The Ohio State softball team started off their 2018 season with a bang after amassing a 5-0 record in the FAU “First Pitch” Classic on opening weekend. Now the team will head to Raleigh, N.C. for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, where the Buckeyes will face N.C. State and Louisville twice each during the three-day tournament.
Not only did the team go undefeated in their season opening weekend, but their first game out of the gate was a 9-1 thrashing of NIU — which also featured a grand slam by junior Emily Clark. Their wins throughout the weekend — Duke (5-2), FAU (10-2), NIU (10-1), and Boston University (3-2) --shot the team up the national rankings, claiming the No. 21 spot in ESPN’s rankings, and No. 22 among the NCAA coaches poll.
Not only did the team make the jump into the top 25 with their 5-0 start, but two players earned Big Ten weekly honors, as well. Senior pitcher Shelby McCombs was named the conference’s Pitcher of the Week, and Niki Carver earned Co-Freshman of the Week honors — the first weekly award for either Buckeye.
McCombs opened her senior season with three wins in the circle, including two complete games, finishing with a 0.34 ERA, along with 25 strikeouts in 20.2 innings. The Buckeye also recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts against FAU, and only walked one of 26 batters. She did well offensively too, going 4-for-8 at the plate with two RBI and a home run — the third homer of her career.
Carver was a beast at the plate, claiming eight hits on 18 at-bats, averaging .444, along with seven RBI and five runs. She, like McCombs, had a career-high day against tournament host FAU, going 4-for-5, and collecting three RBI and two runs on the afternoon. Her performance against FAU made her one of only five athletes to record four hits in a single game as a freshman.
ACC/Big Ten Challenge preview
This marks the third year of the inter-conference competition, with the Big Ten holding a 33-31 record in the first two years of the event. This year’s list of teams competing includes 10 Big Ten representatives — everyone except Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers, and Iowa. The Buckeyes went 2-2 in last year’s tournament, splitting the four-game series with N.C. State and Louisville.
Ohio State has a load of momentum heading into Friday afternoon’s matchup, coming off an opening weekend in which they outscored their opponents 37-8 on their way to that undefeated, 5-0, record. The Buckeyes didn’t allow more than two runs in any game last weekend, and held the opposition to just a .268 on-base percentage. This was in large part thanks to the incredible pitching to start the season; the pitchers claimed a 1.00 team ERA through 35 innings.
This weekend’s opponents didn’t start quite as strong as the Buckeyes. The N.C. State Wolfpack opened the season 3-2 in the FGSU Kickoff Classic, winning against Georgetown, LIU Brooklyn, and Memphis, but falling short to the tournament host FGSU and Ball State. The team’s top hitter out of opening weekend was Sam Russ, who connected for six hits, six runs and two RBI.
The Louisville Cardinals did one-game better, finishing their opening weekend at the UCF Friends of Jaclyn Invitational, 4-1. Their four wins came against Butler, UCF, North Florida, and Illinois, losing their sole game to North Carolina. The Cardinals’ top batter was Nicole Pufahl, who finished the weekend with five hits, four runs and four RBI.