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Softball: Ohio State starting Big Ten climb on the road at Michigan State

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OSU sophomore Emily Clark (20) tags Rutgers freshman Nicole Bowman (88) for an out during the game against Rutgers on April 1 at Buckeye field. Credit: Emily Hetterscheidt | For The Lantern

After getting a 3-2 win at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the No. 25 Ohio State women’s softball team is on the road again. This weekend, the team is traveling to East Lansing for a three-game series against the Spartans.

The Buckeyes are currently 27-11 overall and 10-4 in the Big Ten, with a 9-3 mark in road conference contests. Michigan State is 21-17 overall and 5-8 in the conference play.

“Michigan State always shows up to play,” OSU junior Becca Gavin said. “It’s one of those games where you can never underestimate an opponent based on their rank or how they’re playing.”

OSU leads the all-time record between the conference opponents, 66-43, and is 9-2 against Michigan State since 2013.  The last time the Buckeyes made the trip to East Lansing, they swept the Spartans in a three-game series.

Home or away, playing any Big Ten team is hard, junior outfielder Bailee Sturgeon said. In order to come out of Secchia Stadium with some Big Ten wins, the Buckeyes need to focus on defense and pitching.

The Spartans have some powerful forces at bat, with junior outfielder Lea Foerster leading the way. Foerster has a .395 batting average and is first in the Big Ten in doubles (15) and runs scored (47). Michigan State sophomore Ebonee Echols ranks No. 1 in the NCAA with 11 triples, the most of any Big Ten player since 1999.

For OSU, sophomore infielder Lilli Piper leads the team with a .405 batting average, 42 RBI and 51 hits.  Senior outfielder Alex Bayne has notched the most Buckeye home runs with 13 and has a .336 batting average. Six players from the Scarlet and Gray batting lineup have an average of .300 or better.

“We don’t fall off when we get to the bottom of our order,” said OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly. “The bottom of our order is very strong so it could be them stepping up, it could be the middle, it could be the top.”

Even if Michigan State gets some big hits, it’s vital for the OSU to keep its composure on the mound, Kovach Schoenly said.

In the Buckeyes’ win over Pittsburgh, senior pitcher Shelby Hursh registered her 11th win and had eight strikeouts, six of which were the final out of the inning.

“If she could do that every inning, that would make me happy,” Kovach Schoenly said. “I think she’s starting to pitch some of the best she’s pitched in her career right now and I’m really proud of the way she’s handled the pressure.”

Hursh is 11-4 with a 2.24 ERA (2.81 in conference). She has pitched in 97 innings and has five shutout victories.

Michigan State junior pitcher Bridgette Rainey is 12-7 with a 4.32 ERA. Rainey has recorded 105 strikeouts in her 95.2 innings pitched so far this season.

Last season, the Spartans made the trek to Columbus and took the series, 2-1. Now, the Buckeyes are looking to take back the series.

“Our focus going into these games is definitely getting back to finding our competitive edge, finding that aggressiveness that we came out the beginning of the season with and getting back to our fundamentals defensively and offensively,” Gavin said.

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