Buckeyes hold onto second place in conference standings with 10-2 record

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Facing the second-ranked team in the nation, the No. 19 Ohio State softball team entered the Wednesday doubleheader vs. Michigan as the underdogs and pulled off an upset, winning game one, 5-3, while flirting with a possible series sweep of the Big Ten-leading Wolverines before eventually falling, 4-3, in game two at Buckeye Field.

Behind a pair of home runs from seniors Courtney Pruner and Rebecca Schultz, the Scarlet and Gray recorded their first victory over Michigan since the 2003 season, making it a special win for the 2010 senior class.

“It speaks a lot about our program,” Sam Marder, Ohio State senior catcher, said. “It is a milestone for this 2010 team and the first win vs. Michigan for the senior class.

“We’ll take a split with the No. 2 team in the nation who is receiving first-place votes.”

Ohio State extended its winning streak to 10 games before dropping its first contest at home Wednesday night. The Buckeyes are now 31-12 overall, 10-2 in the Big Ten and 12-1 at Buckeye Field. For Michigan, the series split brings its overall record to 38-6 and 14-1 in the league.

Game One
Facing the top pitching staff in the Big Ten, senior right fielder Courtney Pruner went 2-for-3 with three RBI and classmate Rebecca Schultz chipped in a 1-for-2, two RBI performance to outscore Michigan, 5-3, in game one at Buckeye Field.

Freshman pitcher Melanie Nichols improved to 18-2 on the season with the victory, limiting the Wolverines to four hits and one earned run in seven innings of work.

The Buckeyes jumped ahead in the first inning thanks to a three-run home run from Pruner, her ninth this season and 35th career. Ohio State is now 18-1 when scoring in the first inning in 2010. Facing Jordan Taylor, who has been named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week five times this season, sophomore shortstop Alicia Herron started the inning with a single through the left side before Taylor walked senior catcher Sam Marder. Batting in the fourth spot, Pruner, a tri-captain from Akron, Ohio, hit a first pitch, home run to left to give the squad the early momentum.

Through the first two innings, Nichols held Michigan to just two singles before the Wolverines scored in the third. After walking Nikki Nemitz and Jaclyn Crummey entered as a pinch runner, Michigan moved Crummy around the bases and across home plate with a single and sacrifice fly, respectively. With two outs on the board, the Buckeyes ended the inning as senior second baseman Whitney Cooper picked up the grounder for the 4-3 putout. In the game, Cooper recorded six assists without an error.

In the top of the fourth, junior left fielder Dee Dee Hillman fought the sun and made back-to-back catches, one on the warning track and the second a shallow pop-up to retire the side. Ohio State then scored two runs off of two hits to take a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the stanza. With two outs and junior Karisa Medrano on first, Schultz hit her second home run of the season over the left field wall. The first baseman hit a solo homer last week vs. Indiana at Buckeye Field and now has four in her career.

The teams played two scoreless innings until the Wolverines tacked on two unearned runs in the top of the seventh. With runners on second and third, Molly Bausher hit a double that bounced off the side wall deep in left field to bring in the final two runs of the game.

Nichols finished the game with two strikeouts and five walks while Taylor, who averages more than 10 strikeouts a game, ended with 13 strikeouts while giving up six hits and five earned runs in six innings.

Game Two
After giving Michigan its first conference loss in game one, Ohio State fell behind, 4-0, in game two before battling back and scoring three runs in the bottom of the fourth. The Buckeyes loaded the bases in the sixth but were unable to score the tying run, dropping a 4-3 contest at Buckeye Field, their first home loss.

In the game, sophomore shortstop Alicia Herron, who leads the conference with a .432 batting average, went 2-for-4 with two RBI and senior Leah Ledford was 1-for-3 with an RBI and run scored. Senior Megan Miller earned the start and pitched three innings, allowing six hits and four runs before freshman Melanie Nichols came in for the final four innings.

The Wolverines were the first to strike in game two, scoring a single run in the first. With runners on first and second, UM catcher Roya St. Clair hit a timely double to right field allowing Angela Findlay to round third and come home. With runners on the corners, Miller was able to escape the inning with a pop-up to senior Whitney Cooper at second base before recording her first of five strikeouts.

In the bottom of the second, Ohio State had two hits but was unable to move its runners past second base.

In the third, Michigan scored three runs off of three hits to take a 4-0 lead. After a St. Clair single and a Dorian Shaw double, Amanda Chidester hit a three-run home run to left. Miller quickly fanned the next two Wolverines before senior right fielder Courtney Pruner caught a fly ball for the third out.

The Buckeyes answered with three runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth. Senior Rebecca Schultz started the inning with a single down the left-field line before Ledford ripped an RBI double to center, giving Schultz the opportunity to race around third and beat the Michigan play at the plate. Buckeye leadoff hitter Dee Dee Hillman walked before Herron hit her third triple of the season. With the extra-base hit down the right field line, both Ledford and Hillman scored to make it a one-run ball game.

With bases loaded in the sixth and one out, Michigan pitcher Jordan Taylor, pitching in relief, was able to retire the middle of the Buckeye lineup and preserve the Wolverine lead for the 4-3 final.

Taylor earned the win for UM, striking out six while allowing one hit in 3.1 innings. Nikki Nemitz started the game for the Wolverines in the circle, fanning eight while allowing six hits and three runs.

For Ohio State, Miller received the loss and is 10-3 on the season after pitching three innings, striking out five batters and allowing six hits. Nichols pitched the remaining four innings, allowing two hits and striking out four.

Next up, the Buckeyes, ranked second in the Big Ten, held to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Iowa is currently fourth in the league standings with an 8-3 ledger in the Big Ten and is 23-16 overall.