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Dayton, top-ranked Michigan lie ahead for Ohio State softball

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OSU softball players during a game against Penn State on April 6 at Buckeye Field. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

OSU softball players during a game against Penn State on April 6 at Buckeye Field. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

The Ohio State softball team has another busy week ahead, beginning with a game against Dayton set for Wednesday at 6 p.m. After the Flyers, the Buckeyes are scheduled for three games against No. 1 Michigan  from Friday to Sunday in what could be their toughest matchup of the season.

The No. 24 Buckeyes (24-8-1, 9-1-1) have just under a month of regular-season play left before heading to the Big Ten tournament. Last weekend at Rutgers, OSU swept the Scarlet Knights in three games, continuing its five-game win streak.

OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said she is eager to head into the second half of the season with a team that is building momentum.

“What a fun week for us,” she said of last week’s sweeps of Rutgers and Penn State. “So we’re not really working on anything specific this week.”

Scouting Dayton

The Flyers (17-14-1) have won seven of their last eight games, including a 2-1 series win at George Mason last weekend. The team is ranked second in the Atlantic 10 Conference, in which it claimed the No. 1 spot in 2015 with a 39-14 overall record.

At the plate, Dayton is led by junior Gabrielle Snyder, who is hitting .412 with 10 extra-base hits. The Flyers’ highest individual RBI total is 11, shared by freshman Lisa Tassi and junior Katie Ryan. Nine Buckeyes best this figure, as they have 215 RBIs to their opponents’ 118. Dayton’s roster has combined for 79 RBIs this season, while OSU redshirt junior Alex Bayne has 43 alone.

The Flyers are boasting the Atlantic 10’s reigning pitcher of the week in sophomore Manda Cash. The left-hander pitched two shutouts last week, including a career-high 13 strikeouts in seven innings on Saturday. While Cash’s ERA is 1.51, Snyder’s falls at an impressive 1.29 with a 6-1 record.

OSU junior Shelby Hursh continues to lead OSU’s pitching staff with 105 strikeouts and a 12-3 record. Hursh pitched her second career no-hitter in the team’s first game against Penn State on April 6.

“I’d still like to cut down on my walks,” Hursh said, noting her 72 walks. “It’s still a testament to my defense though when I walk a lot of hitters and they still can’t put up any runs.”

Fellow junior Lena Springer made her mark with a shutout against Rutgers last weekend, which brought her career ERA to 2.73.

“It has been a very interesting season with the pitching staff. Each has found their moment to shine, and we have relied on them in so many different situations,” Schoenly said. “I’m hoping for them to continue to shut down batters.”

Monitoring Michigan

Heading into its rivalry matchup against the Buckeyes, Michigan (29-4, 7-2) has claimed the No. 1 spot in both the USA Today and ESPN polls. Despite this title, the Wolverines, who have had 38 consecutive winning seasons, are ranked third in the Big Ten standings behind Minnesota and OSU.

In the conference, Michigan, Schoenly’s alma mater, leads in team batting, pitching and fielding percentages as it ventures into a midweek matchup against Michigan State.

The Wolverines’ offense is the crown jewel of the Big Ten, boasting the top three conference hitters: senior Sierra Romero, junior Sierra Lawrence and sophomore Tera Blanco.

Romero, who has earned two Big Ten Player of the Week honors so far this season, is hitting .500 with 55 RBIs, 12 home runs and a .989 slugging percentage.

The senior infielder, a member of the 2015 United States Women’s National Team, was named Big Ten Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014, along with being a first-team All-American the past two seasons. She also holds program records for all-time runs scored, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, batting average and grand slams. She owns single-season records in runs scored, home runs, RBIs and batting average, too.

Michigan is outhitting its opponents .364 to .204, with six players hitting above .350. The team has collected 261 RBIs, while holding its opponents to only 84.

In the circle, the Wolverines rely on two pitchers, junior Megan Betsa and redshirt senior Sara Driesenga. The right-handed duo has struck out 218 batters and only given up 69 earned runs in 45 appearances.

Driesenga, a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection who missed most of last season with an injury, currently holds a perfect 14-0 record on the mound. Blanco, on the other hand, has pitched 25.1 innings with 22 strikeouts in 2016 but spends most of her time at first base.

Swinging for the fences

Eleven Buckeyes have hit home runs so far this season, led by Bayne with 17. Schoenly said that her hitters are feeling good and expressed her confidence in their continued success at the plate, especially Bayne.

OSU junior Alex Bayne (2) is welcomed by her teammates at home plate after hitting a homerun during a game against Penn State on April 6 at Buckeye Field. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

OSU junior Alex Bayne (2) is welcomed by her teammates at home plate after hitting a homerun during a game against Penn State on April 6 at Buckeye Field. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo Editor

“Bayne is within two home runs of the Ohio State home runs record, and there have been some unbelievable hitters in this program in the past,” Schoenly said. “I’m most proud of her for keeping a consistent approach at the plate.”

Bayne was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday, making her the second OSU player after senior Erika Leonard to earn the honor this season. Over the last five games, she hit .579 with a slugging percentage of 1.368.

Another player who Schoenly lauded was freshman Emily Clark, who has now taken on a full-time starting role at second base.

“I think she really gained her confidence when she started playing every day. She definitely packs power in her swing,” Schoenly said.

The second baseman hit .429 last week, and three of her four home runs on the year were recorded in the series against Rutgers. On the season, she has a .606 slugging percentage, which is third highest on the team behind Bayne and senior catcher Cammi Prantl.

“(Clark) had those kind of numbers this fall and we had high expectations for her, so we are glad she’s more comfortable,” Schoenly said. “I think it comes down to her being aggressive at the plate.”

Coming up

After the Wolverines, OSU is scheduled to face another nonconference opponent when it heads to Ohio University for a doubleheader on Tuesday, with an expected first pitch at 4 p.m. After the Bobcats, the Buckeyes are set to continue their Big Ten schedule with a home series with Purdue from April 22 to 24.

“This time of the year is a grind, and we’re feeling confident right now,” Schoenly said. “We want to ride that wave.”

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