The Ohio State softball team’s 2017 season ended in disappointment. Despite finishing the season 35-18, the Buckeyes were shut out in the Big Ten tournament finals by Minnesota, then dropped both regional games to end the season on a bitter note.
But with the disappointment of last season behind them, the Buckeyes are looking to start their season strong. They begin their preseason this weekend when they travel to Boca Raton, Florida, to face Northern Illinois in the first game of the Florida Atlantic “First Pitch” Classic.
The team will take the field without two key contributors from last season. Ohio State lost ace Shelby Hursh and Alex Bayne, one of its middle-of-the-order hitters.
Last season, Ohio State had a veteran team that was ready to compete when the season began, head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said. But this year, it will have a healthy mix of veterans and newcomers. The Buckeyes returned six senior and added seven freshmen.
“We teach them the plays and then when they come in the games we just hope that they progress quickly and learn everything,” Kovach Schoenly said, “There are certain plays that we run … they just have to know them and then getting into game situations where they come in to play, knowing what they know and then executing it.”
Upperclassmen, such as senior infielder Ashley Goodwin and junior catcher Emily Clark, know they will be relied on by some of the younger players to provide leadership to the younger players as the freshmen adjust to college softball.
“Ashley and I, we’re really vocal so even with the outfielders we try to tell them right from wrong,” Clark said. “When they are doing something wrong we try to correct them. They’re really good at taking criticism.”
Kovach Schoenly said she is excited about the energy the underclassmen bring to the team.
“I think that we have such a nice mix of seniors in key positions and young fresh blood who don’t know what they don’t know, in a good way,” Kovach Schoenly said. “They just play naively and I think that adds energy to the team.”
Having yet to take to the field yet this season, the Buckeyes are focused and ready to get some game experience.
“We’ve been hitting off of our own pitchers so we just need to see other pitching which will come with games,” sophomore infielder Carley Gaskill said, “I think we’re ready in every other aspect.”
Although the Buckeyes will play many teams this year, Oklahoma is the one that came to everyone’s mind when asked who they felt would be their toughest opponent this season.
The Sooners are the reigning national champions and will meet the Buckeyes in Fullerton, California, on Mar. 18 as part of the Easton Invitational.
The team agreed Oklahoma would be a tough matchup, but players also said they didn’t want to put much emphasis on it. While some players such as junior pitcher Katya Duvall said having a chance to play the best team in the nation is a great opportunity for a team to get experience against tough opponents, the Buckeyes still believe it is important to play it as if it was just a normal opponent.
“We’re going to treat them like any other team. We’re not going to look at them like, ‘hey, they’re national champions,’” junior outfielder Bri Betschel said, “We’re going to take it like it’s any other game.”
Oklahoma aside, the team has many other goals it hopes to accomplish. After falling in the Big Ten tournament last season, Duvall said it is a major goal for the team to try and finish the job this season.
The Buckeyes will play a total of five games against four different teams in Florida to open the season, and Clark said the team is prepared and ready for the first pitch.