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Ohio State softball splits 4 games in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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OSU then-freshman pitcher Shelby Hursh (19) throws a pitch during a game against Northwestern on April 28, 2014. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

OSU then-freshman pitcher Shelby Hursh (19) throws a pitch during a game against Northwestern on April 28, 2014. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

The Ohio State softball team looked to continue and improve on a strong opening weekend when it traveled to the Atlantic Coast Conference/Big Ten Challenge in Atlanta.

It turned out to be a split foursome of games as the Buckeyes (5-3) went 2-2, winning both games against the Georgia Tech but falling twice to Syracuse.

The Buckeyes’ pitching staff was led by junior Shelby Hursh, who saw action in three of the matchups. Sophomore Shelby McCombs contributed on both sides of the ball, including a walk-off home run in OSU’s second matchup against the Yellow Jackets.

Even with key plays throughout the four games, OSU still struggled to bring runners home or get runners on base at all. The Buckeyes left runners stranded in 14 of the 29 innings played over the weekend.

Game 1

In their first game of the tournament, the Buckeyes shut out Georgia Tech 6-0, moving their overall record to 3-1.

Hursh (3-0) pitched her first complete game of the season and struck out 10 Yellow Jackets in her outing.

The right-hander’s effort from the mound was greatly supported by OSU’s bats, who got the day going with two solo home runs from senior first baseman Erika Leonard and junior left fielder Alex Bayne in the top of the first inning. Leonard went 3-for-4 after struggling to make big plays the weekend prior.

Junior utility player Jess Machovina continued her comeback with a single to center field, which drove in sophomore Becca Gavin, who was a pinch runner in the game.

The game-long lead gave some of the Buckeyes, like Gavin, a chance to relieve the starters offensively and see action as either pinch runners or hitters.

Georgia Tech remained hitless until the sixth inning, when freshman Jordan Deep singled to right field on a pinch hit. Hursh retired the next two batters, keeping the Yellow Jackets scoreless.

In the top of the sixth inning, senior utility player Jayla Saibene scored on a walk, one of five from Georgia Tech freshman pitcher Jenna Goodrich. Goodrich pitched the full seven innings but gave up four earned runs.

Despite a comfortable lead heading into the seventh, OSU kept the pressure on, stretching its lead to 6-0 with senior catcher Cammi Prantl’s two-run single. The Yellow Jackets went in order in their final at-bats of the day, solidifying the Buckeyes’ dynamic start to the tournament.

Game 2

Even though the Buckeyes had a strong showing on Friday, they could not extend their streak in their matchup against Syracuse, losing a pitchers’ duel 1-0.

Sophomore third baseman Ashley Goodwin had one of only two hits for OSU, a single to left field. The offense never got going. OSU left runners on base in four innings, all of whom were in scoring position.

The Buckeyes’ pitching staff held the Orange to four hits, but freshman Morgan Ray and McCombs could not make up for a slow offense. The duo combined for not only six strikeouts but also four hit batters, including three by McCombs.

Syracuse’s only run came in the bottom of the fourth inning, an RBI single by freshman first baseman Hannah Dossett.

The Scarlet and Gray’s defense, however, did make key plays to keep the Orange to only one run throughout the rest of the matchup. After the Orange scored, Ray came in to relieve and got out of a bases-loaded situation. Goodwin turned a double play in the next inning, which gave the Buckeyes a renewed spark, but they could not get the run needed to avoid the defeat.

Game 3

OSU’s second matchup with Georgia Tech ended in a much tighter outcome than their Friday shutout. The two teams went into extra innings after a seven-inning battle, but the Buckeyes eventually came out on top 4-3 on a walk-off home run by McCombs.

Georgia Tech went down in order in the top of the first inning, and OSU left the bases loaded after a pair of singles from Bayne and senior shortstop Maddy McIntyre.

The Yellow Jackets scored first in the second inning on a single by freshman catcher Kaylee Ellebracht. The inning began when OSU junior Lena Springer hit a batter and the Yellow Jackets’ senior first baseman Courtney Ziese reached on an error.

After Georgia Tech took the lead, Hursh came in to relieve Springer. The Yellow Jackets extended their lead to 2-0 with a home run by junior third baseman Jessica Kowalewicz in the top of the fourth.

The Buckeyes responded in the bottom of the inning with a two-run homer by Bayne, her second of the weekend. The junior totaled four home runs all of 2015 but already has three after only two weekends.

OSU made another change on the mound in the fifth inning, sending Hursh to the bullpen for Ray. Hursh finished her two innings with three strikeouts and two walks.

A pair of errors by Georgia Tech in the fifth allowed the Buckeyes to jump ahead 3-2. The Yellow Jackets tied it up in the seventh with a triple by sophomore shortstop Kelsey Chisholm, and the Buckeyes could not capitalize on a single by Goodwin in the bottom of the inning.

McCombs came on with one out for Ray in the eighth with Yellow Jackets on first and second base. However, the Buckeye infield made two key outs to get out of the situation and take their turn at the plate.

And the Scarlet and Gray made it count, ending the game on the walk-off shot by McCombs. The junior also got the win, giving her a 1-1 split for the day.

Game 4

The Buckeyes’ final matchup of the tournament was a tight battle with Syracuse, who was coming off an undefeated Saturday with wins against OSU and Purdue.

Two consecutive walks gave the Buckeyes their first two baserunners of the game, but a double play by the Syracuse defense kept the game scoreless in the bottom of the second.

In a one-out, bases-loaded situation in the top of the fifth, Hursh hit a batter to give the Orange a 1-0 lead. Ray came into the circle to relieve, but the pitching change could not stop Syracuse from scoring another run.

OSU could not respond in the bottom of the inning, despite a leadoff triple by McIntyre. Momentum remained with Syracuse when freshman first baseman Andrea Bombace soloed a home run to left field, expanding its lead to 3-0.

The Buckeyes responded in the top of the seventh, first with a double by Goodwin to move sophomore pinch runner Cassidy Clough to third. McCombs, playing as the game’s designated hitter, followed up with a one-out, two-run double of her own.

After Prantl grounded out to the right side, sophomore pinch runner Maddie Marotti moved to third. Saibene could not take advantage, though, and struck out to give Syracuse the 3-2 win.

Hursh and Ray combined for eight strikeouts, compared to only three by Syracuse’s pitchers, senior Jocelyn Cater and sophomore AnnaMarie Gatti. Only three Buckeyes had hits, but all of them were of the extra-base variety.

Coming up

The Buckeyes are next scheduled to travel to the University of South Carolina Upstate Tournament from Feb. 26 to 28, where they are slated to play in five games. Their first matchup against Virginia Tech is set to start Friday at 2 p.m.

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