Daniel Zaas / Lantern photographer
Plagued by injuries and inexperience, the Ohio State softball team’s 2011 season was subpar.
The Buckeyes (14-37, 3-17 Big Ten) did not qualify for NCAA regional play for the first time in three years and posted their worst record in more than seven seasons.
OSU graduated seven seniors after the 2010 season and started about five underclassmen each game in 2011.
Besides the added inexperience on the Buckeyes’ roster, injuries to 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Melanie Nichols, senior Rachael Shepherd, redshirt senior Lindsay Bodeker, and junior outfielder Katie Simonton reduced the depth in OSU’s lineup.
Nichols had a team-high 130 strikeouts in 2010 with 21 wins. Nichols’ injury meant that no pitcher on the Buckeyes’ 2011 roster had started a game.
“The pitching position is by far the area we struggled in,” coach Linda Kalafatis said. “For the kids returning, the experience was helpful.”
The Scarlet and Gray posted a 5.98 ERA, and opponents hit .311 against them last season. OSU was last in the Big Ten in both categories.
The Buckeyes were ninth in the Big Ten in batting average, hitting .248.
“That drive and that motivation is what’s really going to help when you’re working with young players,” senior outfielder Dee Dee Hillman said.
Hillman struggled at the plate this year, recording a .251 batting average, the lowest since her freshman-year average of .288.
Kalafatis said OSU’s poor pitching created scoring deficits that the team’s batters struggled to make up for.
“I think the pressure that puts on an offense to score and be productive is very, very difficult,” Kalafatis said.
OSU’s series against Purdue on April 16 and 17 illustrated this.
The Buckeyes allowed seven runs in a single inning in each of the two games against Purdue, which OSU lost, 7-0, and, 10-8, respectively.
The experience gained last season could benefit the Buckeyes in 2012.
“I don’t know how much different we could have done with the injuries, some discipline things and some unfortunate events that happened during the year,” Kalafatis said. “It was certainly not up to the standards that my staff and the team have.”
Nichols will be coming off shoulder surgery next season. She tried to return this season after her surgery in July, but was not successful. Nichols posted an 0-2 record with a 10.84 ERA in 10 1/3 innings pitched.
Other pitchers who made appearances were freshmen Kasie Kelly and Audrey Plant. Kelly was 4-10 with a 6.10 ERA in 34 appearances with 19 starts. Plant made 18 appearances with five starts and posted a 9.03 ERA with a 1-3 record.
Kalafatis has already begun to shake things up for next season. Kalafatis has named captains who will hold their positions until the team re-votes later in the year. Junior shortstop Alicia Herron, sophomore third baseman Megan Coletta and Nichols were chosen as team co-captains.
“I did that so we had really good leadership,” Kalafatis said. “We had kids that could make sure other kids were being accountable as far as working out, staying in shape and just getting in the mindset.”
Herron said she is excited for another shot to get back to the top of the conference during her upcoming senior season.
“We have seen what could go wrong, and everything that could, did,” Herron said. “Now that it’s out of the way, we’ll be better at making adjustments, and we’ll have to focus on the details again.”