The Ohio State softball team swept its third Big Ten opponent of the season this weekend, taking down Rutgers (18-23, 2-7) in a three-game series.
The Buckeyes (24-8-1, 9-1-1) scored at least 10 runs in each of the three matchups, and seven players hit home runs, including three each by freshman Emily Clark and redshirt junior Alex Bayne. Bayne is now three home runs away from breaking the program’s single-season home run record, which has stood at 19 since 2009.
Bayne hit .615 over the three games, while Clark hit .545, and eight of the nine OSU starters hit above a .300 clip.
OSU set off on a destructive path on Friday, taking the 17-8 win after a tight game through the first four innings. The Buckeyes had their third eight-run inning of the year in the fifth inning, where five players brought in runs. Five players — Bayne, senior catcher Cammi Prantl, redshirt senior first baseman Erika Leonard, sophomore outfielder Taylor White and Clark — sent balls over the fence, thus sustaining the team’s now 13-game home run streak.
Freshman Katya Duvall made only her fourth appearance of the season but earned her third win on the mound, combining with junior Shelby Hursh for eight strikeouts. Duvall, one of seven California natives on the team, held the Scarlet Knights to one earned run in the final three innings of the chilly evening matchup.
OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly utilized 16 members of her 22-player roster in Friday’s game, including redshirt freshman Alex Vargas, who collected her first hit and RBI of her career with the Buckeyes.
Like 19 other games this season, OSU scored first on Leonard’s sixth home run the year, but Rutgers responded with senior Melanie Slowinski’s homer of her own to take the lead. Sophomore catcher Sierra Maddox later stole home to give the Scarlet Knights another run.
Rutgers held the narrow lead until the top of the fourth, but solo shots by Clark and Prantl tied the game. The Scarlet Knights’ top hitter, senior Stephanie Huang, sent a long ball over the left-field fence to restore her team’s lead.
If the Buckeyes’ bats had been warm in the first four innings, they caught fire in the top of the fifth, starting with redshirt junior Jess Machovina’s single to center field. Sophomore Ashley Goodwin brought in the first run of the inning after junior Anna Kirk stole second to situate herself in scoring position.
Clark scored on a passed ball, and Bayne and Prantl advanced runners with singles to the outfield. White’s home run brought OSU’s lead to six, and Kirk’s deep double marked the team’s sixth hit of the inning.
The Scarlet Knights timidly responded with two unearned runs in the bottom of the inning, one scored on a fielding error by McIntyre and one on a walk. The Buckeyes then lengthened their lead to 14-7 on Bayne’s 15th homer and Machovina’s 12th RBI of the year.
Still, OSU was not content, adding three runs on Leonard’s and Vargas’ hits. Rutgers’ last chance in the bottom of the seventh inning produced one run on a late home run from freshman Allie Yoffee, but the Scarlet Knights fell for the 21st time this season.
Inclement weather cut Saturday’s game short, forcing OSU and Rutgers to pick up play on Sunday morning, when the Buckeyes sealed an 11-9 win. On what was her 16th home run of the year, however, Bayne battled the cold and rain in the top of the third to send the Buckeyes’ lead to 4-1.
In the previous inning, Clark’s blast over the fence brought the game to 2-1, after the Scarlet Knights scored first on a sacrifice bunt.
Rutgers left three on in the bottom of the second inning to make way for redshirt senior shortstop Maddy McIntyre’s leadoff single and Bayne’s homer. Machovina continued her three-game hit streak with a single to bring pinch runner Cassidy Clough home.
The bottom of the third, just as the Scarlet Knights were heating up, was stalled by the weather. Rutgers brought the game to 5-3 on senior Elizabeth Adams deep double before the umpires suspended the game.
When the matchup resumed Sunday, Goodwin’s quick single tacked on another run to OSU’s lead, but Rutgers third baseman Jordan Whitley notched a two-run home run to make the game a tight 6-5.
OSU reliever Morgan Ray, who took over for sophomore right-hander Shelby McCombs, allowed a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the sixth, but the freshman nabbed the last out with a groundout.
Clark sent her second home run of the game to center field in the top of the final inning to bring in White, who recorded an RBI with a single in the previous at-bat. Sophomore Becca Gavin followed suit with a two-run shot of her own, giving the Buckeyes an 11-5 lead.
For the first time this season, Gavin saw action behind the plate, allowing Prantl to take to left field, where she spent a handful of games in her previous three seasons.
The Scarlet Knights attempted to shorten their deficit in the bottom of the inning, scoring four runs in a late rally. Three of the runs were scored on passed balls, and the fourth was on one of Ray’s four walks of the day. Ray recorded three of her four strikeouts in the seventh inning, sending the Buckeyes to the final game of the series with the series win in hand.
OSU took advantage of its 2-0 weekend lead and sunnier weather to bounce out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning of the final matchup. That score stood until the top of the fifth inning, when Machovina recorded her second home run of the year to take OSU’s lead to three.
The Scarlet Knights went down in order in the second, third, fifth and seventh innings at the hands of junior Lena Springer and the OSU defense. Springer, a transfer from Central Florida, struck out seven in her ninth start of the year.
While Springer pitched a complete game, Rutgers used three pitchers in the circle and went for six combined strikeouts.
The game was a clash of defenses, as both teams struggled to move runners around the bases. The Buckeyes opened up in the sixth inning with Machovina’s home run and doubles by Kirk and Clark, expanding their lead to five.
As if 16 home runs were not enough for Bayne, she drove another long ball over the left field fence in the top of the seventh inning. Prantl, Leonard, White and Clark followed with singles to give OSU two more runs. With the bases loaded, junior Aubrie Levine hit McIntyre with a pitch, bringing in White. Bayne, in her second at-bat of the inning, then snapped a quick single to the pitcher and beat out the throw to send Clark home.
OSU’s offense solidified its fifth shutout of the year in the bottom of the final inning, where Rutgers put three infield groundouts into play. The Scarlet Knights suffered their second Big Ten sweep of 2016 and their seventh shutout.
OSU is set to return to Buckeye Field on Wednesday in a game against Dayton, before heading to No. 1 Michigan for a major Big Ten weekend series. The matchup against the Flyers is slated to begin at 6 p.m.