Buckeyes play Spartans at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

COLUMBUS, Ohio – On a three game win streak, the No. 20/24 Ohio State softball team hits the road for a two-game series at Michigan State at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in East Lansing, Mich.

The Buckeyes (24-11) have won 11 of their last 13 contests and will face the 18-19 Spartans. In Big Ten action, Ohio State is 3-1 while MSU owns a 4-4 ledger after splitting a doubleheader vs. Penn State last Wednesday.

Ohio State and Michigan State have a long history, playing more than 90 games in the all-time series history. The Buckeyes lead the Spartans, 51-40.

Under Ohio State head coach Linda Kalafatis, the Scarlet and Gray own a 14-12 ledger vs. MSU. Ohio State swept the Big Ten series last season, 8-0 and 9-1, March 21-22 in Columbus after falling twice to the Spartans (3-4, April 4 and 3-5, April 5) in 2008.

– Sophomore Alicia Herron leads the squad, batting .432 overall. The shortstop has started all 35 Buckeye games and has 25 RBI, 11 doubles and five home runs.
– Senior designated player Courtney Pruner moved into third on the Ohio State all-time career RBI record list last Saturday, batting in both OSU runs in the 3-2 loss at Illinois for her 138th and 139th runs batted in. Pruner added five more RBI – thanks in part to a grand slam – Sunday and has 30 on the season and 146 in her career.
– Senior catcher Sam Marder is second on the squad with 27 RBI this season and has 173 in her career to hold No. 1 in the all-time program record book. Marder also is the all-time home run (54) and walks (203) leader.
– Freshman Melanie Nichols leads the Buckeyes in wins (12), strikeouts (82), ERA (2.14) and innings pitched (104.2). The OSU pitching corps has a combined ERA of 2.41 while its opponents have combined for a 5.34 ERA.
– Ohio State returned 14 letterwinners and seven starters from its 2009 squad that went 47-11 and 16-4 in the Big Ten, finishing second in the league.
– The Buckeyes have made three NCAA appearances in the last four years, including their first run in program history to the NCAA Super Regional in 2009. Ohio State also made the tournament in 2006 and ’07.
– Last season the team recorded the second-most wins, runs and RBI in program history with a 47-11 ledger, 329 runs scored and 293 RBI. OSU also recorded the second-most shutouts in program history with 23, one shy of the record.

The Buckeyes are 11-2 in their last 13 games after splitting a Big Ten series at Illinois last weekend and sweeping Bowling Green in a Wednesday doubleheader. Ohio State fell, 3-2, in game one last Saturday before bouncing back with a 10-2 victory Sunday. The Scarlet and Gray lost two conference games to Mother Nature April 7, as persistent rain held Ohio State and Purdue off the field in West Lafayette, Ind.

Last Wednesday, the Buckeyes took game one vs. the Falcons, 4-0, and game two, 10-0, at Buckeye Field.

With a 3-1 ledger, Ohio State is currently third in the Big Ten standing. Michigan is first with a 7-0 conference record while Iowa holds second at 8-1.

Sophomore Alicia Herron leads the league with a .432 overall batting average and 48 hits while tying for second with 11 doubles. Senior Sam Marder leads the Big Ten with a .581 on base percentage and 39 walks. Marder also second in the conference with an .826 slugging average and tied for third with 11 home runs.

In Big Ten games only, senior Courtney Pruner leads the Buckeyes with a .667 batting average, nine RBI and six runs scored. She has a 1.250 slugging average and .733 on base percentage against conference foes. As a team, the Buckeyes have outscored their league opponents, 30-13, in four games.

Prior to the start of the doubleheader vs. Bowling Green last Wednesday, Ohio State official adopted Sammy Hardy as an honorary member of the team through the Safe on the Sidelines program, which helps the brothers and sisters of terminally ill children.

Sammy’s 9-year-old brother Ryan was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor when he was 2-years old. He has been adopted by Ohio Dominican’s men’s basketball team through the Friends of Jaclyn program, a program developed to help pediatric patients take their minds off their illness through sports.

Since January, the Buckeyes have been in constant contact with Sammy, a young softball player herself. Thank goodness for unlimited text plans! The team and Sammy have gone out for ice cream and wall climbing at the recreation center on campus – having fun at all times.

Senior Courtney Pruner was named Big Ten Player of the Week Monday after proving to be the hardest batter to get out in the Illinois-Ohio State series last weekend, going 6-for-7 with seven RBI and three runs scored.

The Akron, Ohio, native homered twice, including a grand slam in Ohio State’s 10-2 victory last Sunday, to up her career mark to 34. The two-time captain, who has had hip surgery twice, also made a critical diving catch in the bottom of the second to limit the Illini to just one run.

With two home runs last weekend, senior captain Courtney Pruner upped her career record to 34. She still ranks third in the Buckeye all-time career record book but is just seven shy of tying for second.

Last Saturday, she brought in both Ohio State runs in the one-run loss to the Illini to take over the No. 3 spot on the all-time Ohio State RBI list and has 146 in her career. The Akron, Ohio, native also hit the century mark with her 100th walk.

Senior Megan Miller and freshman Melanie Nichols both held No. 18 Illinois, who was ranked third in the country in runs per game (7.50) prior to entering the Big Ten series, to just two runs. Miller recorded her eighth win on the season, allowing just six hits and one earned run April 11.

The two also paired last Wednesday to shutout Bowling Green at home. Melanie Nichols threw a season-high eight strikeouts for the 4-0 victory in game one. Miller allowed just two hits through four inning to help the Buckeyes down the Falcons, 10-0.

Courtney Pruner knows how to rise to the occasion. After batting just .333 between March 27 and April 2, the senior captain came through big for Ohio State against No. 18 Illinois last weekend, going 6-for-7 with 7 RBI in Champaign.

Pruner earned four of those seven RBI off a two-out, sixth inning grand slam Sunday – her second of the season and fourth career. It turns out Pruner thrives under pressure as three of her four grand slams have come with two outs already recorded.

Her grand slam Sunday was the first to come in a month whose name does not start with an ‘M.’

Pruner Career Grand Slams
April 11, 2010 – at Illinois; sixth inning, two outs
March 5, 2010 – vs. East Tennessee State; fifth inning, two outs
May 22, 2009 – at Georgia; first inning, two outs
March 20, 2007 – at Long Beach; fourth inning, one out

Sophomore Alicia Herron leads Ohio State with 11 doubles while 12 Buckeyes have combined for a total of 54 doubles on the year. Senior Whitney Cooper has eight for second on the team while classmates Sam Marder and Courtney Pruner are not far behind with six and five, respectively. Juniors Dee Dee Hillman, Karisa Medrano and Rachael Shepherd have also chipped in four apiece.

The Buckeyes are 14-1 when scoring in the first inning in 2010. Ohio State took a 1-0 lead in the first vs. Bowling Green in game one Wednesday en route to a 4-0 victory at Buckeye Field.

Senior Courtney Pruner hit two home runs vs. Illinois April 10-11, including her second grand slam of the season, to up Ohio State’s grand total of homers in 2010 to 33.

The Buckeyes have seen seven players combine for 33 home runs this season with senior catcher Sam Marder recording a team-high 11 in 31 games while boosting her Ohio State all-time career record to 54. Pruner, who has 34 career homers and sits at No. 3 all-time in the history books, has knocked eight over the fence this season. Herron and senior Whitney Cooper are tied for third on the team with five each.

The Scarlet and Gray pitching corps has allowed its opponents to hit just 15 home runs so far this season.

Freshman pitcher Melanie Nichols came in prepared for Division I NCAA fast pitch softball. The rookie leads Ohio State with 12 wins, 82 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.14 in 104.2 innings pitched.

Nichols’ first loss of the season came to Central Florida March 24 as the Knights scored one earned and two unearned runs in a 3-0 defeat of the Buckeyes. Last Saturday, the freshman battled hard against a strong Illinois team, which ranked third in the nation in runs per game, holding the Illini hitters to just three runs off of seven hits in the 3-2 loss.   

Two-time All-American Sam Marder has been walked 39 times this season, including 14 intentional. She has been walked 210 times in her career, the most in Buckeye history. Since she joined Ohio State in 2007, Marder has been put on base intentionally 52 times – by far the most in school history dating back to the 1998 season. The second-most times a Buckeye had been intentionally-walked in a career in the last decade is six.

Of Ohio State’s 33 home runs, seven have been leadoff homers and three have come in the sixth inning. The Buckeyes are 4-2 when they have an individual hit a leadoff home run.

Last season, the Buckeyes spent 14-consecutive weeks in the national rankings, spanning from Feb. 20 when they debuted at No. 23 through the NCAA Super Regional May 22 as they concluded the season with the highest ranking in program history at 12th.

The 14 weeks spent in the Top 25 set an Ohio State record for consecutive weeks in the polls. Previously, the 2003 and 2008 squads had maintained a Top 25 ranking for eight-consecutive weeks.

Ohio State, currently ranked 20th in the NFCA and 24th in the USA Softball Collegiate polls, is 122-59 all-time when ranked, including 50-13 at home when owning a Top 25 mark.