OSU senior catcher Cammi Prantl (22) prepares to throw the ball during a game. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

OSU senior catcher Cammi Prantl (22) prepares to throw the ball during a game. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

So far for the Ohio State softball team, the theme of its 2016 season has been versatility.

This weekend, the Buckeyes (5-3) will hope to maintain this flexibility when they head to the University of South Carolina Upstate Tournament. OSU’s hope for its first undefeated weekend of the season starts Friday at 2 p.m. with its first of two matchups against Virginia Tech (1-8).

In addition to the Hokies, the Buckeyes are scheduled to face Furman, Morehead State and USC Upstate, which means the team will need to focus on endurance and switching roles throughout the weekend.

OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said she is confident in her players’ abilities to stay versatile.

“Some games they are starters and some they can be a pinch runner or defensive specialist,” she said.

Schoenly also mentioned the importance of pinch runners in a close game, a role that has played a key part in scoring runs so far this season.

“We typically use our runners when we get into scoring position, so their decisions are critical to winning the game,” she said.

This strategy will again come into play this weekend when the Buckeyes face four equally versatile teams.

Sizing up the competition

Virginia Tech, despite having only one win this season, has experience against powerhouse teams. Six of the Hokies’ losses came from ranked teams, including No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Michigan. The Hokies have also seen action in the past four NCAA tournaments.

Even though Virginia Tech graduated its three-time all-region slugger, outfielder Kylie McGoldrick, other players have stepped up to take over the offense. Redshirt freshman Chelsea Whitcomb, who divides her time between the mound and shortstop, leads the team with a .348 batting average.

The Hokies’ top hitter of 2015, sophomore outfielder Breanna Davenport, is off to a slow start, batting .231 with only two extra-base hits.

USC Upstate (7-1), which outscored its opponents 53-7 last weekend, is having a much more dynamic season at the plate. Seven players are hitting above .400, and the Spartans have already sent 12 balls over the fence, which is double OSU’s current total.

The 2016 Spartans are a young squad with only one senior, catcher/shortstop Amy Szymanowski, who is leading the team with 11 RBIs.

Defensively, USC Upstate boasts a versatile lineup, with many of its pitchers and catchers also playing other positions. This flexibility demonstrates coach Chris Hawkins’ enduring success in his 22nd year leading the program.

Schoenly has given her team the chance to show their own adaptability so far this season, especially sophomore Shelby McCombs. The pitcher made a statement at the plate against Georgia Tech last weekend when she hit the walk-off home run in the eighth inning.

“This weekend, we were able to incorporate Shelby into the offense for the first time this season, and it had huge payoffs,” Schoenly said. “She has the kind of power that can change a game.”

Furman (5-6), like USC Upstate, is a young team, with 11 of its 18 players being underclassmen. The Paladins’ top hitter, first baseman AnnaRose Borrelli, is hitting .484 with 10 RBIs. The sophomore rivals OSU junior infielder Alex Bayne, as each have three home runs on the year.

Furman’s top pitcher, sophomore Lindsey Bert, has 26 strikeouts in eight appearances. Bert, senior Alex Sappington and freshman Emily Demonte have an average ERA of 2.81, compared to their opponents’ 3.06.

Morehead State (5-2) has four Ohio natives on this year’s team, including utility player Lindsay Ward. The sophomore has a .417 batting average and is coming off a strong 2015 season where she led the team in home runs and RBIs.

The Eagles’ pitchers have been struggling to stop offenses. Their four pitchers have an average 6.01 ERA with only 25 strikeouts, 15 of which come from sophomore Mackenzie Grossmann.

Leading the pack

After strong showings in both Louisiana and Georgia, OSU’s pitching staff is now first in the Big Ten conference, led by sophomore Shelby Hursh. The right-hander has a miniscule 0.88 ERA and 28 strikeouts in six appearances on the mound.

The Buckeyes, however, are 12th in the Big Ten at the plate. Only three players are batting above .300, but Schoenly said how impressed she has been by sophomore infielder Ashley Goodwin, who has been the team’s top hitter so far.

“She has been producing at an even higher rate than our returning stars from last year,” Schoenly said. “She has been playing aggressive and providing stable defense for us.”

Coming up

After this weekend’s tournament, the Buckeyes will get to take a nearly two-week break. OSU then heads west to the Arizona State Tournament from March 11 to 13, where it will face four more opponents. The Buckeyes’ first matchup, against No. 19 James Madison, is slated to begin at 1 p.m. in Tempe, Arizona.