, 6-0) was in the 2013 Big Ten Tournament, when then-top-seeded Michigan won 3-2 after a two-run rally by the Buckeyes in the seventh inning came up short.
Now, winners of eight of their last 11 games — including a sweep of Michigan State and two out of three games against Indiana — the Buckeyes have to stay aggressive on offense and avoid giving up big innings defensively to win this weekend, coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said.
“The team is playing with confidence right now regardless of the opponent, so I’m trying not to bring huge focus to the opponent, but to continue to feel good about what we are doing,” Schoenly said. “But do we want to beat Michigan specifically? Absolutely. Any true Buckeye does.”
Junior right-fielder Caitlin Conrad said the team is progressing really well and that winning against the Wolverines would be a “huge deal” for the team.
“The last couple years it has been rough playing them, but we are more than capable of beating them,” Conrad said. “The stands were full and loud the whole time (last year at Michigan), I don’t expect anything less than that this year.”
Junior pitcher Olivia O’Reilly has emerged as OSU’s ace with a 6-2 overall record, 2.70 ERA and 51 strikeouts. O’Reilly has stepped up and given the team stability on the mound, Schoenly said.
“She has grown so much in the last two months and has really come into her own out there,” Schoenly said. “Her success can be attributed to her ability to move the ball and keep the hitters guessing. She brings a fighter mentality to the defense.”
O’Reilly grew up in Sylvania, Ohio, just a few miles from the Michigan border, and said playing for OSU is a dream come true after being a Buckeye fan her entire life. She knows how heated the rivalry can get though, and she said she lives in a “house divided” with her mother being a Michigan fan.
“Playing against Michigan is like no other atmosphere I have ever experienced,” O’Reilly said. “There’s just something different in the air during rivalry week, and it’s such a battle every time we play.”
Since starting the Big Ten schedule, the team’s offense has exploded, O’Reilly said. She hopes the Buckeyes can keep that up so they can stay competitive this weekend.
“More than anything else, the Michigan series is about pride, and winning would definitely boost our team to a higher level,” O’Reilly said. “They have a good team and we fully expect to compete this weekend.”
Heading into her last three-game series against Michigan, senior first-baseman Evelyn Carrillo has started 188 of 189 career games and has recorded 136 RBI.
“Evelyn has taken her game to a new level and dominated thus far in the Big Ten,” Schoenly said. “This is exactly what you hope to see from your senior leader.”
First pitch in Ann Arbor is set for 6 p.m. Friday.