With one tournament under its belt, the Ohio State softball team is seeking four more wins over the weekend at the Atlantic Coast Conference/Big Ten Challenge in Atlanta. There, the Buckeyes are scheduled to face Georgia Tech and Syracuse, playing each team twice.
The Buckeyes went 3-1 at the LSU Tiger Classic last weekend, but OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said she is looking to both represent and unite the Big Ten during this weekend’s showdown, which is in its inaugural year.
“Both of the teams we are playing are from the ACC, and that conference is very strong,” she said. “We are committed to beating them because we want to be the best conference.”
Schoenly said the other Big Ten teams participating are all in on the conference goal together.
“The coaches are all emailing and supporting each other, wanting us to come out well for the Big Ten,” she said.
For OSU, one of the keys to success for the weekend is a strong outing from its pitching staff. Junior Shelby Hursh, who earned two wins in Louisiana, said she wants to keep the Buckeyes’ opponents on their toes.
“We play both teams twice,” she said. “We have to keep changing and adapting so they don’t catch on to our style or our sequences.”
Schoenly said she was impressed with Hursh, along with the three other pitchers who saw action, because of their abilities to take on the role of both starter and reliever.
“They all supported each other,” Schoenly said. “Pitching as a staff is an adjustment that they’re all blending into, which is what I want to see as a coach.”
Hursh noted that she trusts both her offense and defense, but she is still looking to make personal improvements on the mound.
“I’m looking to cut down on my walks and make adjustments that will keep me in the game longer,” she said.
Endurance is a key component for success against two teams who are returning their top players at the plate. Syracuse’s senior infielder Corinne Ozanne had a .344 batting average and 13 home runs in 2015, while Georgia Tech’s senior second baseman Samantha Pierannunzi led her team in both doubles and triples.
Both the Orange and the Yellow Jackets, however, are also bringing fresh faces to the field, which gives the Buckeyes two unpredictable first matchups. Georgia Tech has five freshmen on this year’s roster, while Syracuse has seven.
Schoenly said the chance that the rookies might deliver big plays is not worrying the Scarlet and Gray, who have five freshmen of their own. The coach, though, is looking to limit the success of the returning sluggers from both teams.
“We’re really trying to move the ball better from the mound and limit those big hits from the other team,” she said.
Building up the team
OSU sophomore infielder Ashley Goodwin, who brought some of her own big plays at the plate last weekend, said she is confident in what Schoenly and the other coaches are bringing to practices to prepare the team.
“Just showing up in practice prepares me for anything we are going to see this weekend,” she said. “We always practice like it’s a game.”
Goodwin said she is also looking to bring the roster together but is expecting to take it one step at a time.
“One thing I want to improve on is to become more of a team player than I am now,” she said.
The season goal is scheduled to have a chance to continue materializing on Friday at 6:30 p.m. for Goodwin when the Buckeyes are set to take the field against the Yellow Jackets.
Schoenly said she is hoping this matchup will be both a continuation of last weekend’s games and a fresh start.
“The momentum comes from knowing what we can do, and I think that gives them a lot of energy to get back out there and be a better version of themselves,” she said.
The Buckeyes’ one loss in Louisiana came at the hands of the tournament’s host, the Tigers. LSU took control of the game from the first inning, which gave pitcher Shelby McCombs a challenge when facing their lineup.
McCombs’ effort against the Tigers was her first for the Buckeyes in their spring season, but Schoenly said she is confident that the sophomore can make strides going forward.
“Shelby learned from this experience what she wants to improve on for next time,” she said. “If she can stay relaxed and just be herself, she will be just fine.”
Playing such a highly ranked team like LSU was a learning experience for the whole team, as it looks to face other ranked teams, like James Madison, Arizona State and Michigan later in the season. Schoenly said the key for her team is to keep its composure.
“Our team has now seen one of the best pitchers in the country, and they’ll be better for this experience next time,” she said.
After the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Buckeyes are set to head to the University of South Carolina Upstate Tournament for five more matchups from Feb. 26 to 28.