Softball: Strong pitching, timely hitting key Ohio State to three wins during Senior Weekend

The Ohio State Softball team comes together before the Ohio State-Michigan game on April 9. Ohio State lost 7-0. Credit: Christian Harsa | Special Projects Director

In a competitive final regular-season series against the Spartans, the Buckeyes saw veteran-like production from several of its freshmen while its seniors were sent off properly.

Ohio State (24-19) claimed three wins against Michigan State (14-26) during Senior Weekend, and saw everything from a walk-off base hit to a shutout.

The Buckeyes got the series going with a 7-1 win behind six strong innings from senior right-hander Payton Buresch, who allowed one run in her outing before turning the ball over to senior righty Skylar Hayward to pitch a scoreless seventh.

Four two-out RBIs were produced as the Spartans were down to their final strike in the seventh inning, battling back from a one-run deficit to pull off a 5-2 comeback victory in Game 1 Saturday.

After being held scoreless for 14-straight innings, Buckeyes freshman utility Kirsten Eppele knocked her third pinch-hit RBI of the weekend as she laced a walk-off double off the wall in right-center field in the bottom of the 10th inning for a 1-0 Game 2 victory.

Freshman right-hander Allison Smith moved into fourth on Ohio State’s single-season strikeouts leaderboard for punch outs by a first-year Buckeye during the team’s 5-0 regular-season finale  Sunday, handing the ball to Buresch for the series’ final out.

Game 1

Buresch got Senior Weekend started with a pair of scoreless innings to begin Friday’s contest. Her offense scored an early run in the bottom half of the first inning when junior third baseman Ashley Prange hit an RBI single over the head of Spartans junior first baseman Mackenzie Meech.

Michigan State garnered the run back in the third inning, though, after knocking hits against Buresch in each of the first three frames. Sophomore catcher Kennedy Wyllie laced a single to center field, allowing senior right fielder Katie Quinlan to score from second base.

Buresch then retired eight of the next nine hitters to stifle the opposing offense.

Ohio State’s trips to the plate were quite the opposite. The Buckeyes pounded five hits in the bottom of the third inning, opening the game up with a 5-1 lead behind sophomore catcher Sam Hackenbracht’s 2-run home run over the wall in right field.

Michigan State’s defense played sophomore left fielder Tegan Cortelletti — known for beating out infield singles and slap-hitting the ball the other way — with a defensive shift in her first two at-bats, bringing in redshirt freshman left fielder Jenae Wash to serve as a fifth infielder each time.

Come Cortelletti’s turn in the fifth inning, Ohio State pinch-hit for the speedster with Eppele as the bases were loaded.

On the first pitch she saw, Eppele drove the ball up the middle to plate two more Buckeyes runs.

Ohio State took its 7-1 lead into the seventh inning, and turned the ball over to Hayward, who made her third appearance of the season and first since Game 1 at Indiana April 17.

Hayward tossed a scoreless inning to close the win, striking out the final two Spartans hitters. The win earned Buresch her 10th victory of the season.

Sophomore second baseman Mariah Rodriguez led the way with a 3-for-4 performance, scoring twice while pounding a double to kick things off in the bottom of the first inning. Prange also had a multi-hit ballgame, and six different Buckeyes scored a run.

Five different Spartans recorded base hits, while Wyllie reached base twice and also drew a full-count walk in the first inning. Michigan State head coach Jacquie Joseph was ejected in the bottom of the fifth inning for arguing balls and strikes.

Game 2

Not uncommon whenever Smith is in the circle, the Buckeyes found themselves locked in a pitcher’s duel for much of Game 1 in Saturday’s doubleheader.

Smith and fellow Michigan State freshman right-hander Ashley Miller were mano-a-mano for the first six innings, with Ohio State taking a 2-1 advantage into the seventh inning thanks to a pair of RBI hits off the bats of graduate shortstop Carley Gaskill and senior right fielder Megan McMenemy.

Miller managed to keep the Buckeyes hitless from the third through sixth innings, but Smith matched her counterpart and held the Spartans to three hits heading into the final frame.

A leadoff double off the bat of junior catcher Kendall Kates began the seventh, and Smith rebounded by getting the next two Spartans out at the plate.

Michigan State sent senior catcher Shae Schreckengost to the dish as a pinch hitter, and Smith worked ahead 1-2. Needing just one more strike for the win, Smith left the next pitch over the plate and Schreckengost connected.

The right-handed bat swung and sent the offering through the left side, and junior outfielder Abby Joseph — pinch running for Kates — came all the way around from second base to score and tie the game at two.

The Spartan damage didn’t let up, and each of the next four hitters reached base as Wash hit a go-ahead RBI triple to give Michigan State its first lead of the day. All four runs scored in the seventh inning came with two outs.

When Miller took the circle for the bottom half of the seventh inning, she was supported by a 5-2 lead, and that was all she needed. Miller worked a 1-2-3 frame, finishing the comeback effort behind her seven-inning complete game with just four hits allowed, two strikeouts and no walks.

Sophomore designated player Taylor Pack and junior center fielder Meggie Otte added hits for the Buckeyes, who left just two runners on base. Smith tallied eight strikeouts across 6 2/3 innings, walking two while being left on the hook for six hits. Buresch finished the seventh inning and allowed one run across two hits.

Game 3

The Buckeyes’ hitting woes carried over from the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, but the recent theme surrounding the team — clutchness — held true to the very last at-bat.

Buresch earned her second start of the series and battled both fellow senior right-hander Alli Walker and sophomore lefty Sarah Ladd for the first 10 innings, which wasn’t new to the Downers Grove, Illinois, native: Buresch also went 10 innings against Wisconsin in a ballgame that went 15 innings, breaking the Buckeyes’ program record for longest game March 11.

With extra-inning rules permitting a runner to begin extras on second base, Cortelletti began the bottom of the 10th in scoring position. Rodriguez laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Cortelletti to third base with one out, and senior first baseman Niki Carver — who was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts — was due up.

Similarly to Friday, Ohio State made a decision: it turned to Eppele off the bench to pinch hit. The freshman already had a 2-run single earlier in the weekend, but it was just her second hit of the season.

Eppele needed just one pitch to connect on her third.

The Strongsville, Ohio, native took the first pitch she saw from Ladd to the wall in right-center field, and Cortelletti raced home and raced to meet Eppele at second base as the Buckeyes mobbed their teammate for coming through with the walk-off hit to win 1-0.

Buresch tallied three strikeouts and scattered seven hits in her 10-inning outing, walking four also. Rodriguez led the way with two hits and Gaskill drew three walks, but it was the freshman Eppele’s big hit that keyed the way to victory.

Michigan State junior outfielder Courtney Callahan and freshman shortstop Marissa Trivelpiece each recorded a pair of hits for the Spartans.

Game 4

On Senior Sunday, both Ohio State and Michigan State handed the ball to a pair of freshmen to get it done in the circle.

Smith and Miller met again, and this time the former managed to outduel her counterpart for the length of the ballgame.

Smith pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings and allowed just four hits. She also struck out six Spartan hitters to raise her season-total to 134, which are fourth-most in a single-season from a Buckeyes freshman.

Otte gave Smith some breathing room when she connected on a bases-loaded single through the right side of the infield, allowing McMenemy and Carver to score in the bottom of the second inning.

The Buckeyes scored their next three runs three innings later. Prange, Hackenbracht and Carver connected on three-straight hits to chase Miller in favor of Ladd. The left-hander walked McMenemy on a full count, then hit Pack with an inside pitch to score another run.

Otte added her third RBI on a sacrifice fly to deep center field, and Ohio State rode its 5-0 lead the rest of the way.

Gaskill helped Smith and the Buckeyes shorten several Spartans threats, catching a pair of hard-hit line drives and firing the ball to convert a double play in both the first and sixth innings. Gaskill also laid out for a stellar diving catch in foul territory to make the second out of the seventh inning.

After Gaskill’s grab, Smith was lifted for Buresch, and the senior forced Wash to fly out to left field and end the game.

Four of Ohio State’s six hits were from Carver and McMenemy. The right fielder reached base in all three of her plate appearances and went 2-for-2 with her third double of the season.

Ohio State honored its six seniors and team manager Alex Lazarony after the game, and gave flowers and recognition to Michigan State’s five seniors before the first pitch.

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