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Softball: Late deficits not proving insurmountable for Ohio State

The Buckeyes gather on the mound during a timeout in their 4-1 victory over Wright State on Sep. 24. Credit: Gretchen Rudolph | For The Lantern

Extra innings and comeback wins have seemingly been the theme for the Ohio State softball team so far this season.

The Buckeyes have played four extra-inning games this season, the same amount of extra-inning games they played in the entire 2016-17 season.

They aren’t just playing these extra-inning games. They’re winning them. Ohio State has won three of its four this season after winning every single one of its extra-inning games last season.

“It’s exciting. It’s stressful,” freshman pitcher Skylar Hayward said. “We joke that we don’t know what a seven-inning game is because it’s not normal to have as many extra-inning games as we’ve had.”

The team has been able to pull off these comeback and close wins by playing with a different style this year. It is one head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly refers to as a “new identity.”

“We were more of a ‘score some runs and hold on’ type of team last year, so this is like a brand-new identity,” Kovach Schoenly said.

Both Kovach Schoenly and the players talked about how the mindset is about just going for the win and not playing it safe.

The new identity stems from both the team’s physical strength and its mentality late in games.

“Everyone worked really hard over break and everyone put so much effort into their swing that once we came back we believed in every single person’s bat,” redshirt senior infielder Maddie Marotti said.

Kovach Schoenly emphasized this when discussing the power the team showed while playing in Texas. The Buckeyes slugged five home runs during their visit.

“The Texas stadium was huge,” Kovach Schoenly said. “It was like 220 [feet to center field] with a 15-foot wall, so to hit them out of there was a big deal.”

The team has built up a strong mental mindset this season by building trust as a group with team chemistry. Junior pitcher Morgan Ray said trusting in her defense and the rest of her team helps her stay relaxed out on the mound even in high-pressure situations.

“We do a lot of work on the offseason on mental training and we have a Navy SEAL that comes and talks to us,” Ray said. “And so I think a lot of that, my mental strength is at least, because of that, and I have tried really hard to work on that because that’s been one of my weaknesses the last couple of years.”

The ability to pick up runs quickly without having to play small ball or generate runs through multiple base hits has proved to be a major reason for the team’s ability to come back from deficits. In two of Ohio State’s past five wins, the Buckeyes have won on walk-off home runs.

The team has leaned heavily on its power throughout the season for run production, not necessarily just late in games. Two players in particular, junior second baseman Emily Clark and junior infielder Lilli Piper, have been crucial to the team with five home runs each.

“[Piper and Clark have] been a huge part of our team, not only when we’re in pressure situations but whenever we just need a spark,” Marotti said. “They’ll just hit a home run, and everyone gets so pumped in the dugout.”

Kovach Schoenly said a few other players also have stood out in the power-hitting category.

“I think we’re getting power from different people too, like having Niki Carver come in this year as a freshman and add some power,” Kovach Schoenly said, “Ashley Goodwin’s adding some power.”

Even though power hitting has been an important part of getting this season’s wins, it is not the focus of the team and coaches. Kovach Schoenly said the team trains with the intention of driving every pitch, but does not begin an at-bat with the intention of swinging for the fences or putting loft under the ball.

The team might not put an extra emphasis on power hitting, but in a game similar to the one against Texas — where all eight of Ohio State’s runs came from home runs — it can play a pivotal role.

Kovach Schoenly said it has been important for the pitching staff to contain the other teams’ hitting and give the lineup a chance to outslug the other.

“That’s one of the goals they [the pitchers] have is just to keep it within reach for the offense and then I think the offense swings the same whether they’re up, down, 0-2 in the count, 2-0 in the count, they just are aggressive, and they attack strikes,” the coach said.

Whether it is hitting the ball out of the park, limiting the other teams’ lineups or just keeping the morale of others up, Kovach Schoenly said there are many factors that contribute to the 11-1 start to the season.

This season has been different than hot starts in past campaigns. This team has more confidence late in games and believes that even when trailing late, it is always still in the games.

“We all truly believe in each other, which I think is different from years past,” said Marotti. “A couple of years ago we would panic, like, ‘Oh, two outs. Uh oh, it’s the end of the ballgame now.’ But now it’s just like we fight every pitch and we fight until the game is completely over.”

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