After 26 grueling games on the road against some of the nation’s best teams, the Ohio State softball team is “battle-tested” and ready to begin its Big Ten slate at home.
Ohio State (12-14, 0-0) is preparing for its first Big Ten game of the season against Michigan State (7-15, 0-0) Friday, also the team’s first home game of the season. The Buckeyes swept a two-game series against MSU in 2013, the last time they met.
In its non-conference schedule dating back to Feb. 7, OSU has played teams including: No. 2 Florida, No. 4 Oregon, No. 17 Tulsa, No. 20 Missouri and No. 24 Notre Dame, salvaging a 12-14 record. Such a difficult non-conference schedule should help the team in the long run, though, coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said.
“It’s kind of a whole new season, I think that we’ve been battle-tested as far as we’ve played some very strong competition through the first 26 games, I think that hopefully the pitching that they’ve seen will make them ready for it,” Schoenly said.
Among the Big Ten competition OSU is set to face in the coming weeks include series against No. 5 Michigan, No. 15 Nebraska and Northwestern who is currently receiving votes for a ranking.
“A lot of them have been put in pressure situations that they’ve either come through or they haven’t, but maybe that situation will make them better the next time,” Schoenly said.
Junior center fielder Taylor Watkins, who is tied with junior right-fielder Caitlin Conrad for the team-lead in base percentage (.442), leads it in runs scored (20), triples (two) and walks (17), said the Buckeyes will not have a lack of enthusiasm when they take the field against the Spartans.
“We’re excited, we’re ready to play on our own field and start going through the Big Ten conference and hopefully we get some good wins that we need and compete like we know we can,” Watkins said.
OSU’s standout offensive leader this season has been Conrad, who leads Ohio State in nearly every offensive category, including batting average with a .365, five home runs, seven doubles, 18 RBIs and a .689 slugging percentage.
“So far this season we’ve been struggling a little bit but I think that we’re getting on the path to something good going into the Big Ten,” Conrad said. “I think we’re all figuring out what we need to work on as a team and I think in the long run it’s going to work well for us.”
Sophomore left-fielder Cammi Prantl said the team has grown as the season has gone on and she expects that to continue moving into its Big Ten schedule.
“I think it’ll become easier because our chemistry as a team is coming together more. Everyone on our team wants it for each other, so it’s a big thing to get more games under your belt and to be comfortable around each other,” Prantl said.
First pitch in the three-game series against MSU is set for 4 p.m. Friday at Buckeye Field.