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Lilli Piper, Ohio State softball have a record-setting 2018 season

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Now, the Buckeyes head to the NCAA Tournament’s Gainesville Regional as an at-large bid

Walt Middleton Photography 2018

So, the run in the Big Ten Tournament didn’t go exactly according to plan, but the Ohio State softball team still earned an at-large bid for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Their first matchup of the Gainesville Regional will be on Friday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU, when the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes take on No. 3 seed USF.

Before the ladies even take the field on Friday, their 2018 season was one for the record books, with the team finishing the year highly ranked in a host of categories, and several individual records being set that will prove challenging to best in the coming years.

I’d like to call Ohio State’s 2018 season the “Year of the Home Run” thanks to the impressive number of over-the-fence and in-the-park homers by players throughout the lineup — not to mention the GOAT Lilli Piper, who gets my “Golden Bat” award for her 20 home runs (so far) this season.

Let’s take a look at all the accolades and records the softball team earned this season.

“Year of the Home Run”

As a team, and individually, the Buckeyes absolutely crushed the ball this season, connecting on 63 total home runs, good enough for No. 1 in the Big Ten and fifth-best in Ohio State history.

The team has recorded at least one homer in 36 games, as well as claiming four games with three home runs, and two games with five — against Rutgers and Maryland, tying the school record for most home runs in a game.

A big portion of those 63 runs comes down to just three players, Lilli “the GOAT” Piper with 20, Shelby “seriously how does a pitcher hit so well” McCombs with 13, and Emily “don’t count us out just yet” Clark with 12 home runs.

Unstoppable at the plate

It isn’t all home runs for the Buckeyes when they stepped up to the plate, but they have also had success getting on-base and racking up plenty of hits. Five starters hit .270 or better this season, and overall, three Ohio State batters notched double-digit home runs, six players had 16 or more RBI, and four had a .370 or better on-base average.

Nationally, Ohio State ranked No. 6 in homers per game (1.31), No. 14 in doubles per game (1.54), No. 17 in slugging percentage (.492), and No. 36 in scoring (5.48). Not too shabby for a team that bounced in and out of the Top 25 rankings throughout the season.

Aside from Piper (who we’ll get into later on), some of the standout at-bats this season were thanks to RHP Shelby McCombs, Bailee Sturgeon, Niki Carver, and Emily Clark.

  • Aside from being a star in the circle, McCombs finished the season batting .338 with 34 RBI, 13 homers (No. 2 on the team), 11 doubles, 21 runs scored and a .706 slugging percentage. She, deservedly, earned first-team All-Big Ten honors following her impressive 2018 run.
  • Sturgeon is probably the most-improved from the season, having increased her batting average by over 100 points this season, finishing with a .295 mark. She finished the year with 41 hits, nine RBI, four doubles and 27 runs scored.
  • OSU first-year player Niki Carver is setting herself up for a heck of a career as a Buckeye. She finished her rookie season hitting .277, good enough for fourth-best on the team, and had 18 RBI, five home runs and 27 runs scored. Carver’s performance was enough to be named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team.
  • The No. 3 home run hitter on this year’s squad, second baseman Emily Clark, not only notched 12 homers this season, but also recorded 43 RBI, 39 hits, nine doubles and 32 runs scored. Clark also earned second team All-Big Ten honors.

In Ohio State’s series opener against Maryland, the Buckeyes claimed a season-high 13 runs, 13 RBI and 14 hits, and the victory put the team at 30 wins for the year, good for their seventh-consecutive season hitting that feat.

An ode to Lilli Piper

The junior infielder can do it all. She’s a phenom at the plate and an even better person off of the field. As her impressive 2018 campaign draws near its close, she was able to snag her 20th home run of the season in the Buckeyes’ one game in the Big Ten Tournament, and add her name to another set of school and conference records.

Piper’s 20th dinger puts her in the No. 1 spot in Ohio State’s record books with the most home runs in a single-season. She led the league in batting, finishing the season hitting at a .417 clip, and currently leads the team in home runs, hits (63), RBI (57), runs scored (49), doubles (14), stolen bases (8), slugging percentage (.921), and on-base percentage (.497).

So, pretty much every single offensive category belongs to Piper this season. She’s also currently one of only two players in Ohio State history with at least 50 RBI and 40 runs in a season. And, impressively, she reached base in 18 consecutive games this season.

Not only is she the top player for the Buckeyes, and in the Big Ten, but Piper also ranks nationally in several categories including No. 3 in home runs per game (0.42), No. 5 in RBI per game (1.19), No. 6 in home runs (20), No. 9 in slugging percentage (.921), No. 11 in total bases (139), No. 18 in runs per game (1.02), and No. 22 in RBI (57).

Piper is also amazing off the field

Taking all of this into account, it might be a little surprising to learn that early on in the year, Piper went through two traumatic personal events during a series on the West Coast in mid-March. Her efforts on March 16 transcended her from hero on the field, to hero... period.

You really should read the entire story, because it’s absolutely incredible.

During an off-day in-between games, Piper ended up saving the life of her Mom’s boyfriend, Darryl Baldwin, by performing CPR after he collapsed while he and Piper were shooting baskets. In cardiac arrest, the CPR was enough to keep him going until he was eventually picked up and underwent surgery, which was successful.

The next morning, and just hours before game time, as Piper was going to visit Baldwin and celebrate his recovery, she received a call from her Mom relaying the news that her grandfather — and one of her biggest fans — had passed away. Instead of taking the next flight home, she prepared to dedicate this game, and the rest of the series to her devout Buckeye-loving grandpa.

Just hours after breaking down in the arms of her friend and assistant coach, Piper went 4-for-4 at the plate, claiming three RBI and two runs scored, and with her final at-bat in the bottom of the seventh crushing a home run in honor of her grandfather.

The team as a whole was solid in 2018

Despite only winning one of their three-games against Michigan to close out the regular season, the Buckeyes not only run-ruled the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in the series finale, but it was the first time TTUN had lost at home by a run rule since 2000.

The 10-1 win, pushed the senior class to 133 total victories over the past four years, including 54 Big Ten conference wins, making them the ninth all-time winningest senior class in Ohio State history.

In addition to the team reaching seven seasons in a row with 30 wins, head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly reached the milestone for her ninth-straight season (in her 12-year coaching career). In her six seasons leading the Buckeyes, she’s led the team to 197 total wins.