In their second game of the day, the fourth-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes fell to the top-seeded and No. 2 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers in the championship game of the Big Ten softball tournament, 6-0. The victory marked the Gophers’ second straight tournament title, and will all but ensure that they host an NCAA regional this coming week. Ohio State will have to wait to learn their fate tomorrow night.
The NCAA Division I Softball Selection Show will air on Sunday, May 14th, at 10:00pm ET on ESPN2.
The story of the game was the abnormally high number of free passes issued by the Buckeye pitching staff. Ohio State pitchers allowed 15 walks, two hit batsmen, and six hits in the championship game defeat.
After earning the save in the semifinals, junior Shelby McCombs got the ball 30 minutes later as she started the championship game in the circle for the Buckeyes.
The two B1G finalists didn’t meet in the regular season, so the pitchers had the early advantage. McCombs surrendered a walk in each of the first three innings, along with one hit, but the Gophers couldn’t capitalize.
For Minnesota, it was 12 up-12 down for starter Sara Groenewegan, however, despite her spotless first four frames, a number of Buckeyes drove the ball into the outfield. Gopher leftfielder Sam Macken was forced to make two tricky plays to prevent big, early hits from OSU’s Alex Bayne and Emily Clark.
Groenewegan proved why she was the best pitcher in the Big Ten this season, throwing a complete game and giving up only two hits. With 12 Ks in the game, the Gopher pitcher became the program’s all-time strikeout leader with 1,188, passing Sara Moulton.
In the top of the third, after McCombs’ third walk of the game, she struck out Danielle Parlich and OSU catcher Becca Gavin threw out Macken for the double-play. The wheels came off a bit from there for McCombs as she gave up her fourth walk, an “unintentional-intentional” one to the Big Ten’s top hitter, Kendyl Lindaman. McCombs then hit Maddie Houlihan and walked MaKenna Partain.
However, with the bases loaded, Minnesota’s semifinal hero, Sydney Dwyer, lined a ball to OSU first baseman Ashley Goodwin who gloved it to end the inning.
With one out in the top of the fourth, Minnesota’s Dani Wagner drove a ball to dead centerfield and barely beat the throw to second from OSU’s Taylor White. McCombs walked the next batter to turn the Gopher lineup over, putting two on for leadoff batter Macken. The leftfielder popped up to short center, before McComb got Parlich to groundout to end the inning.
McCombs led off the fifth inning with her third walk of Lindaman of the game. While it is always difficult to ask a defense to overcome so many runners on base, in the case of the Big Ten’s leader in batting average, RBI, and home runs, OSU coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly clearly made the decision not to let Lindaman beat the Buckeyes. The Minnesota catcher finished the day 1-1 with four walks and single.
After back-to-back fielder’s choices, Dwyer launched a ball over the leftfield fence to record her third home run of the day, putting the Gophers up 2-0. McCombs walked the next batter, Groenewegen, before being pulled in favor of the semifinal starter Shelby Hursh.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Hursh picked up where McCombs left off, hitting Wagner and walking Allie Arneson to load the bases. Then, with Macken at the plate, Hursh threw the Buckeyes’ 10th walk of the game, to force in a run, giving the Gophers a 3-0 lead.
The Buckeyes responded by recording their first baserunner of game as Emily Clark drove a ball to centerfield to lead off the bottom of the fifth. After the next three batters, she was stranded there to end the fifth. Clark’s hit was the first that Groenewegan surrendered in the B1G tournament.
In the sixth, Hursh walked Lindaman to leadoff the inning, and in the seventh, she walked Wagner. Buckeye pitchers lead off four innings with free passes (the 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th). Hursh also walked Dwyer in the sixth and Ameson in the seventh, before Kovach Schoenly made the change to bring in her third pitcher of the game, Morgan Ray who got the W in the semifinal win over Michigan State.
Ray gave up a double to the first batter she faced, as Macken drove down the leftfield line, plating two. Minnesota took a 5-0 lead with no outs in the seventh. By the time the Buckeyes came to bat for the final time, the score was 6-0.
Earlier in the day, Minnesota came back and defeated the No. 4 Illinois on a Dwyer walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh, and after taking a 4-0 lead in their semifinal game against the No. 7 Michigan State Spartans, the Buckeyes avoided the upset, holding on to win 4-3.