The Buckeyes score 20 runs on first day of aTen Construction Tournament in Riverside, Calif.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Behind a strong performance from freshman pitcher Melanie Nichols, including seven strikeouts, the No. 14/17 Ohio State softball team improved to 12-5 as it downed UC Riverside, 7-1, Friday afternoon in the squad’s second game of the day at the aTen Construction Tournament in Riverside, Calif.

Nichols pitched all seven innings for the Buckeyes, limiting the Highlanders to just four hits as she improves to 5-0 on the year. With the loss, tournament host UCRSB falls to 6-10.

As they did in the first game, the Buckeyes jumped ahead early, scoring four runs on two hits in the first as they batted through the lineup. The Scarlet and Gray are 7-0 when they score in the first in 2010.

With bases loaded, sophomore Alicia Herron hit an RBI single, bringing home junior Dee Dee Hillman while sophomore Vanessa Spears followed with an RBI single to centerfield to increase Ohio State’s lead to 3-0, with the second run counting as an unearned run. Senior Rebecca Schultz then hit into a fielder’s choice situation, advancing Spears to third. With two outs, junior Rachael Shepherd reached first on a Riverside error, scoring Spears for a four-run inning.

In the second, the Scarlet and Gray started at the top of the lineup with Hillman recording her second single of the game, extending her hitting streak to eight games. With Hillman on second after senior Sam Marder was walked and freshman Brittany Mills pinch running for the catcher, senior Courtney Pruner hit an RBI single to right-center. Next up, Alicia Herron grounded out to the pitcher, allowing Mills to score and giving Ohio State a 6-0 lead through two innings.

Through two innings, Nichols remained strong on the mound for the Buckeyes, striking out two and forcing two batters into flyouts and two into groundouts.

In the bottom of the third, sophomore Katie Simonton took over duties in right field for Hillman, while Spears moved to left and Brittany Goodchild took over in center as the Buckeyes continued their strong defensive effort against UCRSB. In the fourth inning and in just her third at-bat this season, Simonton singled before stealing second, her fourth stolen base this season. After Herron walked, senior Whitney Cooper got on base by a fielder’s choice as the Highlanders got the force out at third to end the inning.

Spears scored her second run of the game in the fifth as she singled, stole second and advanced to third on a Schultz fly out to centerfield. With junior Karisa Medrano pinch hitting for Shepherd, Spears ran home on a sac fly to left field. Nichols gave up her only run of the game in the bottom of the inning as Lauren Molina, the Highlanders’ designated player, knocked a solo home run to right center for the 7-1 final.

Nichols held UC Riverside to a .140 batting average and lowered her ERA to 2.70 from 3.00. The freshman leads Ohio State with 43.7 innings pitched in 11 appearances. Nichols and redshirt junior Lindsay Bodeker are tied for the team lead with 37 strikeouts on the year.

In the game, Hillman went 2-2, Herron 3-4 and Spears 2-3 at the plate. Hillman and Spears shared the team-lead with two RBI in the contest.

Game Notes:
– Inclement weather is expected in Riverside, Calif., so Ohio State’s schedule has changed. The Buckeyes will next face Notre Dame at 9 a.m. PST Saturday and will play East Tennessee State for a second time at 9 a.m. PST Sunday.
– Last Wednesday, UC Riverside notched a 3-2 victory over No. 5 UCLA – a team OSU defeated, 7-0, last Sunday.
– Ohio State has outscored its opponents, 83-45, this year.
– Dee Dee Hillman, Courtney Pruner and Alicia Herron are all on eight-game hitting streaks.