Then-freshman pitcher Shelby Hursh winds up a pitch during a game against Michigan State March 22, 2014 at Buckeye Field. OSU won 11-7. Credit: Lantern File Photo

Then-freshman pitcher Shelby Hursh winds up a pitch during a game against Michigan State March 22, 2014 at Buckeye Field. OSU won 11-7.
Credit: Lantern File Photo

With spring rapidly approaching, the Ohio State softball team is set to kick off its 2016 season in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Friday.

The Buckeyes are first scheduled to take the field against the University of the Pacific at 10:30 a.m., followed by a game against No. 3 Louisiana State later that evening.

As of Jan. 26, OSU is unranked in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll but is receiving votes. This weekend’s tournament sets the stage for the Buckeyes as they look to pave a road to the Big Ten tournament in May.

Friday marks the first time the Buckeyes will face Pacific since 2014, when OSU won 4-1. The Buckeyes have not seen LSU as an opponent since 2013, when the Tigers shut out the Scarlet and Gray 7-0.

However, OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly, said she is not worried about facing these teams again.

“We want to challenge ourselves and face the best out there,” she said. “That’s why we picked this tournament.”

Pacific, which finished 19-36 in 2015, is returning its top five hitters, led by senior outfielder Sara Anderson. Because of their performances last season, sophomore utility player Molly Bourne and senior second baseman Nicole Zapotoczny were named to the All-West Coast Conference preseason team.

LSU is returning four out of its five top hitters, who combined for 203 RBIs in 2015.

Like Pacific, the Tigers are a formidable presence at the plate, but Schoenly said she does not see it as a threat.

“Our plan is to limit their hitters with change of speeds,” Schoenly said. “We will need to have some clutch plays throughout the game to hold their offense in check.”

LSU finished third in the 2015 College World Series, making its postseason experience clear to the Buckeyes.

“LSU is a dynamic team. They can hit, run and pitch,” Schoenly said.

For the Buckeyes, coming out ready to play from the first inning will be a key. With such commanding opponents on Friday, OSU hopes to govern the diamond and attack the game.

“The key to our weekend is to be aggressive,” Schoenly said. “Pitch aggressive, hit aggressive, stay aggressive defensively.”

On Saturday, the Buckeyes are scheduled to face Connecticut and North Florida, making it vital to gain momentum from Friday’s games.

The Huskies finished 18-35 in 2015, while the Ospreys finished with a winning record of 31-28. Both teams are returning key offensive players and their top pitchers on the mound.

For the Buckeyes, however, the focus is first on Friday’s games before turning the page to the following day.

“Our goal is to start our weekend aggressive and attack on both sides of the ball,” Schoenly said.

Fresh faces

This season, the Buckeyes welcome five freshmen to the team, along with sophomore pitcher Shelby McCombs, a transfer from Louisville. Even though some of these players saw action during the 2015 fall season, Friday is a fresh beginning for all of them.

Schoenly said she is excited to see what the young OSU players can deliver on the field.

“We have some young players that will get their first chance at playing for the Buckeyes, and they have the ability to impact the game significantly,” she said.

The road ahead

After this weekend, OSU is scheduled to head to Atlanta for the Atlantic Coast Conference/Big Ten Challenge from Feb. 19-21 to continue its weekend tournament play.

“I am looking forward to seeing this team start this journey,” Schoenly said.