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On a roll: Ohio State softball looks for 3rd straight win

The Buckeyes softball team faces Pittsburgh in a doubleheader Wednesday, which chould be one of the toughest tests Ohio State has had this season.

The glaring difference between the teams is the amount of freshmen starters in each one’s lineup. Pittsburgh (23-7, 3-0) has just two freshmen on its roster, and only starts pitcher and first baseman Karlyn Jones. On the other hand, OSU (9-20, 2-2) has six freshmen, all of whom have had a great deal of playing time.

Jones is one of three pitchers for the Panthers, all of whom are having stellar seasons. Jones holds an 8-3 record and a 1.25 ERA, while leading the staff in strikeouts, with 67, and innings pitched, with 73. Senior pitcher Alyssa O’Connell leads the team with a 0.69 ERA and an 8-2 record, and has recorded six shutouts. Cory Berliner rounds out the Panthers’ staff with a 7-2 record, posting 1.38 ERA and has racked up more wins than any other pitcher in Pittsburgh history.

Pittsburgh’s offense does not get any easier to handle. Kelly Hmiel leads the Panthers’ offense. The junior third baseman and catcher leads the team in batting average (.375), home runs (8) and slugging percentage (.788), and has successfully stolen 6-of-7 bases.

Six members of the Pittsburgh batting order hit for at least a .313 average. The lineup has accounted for 28 home runs, 121 RBIs and has stolen 48-of-56 bases successfully.

Just three of OSU’s players hit above .300, all of whom hit above .353. Its lineup has accounted for 17 home runs and 101 RBIs. The Buckeyes are more effective in the base paths as they have stolen 24-of-27 bases successfully.

“The game does not change the elements of the game,” OSU coach Linda Kalafatis said. “Pitching, hitting and defense have to be good. More than that, it is getting the timely hits.”

OSU is coming off a two-game series sweep of Minnesota this past weekend. In the series, the Buckeyes won game one by run-rule, 10-0, and took game two, 7-5, after coming back from a four-run deficit in the seventh inning.

Megan Coletta hit what would be the game-winning two-run home run with the game tied at five to complete the sweep. Coletta emphasized that the team needs to continue “to hit the ball like we did because the Big Ten is a big hitting conference.”

Junior shortstop Alicia Herron has had a great deal of success in her career as a Buckeye, and she has kept it up in 2011 as she leads the team offensively, now as a co-captain.

“It was very exciting. We’re playing on the upswing, getting the momentum back,” Herron said. “We played our best, and now I think we’re at a turning point.”

The USA 2011 Player of the Year candidate leads the team offensively in batting average (.422), slugging percentage (.699) and on-base percentage (.543), as well as in eight other hitting categories.

“Alicia has spent her first two years under some really strong personalities and returning captains,” Kalafatis said. “She has kind of been the little sister even though she has played big. It’s a whole other road now to be the big sister and have so many younger sisters. We’re a very young team.”

In the circle, OSU is led by senior pitcher Karisa Medrano, who became a full-time pitcher this year after spending most of her career as an outfielder. Switching positions did not come easily for Medrano.

“I think right now the team has a tremendous amount of confidence in Medrano,” Kalafatis said. “Karisa settled in after a shaky start, to turn around and prove she can be consistent. I think the team is ready to fight behind that.”

In her first nine appearances, she pitched 21 innings, surrendering 18 earned runs and 26 walks, and had 14 strikeouts. During that time, her record was 1-7 with a 7.71 ERA.

Since she earned her seventh loss Feb. 27 against UCLA, Medrano has posted a 3-3 record for a 3.28 ERA, giving up 15 earned runs in 41.1 innings. She also struck out 32 batters and walked 23.

“We figured out what wasn’t working for me. Obviously it was my control,” Medrano said. “In practice we have been zoning in on that, and luckily it’s been working.”

The softball team has had an excruciating schedule this season, and it does not get any easier Wednesday. The Buckeyes have faced four top-25 opponents this season, including defending national champion UCLA.

“I think we’re getting better, mentally tough, and we’re maturing as a team,” Herron said. “I think it’s all coming back together finally.”

Game one begins at 4 p.m., and game two follows it at 6 p.m. at Buckeye Field.

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