In its 2016 home debut, the Ohio State softball team (18-7) swept Maryland (7-21), kicking off its Big Ten schedule according to script. The Buckeyes outscored the Terrapins 29-9 over the three-game series with the help of seven home runs.
Even though Maryland entered the weekend ranked last in the conference, the Buckeyes were careful not to underestimate the Terrapins.
“Big Ten schedule games are such a battle,” said OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly. “Every game’s going to have its own identity. There’s never going to be an easy series.”
Redshirt junior Alex Bayne and redshirt senior Maddy McIntyre led OSU’s offense, combining for 12 RBIs and four home runs. Bayne had seven RBIs in Friday’s game, going 3-for-3 with two home runs, while McIntyre made a statement with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning on Saturday.
The Buckeyes are now in first place in the Big Ten after this weekend’s play, exciting redshirt senior Erika Leonard and the rest of her teammates.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “We knew that we had to come out with a statement, and we definitely did some damage.”
Schoenly said that being No. 1 doesn’t change anything for her team, but she is still eager to take on the rest of the season with confidence.
“To have a weekend sweep is rare because every team can be beaten by any given team,” Schoenly said. “That gets me excited to know that we can dominate a team and take all three games.”
The Buckeyes impressed in their home debut with a 12-2 win in five innings on Friday. Six OSU players contributed hits, but it was the duo of Bayne and McIntyre that propelled the offense over the Terrapins.
Bayne, who started in right field, sent two three-run shots over the fence, and the shortstop McIntyre went 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles.
From the mound, junior Shelby Hursh struck out four and moved her record to 8-3 on the year.
OSU took a quick 2-0 lead in the first after Hursh struck out three Terrapins in the top of the inning. Bayne doubled to right center to bring in McIntyre, while sophomore Ashley Goodwin’s sacrifice fly allowed Bayne to score.
Goodwin suffered an injury late in the game, which offered up a chance for her teammates to step in and rotate in her position.
“It should be interesting to see who can step up and run with the opportunity,” Schoenly said. “That’s an important part of this team.”
The Buckeyes then extended their lead to five in the following inning, thanks to the timely hitting of the entire lineup and Maryland junior left-hander Hannah Dewey’s difficulty to retire batters. OSU freshman Bri Betschel had a leadoff slap to left field to the get the offense going once again, and Dewey walked senior catcher Cammi Prantl in a bases-loaded situation. Despite a pitching change, the Terrapins could not stop Leonard from bringing in two more teammates with a single up the middle.
Maryland’s defense, however, did make key plays throughout the game to stop OSU from advancing runners. In the second inning, junior pitcher Brenna Nation snagged OSU junior third baseman Anna Kirk’s hit to execute a double play. In the fourth, junior Sarah Calta caught a deep fly to right field to get the third out.
Calta’s two-out triple in the third inning gave the Terrapins a run after Kirk had a back-handed snag of sophomore Sky Ellazar’s drive down the left-field line.
The Buckeyes’ offense responded with four runs, three of which came off of the first of Bayne’s two home runs. In the same inning, McIntyre racked up her 100th career RBI with a double.
Maryland earned one more run on sophomore Destiney Henderson’s single, but Bayne’s second home run drove in Kirk and McIntyre to send the Buckeyes to a 10-run lead.
In front of a packed stadium Saturday, freshman Morgan Ray made her career home debut on the mound and the Buckeyes sealed a close 4-3 win with McIntyre’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“After having the semi-slow start, we let them have momentum. Credit to them for doing that,” Schoenly said.
With two runners on base in the top of the first, OSU’s defense caught Ellazar stealing home on a play between McIntyre and Prantl. Ray followed that up by striking out two Terrapins looking.
“The first couple innings, she was so solid. I’d like to see her last a little longer, but I think she’s doing a good job of setting the tone for us,” Schoenly said of Ray.
In the bottom of the first inning, Bayne continued her streak with her third home run of the weekend, a solo shot to left field.
In the second inning, Schmeiser got aboard with a single to center field, but Ray struck out two to leave Maryland scoreless. The third and fourth innings were similar for both teams, thanks to the executions by both defenses. Prantl and McIntyre continued their tandem threat, catching Schmeiser stealing in the top of the fourth, and Maryland right-hander Madison Martin kept the OSU batters off-balance all game with her off-speed pitches.
Maryland brought in its first run of the game on a solo shot by senior second baseman Corey Schwartz. A single to center field by Calta moved a runner into scoring position, and Dewey’s single to right field tied the game at two runs. Junior Lena Springer and Hursh followed Ray, who finished her stint with six strikeouts.
The Terrapins’ first lead of the weekend came in the top of the seventh inning when Calta tripled off the center field wall with two outs to bring in Ellazar. Yet the Buckeyes responded loudly with McIntyre’s two-run shot — her first homer of the year — to center field to clinch the series win.
Sophomore Shelby McCombs made her first home appearance for the Buckeyes in their final game of the series, a 13-4 win to sweep the Terrapins. The right-hander faced Nation, who struggled through two innings to stop an explosive Buckeye offense.
Leonard went 3-for-3 with two home runs, while Prantl went 2-for-2 with a home run of her own.
“It’s my senior year, and just being back on this field for one last season is unbelievable,” Leonard said.
After Maryland stranded two runners in the top of the first, Leonard sent a shot over the right field fence to bring in McIntyre and Prantl. The first baseman went 1-for-5 over Friday and Saturday, but finished off her weekend strong on Sunday.
The Terrapins got on the board with Schwartz’s fly ball to shallow right field in the third, but OSU widened the gap once again in the bottom of the same inning. Prantl’s home run with no outs sent Bayne, who had singled to left field, home and Dewey to the mound to relieve Nation.
OSU continued its streak after Dewey walked in a runner, which was followed by a three-run triple by sophomore Taylor White. The center fielder then stole home on a wild throw to second base, and Leonard drove in another run with a double down the right field line.
“The thing that really impressed me today was that Cammi, Erika and Taylor had been quiet some of the weekend, but then they stepped up,” Schoenly said.
The Terrapins’ offense briefly caught on to McCombs in the fourth inning, adding three runs, which prompted the OSU pitching staff to bring in Ray. McCombs added another win to her record and struck out six batters in her outing.
Leonard’s two-run home run in the fifth inning brought the Buckeyes’ Sunday lead nine and solidified the sweep of the Terrapins.
The Buckeyes continue their Big Ten schedule with a three-game trip to Wisconsin next weekend. Friday’s game against the Badgers is slated to begin at 5 p.m.
“We’re still just going to take it one day and one game at a time,” Leonard said. “And we’ll see where we go.”