The Ohio State softball team is finally headed home. With 22 games already in the books in 2016, OSU (15-7) has the chance to make a statement on its own field.
The Buckeyes, who are coming off a 4-1 trip to San Diego, which included a 9-6 win over then-No. 22 Fresno State, are set to face Maryland (7-20) in their home opener Friday at 6 p.m. at Buckeye Field.
The three-game series stretches from Friday to Sunday and marks the beginning of conference play. Up to this point, OSU has seen action in five tournaments since February.
“We won, but we aren’t even at our best yet,” said OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly. “Everyone has been like, ‘Wow, imagine what we will be like when we put it all together,’ which is great.”
Maryland at a glance
The Terrapins have not had a winning season since 2013, and this season has been more of the same. Maryland failed to tally a winning weekend at any of the six tournaments it attended, including an 0-3 showing at its own invitational last week.
Maryland checks in at last place in the Big Ten for both win percentage and team pitching. The Terrapin pitching staff, which is led by redshirt junior Madison Martin, currently owns a 6.08 ERA while allowing 238 hits. Starter Brenna Nation has only 19 strikeouts in her 19 appearances, although the redshirt junior’s slow start might just be an adjustment to a larger role than in her two previous seasons.
Sophomore Skylynne Ellazar has 13 RBIs and a .388 batting average, while senior infielder Lindsey Schmeiser leads the team with four home runs, despite having only 11 total hits so far.
The Terrapins’ opponents are outhitting them .327 to .281 and have nearly 60 more RBIs than the younger Maryland squad. The team has only two seniors, but its key advantage is the versatility of its players. Eight of the 20 Terrapins play multiple positions, enabling the team to rotate and increase its endurance.
Strength from the mound
Unlike the Terrapins, the Buckeyes’ greatest asset is their cohesive pitching staff. OSU still boasts the lowest ERA (2.30) in the conference, and its five pitchers continue to fill both starting and relieving roles.
Junior Shelby Hursh continues to dominate from the mound with 69 strikeouts, only 23 behind her total in 2015. The right-hander retains the lowest ERA in the conference.
“Shelby’s ability to step in and execute her pitches immediately allows us to take the momentum back into our dugout,” Schoenly said.
Junior Lena Springer also has performed well, ranking in the top 10 with a 2.17 ERA, while surrendering only four extra-base hits to opponents.
More top honors
Building off senior Cammi Prantl’s Big Ten and Louisville Slugger honors last month, two more Buckeyes earned conference awards last week. Senior first baseman Erika Leonard earned Big Ten Player of the Week, while second baseman Emily Clark was named co-Freshman of the Week.
Leonard and Clark recorded strong weekends in Arizona and California, as both players posted a batting average north of .350. Leonard hit two home runs, while Clark recorded her first-career four-bagger against Fresno State.
In late February, Leonard was announced as one of 30 candidates for the Senior CLASS Award, which will be given to one NCAA Division I softball player in May. The award, which focuses on community, classroom, character and competition, encourages players to use their platforms to act as leaders in their community, according to its website.
“This team is lucky to have such strong seniors this season,” Schoenly said, referring to Leonard, Prantl and shortstop Maddy McIntyre. “They’re leaders and role models, and I never want them to leave.”
Eight other Big Ten players were selected as candidates. Leonard’s nomination marks the first time an OSU player has been selected since the award’s inception in 2007.
After their series with Maryland, the Buckeyes are set to head to Wisconsin for another three-game matchup spanning from April 1 to 3. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. on April 1.