Coming into the 2011 season, coach Linda Kalafatis expected to have an experienced starting rotation in the circle for Ohio State, led by returning starters Melanie Nichols and Lindsay Bodeker. Unfortunately for OSU, both went down after having surgeries, and Kalafatis was left with a young, inexperienced staff.
Nichols, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2010, recorded 21 wins, and led the team with 130 strikeouts and a 1.93 ERA. Nichols had right-shoulder surgery last July and tried to return to OSU early this season, but Kalafatis said she was not able to make a full return.
Bodeker re-injured her right knee and was shut down in the middle of last season. In 2010 she posted a 3-7 record with a 3.41 ERA and opposing batters hit only .249 in her 12 appearances (nine starts). She would have been a red shirt senior for OSU this season, but she did not return after graduating last year.
The baton has been passed off to senior Karisa Medrano, and freshmen Kasie Kelley and Audrey Plant, all of which have experienced the growing pains of becoming a full-time pitcher at the college level.
In five appearances last season Medrano posted a 2.42 ERA, but she played the majority of her time in the outfield during her first three seasons.
The last time she pitched on a regular basis was back at St. Pius High School in Albuquerque, N.M., and earned first-team all-metro honors as a pitcher.
Medrano got off to a slow start this season, but that was mainly due to academic commitments as a radiology major.
“It has been difficult for her because she has class and clinical with her major,” assistant coach Danielle Henderson said. “She comes after and puts in time every single day. A lot of times she’s maybe not at practice, but she comes right after practice and pitches.”
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.
“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 second half of her season has been quite different. Medrano now leads the team with a team low 4.13 ERA, and is first in wins (5), complete games (5), strikeouts (66), and opponent’s batting average (.243).
“Its great she works so hard, so everybody knows she wants to be here, but also has her responsibilities for school,” Kelley said.
“It’s awesome that she can do that balance and its really paying off for her.”
Henderson said that Medrano’s improvement has come from her ability to work both sides of the plate as well as her location, and her ability to mix in the changeup.
“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.”
Kelley, simply put, came to OSU as a power-pitcher.
The 5-foot-10 right-hander from Wooster High School struck out a state record 44 hitters in 19 innings pitched against Lexington High School, but Wooster lost the game 1-0. She had a 0.65 ERA and 271 strikeouts in 129 innings pitched that season.
Once she got to the college level, she quickly learned that there is more to pitching than just throwing hard.
“I feel like everything was always my muscle game,” she said. “I always felt like I knew I was one of the better people on the field and now every single person who comes up to bat, I know there going to be a good hitter whereas before I could automatically get everyone.”
In 2011, Kelly has a 3-5 record in 22 appearances (10 starts) putting up a 5.46 ERA. She has walked only 29 batters in 68 innings pitched.
Plant was a four-year varsity letter-winner, set the school record for wins in a season with 26 and struck out 283 batters.
She was nothing short of dominant in at Upper Arlington High School, but the college-level has been a change of pace for her.
“It has definitely been an adjustment,” she said. “The game is a lot faster than what we played in the past. We’re just slowly getting adjusted and improving as a team.”
Plant is 1-3 on the year with a 7.56 ERA in 15 appearances (5 starts). She pitched a complete game shutout surrendering two hits, two walks, and struck out five batters against Iowa State on March 4th.
Plant said using her spin and trying to be a finesse pitcher is what she does best.
The Buckeyes (10-25, 2-6) will attempt to snap a five-game losing streak when they face the Purdue Boilermakers (25-11-1, 3-3) in a two-game set this weekend at Buckeye Field. Both games begin at 2 p.m.