The No. 23 Ohio State softball team has gotten off to a slow start in conference play, but will head to Piscataway, New Jersey, with a chance to raise its Big Ten record above .500 when it takes on Rutgers in a three-game series.
The Buckeyes (21-8, 2-4 Big Ten) made their home season debut last weekend against Wisconsin after three straight losses, winning two of three games, including a dominant 7-0 win in the rubber match to clinch the series victory.
While the team hopes to use its momentum, it also will use its 3-1 loss to Wisconsin Saturday, which kept the team from completing a sweep, as motivation for a strong series against the Scarlet Knights (17-16, 2-2 Big Ten).
“I think [that loss is] definitely going to fire us up,” senior catcher Becca Gavin said. “I think it’s lit a fire under our butts.”
One thing that hindered the Buckeyes in the series against Wisconsin was playing passively, something Ohio State head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly touched on after the team’s loss Saturday. That passive approach showed at the plate and allowed the Wisconsin pitchers to control the game, junior second baseman Emily Clark said.
That has to change against Rutgers.
“When we play aggressive, we play better,” Gavin said. “And if we can maintain that and just keep working on that then we’ll be getting better as we go on.”
Kovach Schoenly said the Scarlet Knights are a creative team that tends to be aggressive on the basepaths and will play small ball to score runs. They have hit only 20 home runs on the year, 11 fewer than their opponents have hit against them.
“They’ll put runners in motion in different counts and they do some things offensively like bunting and slapping and stealing and they’ll do contact plays,” Kovach Schoenly said. “Their coach has always been very creative in that sense offensively, so we just have to be on our toes and be ready for things that are a little bit unconventional.”
With a .385 batting average, six home runs and a .709 slugging percentage, Rutgers senior infielder Rebecca Hall will be one player who could have a major impact in the series.
Rutgers’ pitching staff has a combined ERA of 3.77 and has not been able to miss bats. It has struggled with control, leading to a 1.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranks 180th in the nation.
Kovach Schoenly would like to see the Buckeyes control the games, trying to limit the ability to play small ball and maximize each outing by the team’s starting pitchers.
“I’d like to see the pitchers set the tone of the game right out of the shoot and build on their momentum inning by inning and get stronger as the game goes on,” Kovach Schoenly said. “I’d love to see three complete games. If we don’t it’s OK but that would be fantastic.”
The three-game series begins at 3 p.m. Friday at the Rutgers Softball Complex.