EVANSTON, Ill. Courtney Pruner drove home three runs on two RBI doubles as the No. 11-ranked and Big Ten-leading Ohio State softball team defeated 12th-ranked Northwestern, 7-6, Saturday afternoon at Sharon J. Drysdale Field. The loss snapped a 29-game regular-season home winning streak for Northwestern, dating back to April 15, 2007, dropping its record to 29-12, 12-5 in the Big Ten, while the Buckeyes improve to 41-7 overall and 13-2 in the conference with their 15th win in the last 16 games.
Pruner also made the game-winning catch with a diving snag of Nicole Pauly’s fly to right field. The Wildcats scored two and had placed the potential game-tying run on second with no outs, but Ohio State forced three-consecutive outs to retire the side, ending with Pruner’s catch, in the bottom of the seventh.
“This was just an incredible game,” head coach Linda Kalafatis said. “I am so proud of the way the team refused to give up and kept digging in, even when Northwestern came back towards the end. I honestly think this is the toughest I have ever seen this team play.”
Kim Reeder struck out six in the first 4.2 innings of work before giving way to Lindsay Bodeker in the fifth inning. After Bodeker gave up two runs off one hit, Reeder re-entered for the seventh and ended her day with a cumulative 5.2 innings of work and seven strikeouts.
Northwestern put a runner on third off the second pitch in the bottom of the third, when Robin Thompson singled and advanced twice on fielding errors by the Buckeye. From there, however, Ohio State retired 10 Wildcats batters in a row, including six of Reeder’s strikeouts, while producing the most runs against Northwestern since it scored 12 in 2002.
In the top of the third, Northwestern’s Lauren Delaney filled the bases with three walks, eventually placing Rebecca Schultz and Dee Dee Hillman on third and second, respectively, with a wild pitch and an intentional free pass to Marder. Pruner, who has seven RBI in as many meetings all-time vs. the Wildcats, promptly doubled to left center, plating the lead two runners and advancing Marder to third, who would score on the next play off a throwing error on the shortstop.
The Buckeyes shut down the side with two strikeouts and a ground out in the bottom half of the inning, extending their third-inning scoring margin to 54-16, the largest offensive scoring output of any inning, and increasing their consecutive batters retired to nine.
Ohio State stretched its lead to four in the fourth when Pruner singled up the middle, scoring Rachael Shepherd, who had reached on a throwing error by the Northwestern third baseman.
The Wildcats came back with one run off a solo homer by Adrienne Monka in the bottom of the fourth, but Ohio State put its fifth run on the board in the fifth to preserve the four-run lead. Whitney Cooper doubled up the middle and scored on a RBI single to left center from Schultz to tie the Buckeyes’ largest run total vs. Northwestern since the 2002 season.
Reeder exited the game in the fifth, handing the ball off to Bodeker with two outs, who gave up an unearned run on the first play to make the score 5-2. After forcing the Buckeyes to ground into a double play in the top of the sixth, the Wildcats closed the gap to one in their half of the inning on a two-run shot to right by Pauly.
Herron produced the necessary insurance runs in the top of the seventh to temporarily ease the Buckeyes’ baited breath. She hit her ninth homer of the season to left field, plating Cooper and moving her to within one of tying the all-time freshman homerun hitting record 10 currently held by Marder (2007) and Kristine Himes (2000).
Northwestern was not deterred, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to bring the score to 7-6 before placing Tammy Williams on second with the potential game-tying run. Ohio State forced two fly outs and a strikeout, however, to clinch the win.
The Buckeyes and Wildcats wrap up the series at 1 p.m. CT (2 p.m. ET) Sunday at Drysdale Field.