Nichols earns lucky 13th victory

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Powered by a two-run homer from senior Whitney Cooper and a three-run homer from freshman Megan Coletta, the No. 20/24 Ohio State softball team run-ruled Michigan State, 12-3, in six innings Saturday afternoon in East Lansing, Michigan. The Buckeyes improve to 25-11 and 4-1 in the Big Ten while the Spartans fall to 18-20 and 4-5 in conference play.

“Lauren Kramer started off strong on the mound but we did a great job of feeling her out and kept it up when they brought in new pitchers,” Linda Kalafatis, Ohio State head coach, said. “I am really pleased with our effort today but we are certainly not finished. I know they will go back and make adjustments for tomorrow so we still have a lot of work to do.”

Freshman Melanie Nichols earned her team-leading 13th victory of the year, striking out five while allowing just four hits. Nichols had a strong start on the mound, allowing Michigan State just one hit through the first four innings of play. The Ohio State defense and the rookie pitcher held MSU scoreless until the bottom of the fifth when the Spartans were able to extend the game by scoring three runs.

“Mel was dominate through four and maybe had a little bit of a mental let up through the fifth but she came back for a great sixth inning which was really good to see,” Kalafatis said.

In a scoreless tie after the second inning, the Buckeyes put the first two runs up on the board in the third as both Coletta and senior Rebecca Schultz scored. Coletta hit a leadoff single and was brought in by junior Dee Dee Hillman after Schultz was hit by a pitch and junior Brittany Goodchild laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt down the third baseline. The Spartans then loaded the bases as Cooper was hit by a pitch before walking in an OSU run as sophomore Alicia Herron also was hit by a pitch.

In the fourth, Cooper hit her third two-run home run of the season as Ohio State scored four runs on three hits to take a 6-0 lead. Schultz brought in the first run of the inning, scoring senior Leah Ledford on a hit-and-run RBI double, her fourth double of the season. Hillman hit a hard line drive up the middle to score Schultz and advance to second on the throw before Cooper was resilient at the plate, hitting a two-strike, two-run home run for her sixth homer of the season.

Between the inning break, the Spartans brought in freshman pitcher Shelby Wise to relieve Kramer, MSU starting pitcher, who had allowed six runs off of six hits and hit three batters in four innings of work.

Wise, up against the middle of the Buckeye lineup, had a tough assignment facing senior Sam Marder, the Ohio State all-time home run record holder. Marder hit her third leadoff home run of 2010 to spark another four-run inning for the squad. For the Calabasas, Calif., native, the homer was her 12th of the season and 55th career. Senior Courtney Pruner followed with a single to centerfield and Ledford singled to third bringing up Coletta. The rookie from Fullerton, Calif., raised her level of competition, hitting her second career home run, a three-run shot, to give the Buckeyes a 10-0 lead. The Spartans then brought in Rebecca Rogers to pitch and she quickly recorded three outs to help MSU escape the inning without further damage.

The Scarlet and Gray had a chance to end the game in the bottom of the fifth, but Michigan State was able to post three runs and push the game into the sixth.

Ohio State’s bats kept things going as the team added two runs off of two hits to make it a 12-3 contest. After Cooper walked, Herron hit an RBI double, her team leading 12th of the season, before advancing to third on a crucial sacrifice bunt by Pruner. Coletta, who went 3-for-4 with four RBI, hit an RBI single to bring in Herron before the inning ended. Nichols jumped on the opportunity to close things out in the bottom of the side, retiring the Spartans in order.

In the game, the Buckeyes out-hit MSU, 12-4, while tallying 12 runs and 12 RBI. Cooper was perfect at the plate, going 2-for-2 with two RBI and two runs scored.

Ohio State and Michigan State meet at 1 p.m. Sunday for game two at Old College Field in East Lansing.