Feb. 24, 2004

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State softball team resumes its tough early-season schedule this weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga. The Buckeyes (3-2, 0-0 Big Ten) knocked off a pair of nationally ranked teams two weeks ago at the Arizona State Fiesta Bowl Tournament in Phoenix, Ariz., and will face three more opponents in Georgia that also appear in the polls, including No. 13/16 LSU (noon Fri.), No. 2/3 California (7:30 p.m. Fri.) and Florida Atlantic (12:30 p.m. Sat.), which received votes in both polls. The remainder of the tournament, based on seeding, will be played Saturday evening and Sunday.

The NFCA Leadoff Classic is the second of five southern trips for Ohio State to begin the 2004 season. Following their stay in Georgia this weekend, the Buckeyes will play March 5-7 in Dayton, Ohio, and March 12-14 in Rock Hill, S.C. The Buckeyes will also play five games in California March 23-26.

Ohio State will host the Buckeye Invitational March 19-21, which will mark the Buckeyes’ first home games of the season.

The Buckeyes’ first eight opponents of the season all played in the NCAA tournament last season. A total of 14 opponents on Ohio State’s 2004 schedule currently appear in at least one of those two national polls.

“We’re excited to be heading out to play again,” Linda Kalafatis, head coach, said. “I thought we got better over the last weekend when we played our first tournament and we’ll be hoping for the same from this tournament. The NFCA Leadoff Classic is always well-run and we’re expecting very tough competition again this weekend.”

Ohio State is not ranked but received votes in the latest Softball poll, released Feb. 17. Based on poll points, Ohio State would be ranked 33rd. Two Big Ten teams are ranked among the Top 25 (No. 11 Michigan and No. 19 Iowa), while four other Big Ten teams also received votes, including Northwestern, Michigan State, OSU and Minnesota.

Prior to the start of last season, the Buckeyes were ranked No. 16 in the USA Today/NFCA preseason poll, which marked the highest preseason ranking in program history. Ohio State finished the 2002 season ranked No. 13, the program’s best ranking in a preseason, inseason or postseason poll.

Ohio State will meet familiar opponents in its first three games of the NFCA Leadoff Classic this weekend. In their first contest Friday, the Buckeyes will meet LSU as these two teams renew their series, which last saw activity during the 2000 season. That season the Tigers defeated Ohio State twice, 11-0 and 4-0, as hosts for the LSU Tiger Classic in Baton Rouge, La., in the Buckeyes’ season-opening tournament. LSU leads the all-time series vs. Ohio State, 2-1.

The Buckeyes’ next two games this weekend will come against teams they faced last season. Ohio State met California, then the defending national champion, at the Cal State-Fullerton/Worth Invitational March 3 and knocked off the Bears, 1-0, behind Kristine Himes’ solo homerun. The all-time series is tied between these two schools, 3-3. Ohio State met Florida Atlantic in the 2003 season opener, Feb. 7, and dropped a 3-2 decision to the Owls in the Golden Panthers Invitational in Miami, Fla. FAU leads the all-time series vs. the Buckeyes, 3-1.

Junior Karisa Evans, freshman Megan Schwab and senior Breana Pozzi led the Buckeyes offensively at the Arizona State Fiesta Bowl Tournament two weeks ago. Evans batted .462 (6-for-13), Schwab batted .412 (7-for-17) and Pozzi hit .364 (4-for-11). Evans had a pair of multi-hit games, while Schwab delivered a game-winning three-run homer vs. Oregon and went 4-for-4 vs. Arizona State (Ohio State’s first four-hit since 2002). Pozzi had a 3-for-3 game vs. Cal State-Northridge to mark her first career three-hit performance.

In addition, junior Natalie Hales and freshman Jamee Juarez both blasted homeruns that proved to be game-winners. Hales’ homer was the difference vs. Cal State-Northridge, while Juarez drove in four runs via a grand slam homerun vs. Arizona State.

Freshman Jamee Juarez celebrated her 19th birthday Feb. 15 with an outstanding performance in Ohio State’s 6-3 win vs. No. 19 Arizona State. The La Puente, Calif., native pitched all seven innings, allowing just six hits, and got the job done at the plate, as well, with a grand slam homerun to put the Buckeyes on top, 5-0, in the fourth inning. For the tournament, Juarez was 3-0 on the mound with a 1.00 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 21 innings of work. She was also Ohio State’s fourth-ranked hitter by batting average with a .188 mark (3-for-16).

Senior Kristi DeVries and freshman Nycole Koyano made valuable contributions to Ohio State’s efforts in Phoenix two weeks ago. DeVries took the mound in the Buckeyes’ season-opener vs. UMass Feb. 13 and pitched four hitless innings before the Minutewomen pulled away for the win. A day later, DeVries faced No. 10 Texas, holding the powerful Longhorns to seven hits and collecting five strikeouts.

Koyano started every game at second base and collected 13 putouts and six assists, many of which were hit-savers, without committing an error. At the plate, Koyano fashioned a .412 on-base percentage, fourth-best on the squad.

In addition, juniors Jennifer Johnson and Meghan Rowlands started every game at shortstop and centerfield, respectively, in the tournament. In Ohio State’s final three games of the weekend, which were all vs. ranked teams, Johnson had eight putouts and five assists with just one error. Rowlands, meanwhile, had 11 putouts in the tournament without an error and made a sensational homerun-saving catch while crashing through the centerfield fence in Ohio State’s 6-3 win vs. No. 19 Arizona State.

Seven starters return for the Buckeyes in 2004, including senior P/1B Kristi DeVries (.288, 15 RBI, 12-8, 1.33 ERA), junior OF Karisa Evans (.345, 13 2b, 17 RBI), junior 1B/DP Ashley Cutcliff (.280, 5 HR), sophomore SS Billie Jo Carder (.271), junior OF Meghan Rowlands (.192), senior 1B/DP Beth McAbier (.185) and junior IF Jennifer Johnson (.169). A total of 13 letterwinners return.

Senior P/1B Kristi DeVries and senior 3B Breana Pozzi have been selected as co-captains for the 2004 Buckeyes. DeVries is already near the top of most Ohio State pitching records and also has been a solid contributor at the plate for the Buckeyes, as well. Pozzi, who heads into the 2004 season as the starter at third base, has proven to be a spark at the plate for Ohio State. Nagging injuries hampered her junior season after she batted .329 with 12 RBI as a sophomore.

The 2004 senior class of P/1B Kristi DeVries, 3B Breana Pozzi and 1B/DP Beth McAbier has been a part of 130 victories while wearing scarlet and gray, which is 27 wins shy of the Ohio State-record of 157 wins collected by the senior class of 2003. Should the 2004 seniors break the wins record, it would mark the third-consecutive season the Buckeye senior class has broken the school’s wins record.

The 2003 season provided Ohio State head coach Linda Kalafatis with a pair of prestigious accomplishments. A 4-1 win vs. Toledo April 9 was Kalafatis’ school-record 221st while at Ohio State, surpassing the previous record of 220 set by Gail Davenport from 1989-1996. Then April 30 a 6-0 win vs. Marshall gave Kalafatis her 500th career victory as a collegiate head coach. Kalafatis is now 504-284-2 (.640) overall in her 16th season as a collegiate head coach and 231-169-2 (.577) in her eighth season at the helm of the Ohio State program.

The 2003 senior class left Ohio State as the winningest class in the history of the program. 3B Kristine Himes, 2B Jennifer Link, IF Elizabeth Kacsanek, OF Rogeanna Hottinger, C Annie Dedic and P Katie Chain racked up 157 victories while wearing scarlet and gray. Chain set career records at Ohio State for innings pitched (677.1), wins (67), strikeouts (692) and shutouts (26). She and Link received All-America honors in 2002, while Himes belted a school-record 41 career homeruns.

The Ohio State softball program is looking to return to their winning ways under the direction of head coach Linda Kalafatis, who is in her eighth season at the helm of the Buckeye program. A combination of new talent, experienced leaders, versatility and lights at Buckeye Field for the first time in program history should prove to add up to an exciting softball season in Columbus. Ohio State finished 55-14 in 2002 but saw its record slip to 26-23 last season.

“We were not pleased with the second half of our season (last year) and I think that really has motivated our team,” Kalafatis said. “I think we have some very determined young ladies.”

In addition to a freshman class that will contribute immediately, Kalafatis is confident in her senior class, which consists of DeVries, McAbier and Pozzi.

“We have three seniors who are all capable of having their best seasons yet,” Kalafatis said. “So far they have provided good leadership for our team and they have the potential to leave as the winningest class in Ohio State softball history, like the two previous senior classes did.”

The pitching mound will have one of the Buckeyes’ leaders and all-time best pitchers this year in DeVries, who ranks second in career wins (44) and strikeouts (426) at Ohio State. The infield is perhaps where the most experience and the most versatility lies on the Buckeye squad. Returnees include DeVries, who doubles as a pitcher and first base player, McAbier, who led the team with 211 putouts last year at first base, Carder and Johnson, who shared time at shortstop last season, and Pozzi, who split time between third base and shortstop. A pair of catchers, junior Natalie Hales and sophomore Stacy Hibma, played in 16 and 28 games, respectively, last year. Rowlands, who played leftfield last season, will shift to centerfield this season and will be joined by returning starter junior Karisa Evans, who batted a team-high .345 in 2003.

The Buckeyes open the season with two tough tournaments that include at least eight 2003 NCAA Tournament participants. In the Arizona State Fiesta Bowl Tournament all five teams – Arizona State, Cal State-Northridge, Massachusetts, Oregon and Texas – were NCAA qualifiers last year. In the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., Kalafatis’ squad will take on national runner-up California, Florida Atlantic and LSU.

Ohio State fashioned a perfect 9-0 record during the fall over two weekends of tournament play. Once again Ohio State hosted the Ohio Collegiate Charity Classic, which raised nearly $10,000 for breast cancer research. Kalafatis’ squad won the event with a 5-0 record for the third consecutive year. A week later, the Buckeyes were a flawless 4-0 at the Wright State Fall Tournament in Dayton, Ohio.

Following Ohio State’s weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., the Buckeyes will travel to the Dayton (Ohio) Flyer Invitational, March 5-7. Ohio State will face Dayton March 5, Wright State March 6 and IUPUI March 7, with the rest of the tournament being played based on seeding following Ohio State’s contest vs. IUPUI.