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Unforced errors cost Ohio State softball in the Big Ten Tournament, fall to Iowa, 5-1

OSU’s tournament was a short one, so let’s just talk about how Lilli Piper set the school’s new single-season home run record.

The No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes faced off against No. 12 Iowa in the first round of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament on Thursday night, and guess what? Lilli Piper hit another home run.

The Buckeyes didn’t win, and it got pretty ugly near the end. Despite a close 1-1 score for the first six innings, the Hawkeyes picked up four runs in the top of the seventh for a 5-1 victory. Iowa will face No. 4 seeded Northwestern — who had a first-round bye — on Friday at 8 p.m. ET (on the Big Ten Network) in the quarterfinals.

With Shelby McCombs on the mound for the Buckeyes, Iowa’s Mallory Killian grounded out to 2b to open the matchup, followed by Allie Wood striking out swinging and Angela Schmiederer grounding out to first for a quick top of the first.

Then, my favorite part of Ohio State softball: the at-bats.

Bailee Sturgeon struck out swinging, but then Lilli “The GOAT” Piper stepped up to the plate. With a 2-2 count, the team’s leading home run-hitter nailed her 20th of the season to set the Buckeyes up 1-0. McCombs and Niki Carver would both strike out swinging to close out the first inning of the night.

It was another quick at-bat for the Hawkeyes, with McKenzie Schneider being walked and three of her teammates striking and grounding out. But it was also a quick second inning for the Buckeyes who went three-and-out heading into the third.

Finally, things started to get interesting with Iowa back at the plate. Daniella Ibarra opened with a single to center field, but was thrown out at second base shortly thereafter off of a hit by Cheyenne Pratt. It wasn’t in vein, Pratt stole second and ended up scoring on a passed ball three at-bats later, tying the Buckeyes 1-1 in the bottom of the third. Schmiederer grounded out to shortstop following the score for Iowa’s third out of the inning.

With Ohio State back in the dugout, Amy Balich led off with a fly ball to centerfield, but Taylor White followed it up with a shot to right field, making it to first. With Bailee Sturgeon at the plate, White stole second as Sturgeon eventually took first on a walk. The Hawkeyes were smart to give Piper a free-pass as she made her way back to the plate, advancing the runners and loading the bases.

Unfortunately, similar to inning No. 1, McCombs and Carver both followed up Piper’s at-bat with strikeouts, stranding three Buckeyes on base -- and wasting a prime opportunity to take the lead. The third inning finished with the teams tied 1-1.

The Hawkeyes got on base early in the fourth inning, but Havyn Monteer — who was pinch-running for Libby — was quickly thrown out by Ohio State when she was caught trying to steal second.

The rest of the inning went pretty quickly with a single to short stop by Bogar, followed by two outs to finish out the top of the fourth. Ohio State wasn’t able to do much better, with one hit and two players left on base heading into the fifth, with the score still tied 1-1.

Ohio State pitcher Shelby McCombs would strike out three Hawkeyes in a row for a super quick top of the inning. Back at the plate, the Buckeyes opened with a Sturgeon line-drive to third base for an out. Piper stepped up and hit a single to left field, taking first base and eventually stealing second.

With another batter out before and after her second base snag, the Buckeyes would close out the fifth inning with Piper left hanging, and the score still at one all.

Iowa’s next at-bat would see six batters come to the plate, but no runs scored with two players left on the bases to close out the top of the sixth -- McCombs also claimed her eighth strikeout of the night. It was a quick three-and-out for Ohio State at the plate to close out the inning.

The Hawkeyes started off the top of the seventh strong with a single, a bunt, and an errant pitch that led to Lea Thompson advancing to third, setting Iowa up in scoring position. The Buckeyes called for a pitching change, moving McCombs to DH and Morgan Ray taking over the circle for Ohio State.

The change didn’t help much, with another wild pitch bringing Thompson home, letting Iowa take their first lead of the night, 2-1, with no outs and Ibarro on third. The Buckeyes would get their first out of the inning with a play at home, keeping Ibarro from advancing the Hawkeyes’ lead.

Iowa would load the bases again thanks to a couple of hits and a Schmiederer walk. Despite Ray getting her first strikeout of the game, she also had another errant pitch, advancing all the runners and putting the Buckeyes down 3-1 with two outs. The first three runs for the Hawkeyes came courtesy of passed balls and wild pitches.

However, the next at-bat saw Libby single to left field, bringing in another runner, to make it 4-1 — and increasingly more challenging for the Buckeyes to bounce back — with runners still on third and first.

It was a short stint on the mound for Ray who was swapped with McCombs, as the Buckeyes tried like hell to get their third out to finally stop the bleeding. (Narrator: the bleeding didn’t stop.) Schneider stepped up to the plate for the Hawkeyes and got an RBI single, making it 5-1, Iowa. Finally, Thompson grounded out to short stop to end the Buckeyes’ misery.

Finally with a chance to put some runs on the board, the Buckeyes opened the bottom of the seventh with Stevens connecting on her first pitch, with a single to right field. White was walked right after, filling two bases with zero outs. Sturgeon connected next, but White was thrown out at second — we can debate about whether or not she wasn’t really safe — leaving runners on third and first.

Just like her second at-bat, Piper was once again walked, loading the bases with McCombs heading to the plate. The Buckeye pitcher would go down swinging, as would Carver to close out the seventh inning, the game, and Ohio State’s run in this year’s Big Ten Tournament.