With the Big Ten season coming down the home stretch, the Ohio State softball team wants to keep control of its own fate.
“The key will be to beat the teams we know we can,” senior outfielder Caitlin Conrad said before the Buckeyes swept Michigan State last weekend. “By doing this, we can put ourselves in position to get a better seed come tournament time.”
Conrad, one of four seniors on the squad, is currently among the hottest hitters on the team with a .394 batting average and is quickly approaching 40 runs batted in to complement her 35 runs scored so far this season.
“Caitlin has been the most consistent player for us all season,” coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said before the team departed for East Lansing, Mich.
The Buckeyes scored a total of 29 runs against the Spartans, and have either scored or given up double digits 17 times this season. Conrad said she believes the high-scoring affairs are new to Big Ten softball, changing the way she looks at scoring.
“It used to be that if you scored seven runs in a game, you would win,” Conrad said. “Now you need to score 12 or so just to be in the game.”
And scoring is what the Buckeyes have been doing lately.
To sweep Michigan State, OSU tallied six, eight and 15 runs, respectively, over the course of the three games. The 15-5 win on Sunday came in just five innings.
The sweep has the Buckeyes riding a four-game win streak entering a week when they will be facing both Penn State and Rutgers.
All five of those games, two against the Nittany Lions and three against the Scarlet Knights, are crucial for the Buckeyes (22-16, 6-6) to get better position in the conference and achieve their ultimate goal: making it to regionals in the NCAA Tournament.
“We need to keep winning in order to move up in the Big Ten standings,” senior pitcher Olivia O’Reilly said. “Doing this will put us in a position where we can make it to regionals.”
The Buckeyes hit the road to face Penn State for a doubleheader on Wednesday. The team lost 7-6 in the first game before falling, 11-6, in the nightcap. They are then set to return home to face Rutgers over the weekend.
Despite getting the opportunity to play all over the country, Schoenly said she believes there is nothing like playing at home.
“I love to play at home,” Schoenly said. “Of course it’s great to travel other places but there is nothing like home. We love having fans come out to our games. Columbus has a really good softball community.”
With home in mind, Schoenly and the Buckeyes make it a point to travel and play in each woman’s hometown at least once during a player’s career as a member of the Scarlet and Gray.
“We have the opportunity to play all over the country,” Schoenly said. “So we try to travel to every girls’ hometown during their career.”
With 13 Ohioans on the team, eight of whom are from Central Ohio, playing at home can be that much more welcoming.
The Buckeyes’ series against Rutgers is set to start on Friday at 6 p.m. at Buckeye Field.