The Ohio State softball team (15-7) opens Big Ten play this weekend with a road series against Maryland (7-20-1).
The Buckeyes enter conference play battle tested after a 22-game nonconference schedule, which included seven games against current top-25 teams. OSU saw victory in just one of those games — a 10-2 win over No. 25 North Carolina — but the difficult schedule will help the team in the long run, sophomore outfielder Bri Betschel said.
“I think it helps us know the ability we have with our team,” she said. “We’ve not always come out with what we’ve wanted, but at the end of the game we know that we can compete with these teams and that we can win the big games.”
Though the Buckeyes are just 1-6 against ranked teams this season, they have taken care of business against inferior opponents thus far, losing just once to an unranked team with that lone loss coming to Louisville, which received votes in the latest ESPN.com/USA Softball poll.
The same cannot be said of Maryland. The Terrapins lost 20 of their first 28 games, and 14 of those losses were against unranked opponents.
Despite its lackluster record and bad losses, Maryland has proven itself dangerous, even to the nation’s top teams. Earlier this season, the Terrapins handed top-ranked Florida its only loss of the season on its home field.
Since it’s a conference matchup, the Buckeyes will face off against Maryland in a three-game series this weekend, which is a change of pace from what OSU has seen so far this season. Previously, the Buckeyes have played each team just once.
“Weekend series definitely have a different feel,” OSU coach Kelly Schoenly said. “It’s a little bit more of a chess match and paying attention to the small details you might be able to exploit.”
Maryland is just the first of eight series the Buckeyes face as part of their Big Ten conference slate. Though OSU is not slated to face No. 8 Minnesota or No. 21 Wisconsin during the regular season, the team does have one ranked opponent left on its schedule: No. 18 Michigan.
Obviously, OSU wanted to do well during nonconference play, but now that Big Ten play is beginning and conference records and standings will start to count, there’s a little more to play for.
“I think every game is important to us as a team,” Betschel said. “But going into Big Tens, it’s a little bit more intense.”
The Buckeyes will look to channel that intensity into wins this weekend before playing at home for the first time on Wednesday when they host Wright State.