This past week was rivalry week. The series that the softball Bucks had trained the entire year for finally happened. They traveled up to Ann Arbor this weekend to take on the No. 22 Wolverines, and two of the three games were a nail-biter (the other one was a solid Ohio State win). While the Scarlet and Gray may not have left with the series win, it was still a riveting matchup.
For some background, both of these teams are very similar. Entering the weekend, they were both hovering around the same team batting average (Ohio State’s .292 was two points higher, of course), have great pitching staffs and accumulated about the same amount of wins and losses.
The Buckeyes, now 28-12, were ranked 22nd in the NCAA softball RPI, while Michigan, currently 29-14, sat right behind them at 23 as of April 21. However the Wolverines are ranked 22nd in the national polls.
Both teams are led by some phenomenal aces on their pitching staffs. For Ohio State, that would be Lexie Handley. She has a 2.50 ERA in 157 innings pitched, while Michigan’s Alex Storako’s is one point lower, a 1.50 ERA in 150 innings pitched. These women were fun to watch.
In Friday’s game, Handley was absolutely lights out. Her complete game performance consisted of only six hits and two runs given up, while striking out 13. She also reached a career milestone of 500 strikeouts while earning her 16th win of the season. Storako took the loss in this game.
Freshman Melina Wilkison, an extremely reliable leadoff hitter all season, continued her hot bat into this weekend. The fourth pitch of the game Friday was driven into the left field seats, as Wilkison hit her third home run on the year. She was 7-for-12 during this series, hitting three doubles in addition to her dinger.
Ohio State went on to score four runs in the fifth inning en route to its 6-2 win to open the series.
Unfortunately, the script was flipped in Saturday's game. Handley got the start once again while the Wolverines went with Meghan Beaubien, who carries a 2.39 ERA. She has been their ace for the past four years, and she did not disappoint in this game.
Entering the seventh inning, Michigan was up 2-1. Then, Sam Hackenbracht hit her 10th double of the season to drive in two runs, allowing Ohio State to regain the lead. Hackenbracht is undoubtedly this team’s offensive leader, hitting .374 with team highs in home runs (12) and RBIs (39).
However, a triple hit by Michigan’s Taylor Bump in the bottom half of the frame gave it the walk-off, 4-3 win. This game came right down to the wire, and while it didn’t swing Ohio State’s way, it was thrilling to watch.
The series came down to Sunday, as the rubber match was on ESPN2, which was exciting to see Ohio State get some national coverage! Beaubien was back in the circle for Michigan while the Bucks went with sophomore Emily Ruck.
Ohio State absolutely unleashed upon Beaubien— she only lasted 2⁄3 of an inning as a result of the four runs she gave up. However, those runs would be the only ones scored by the Buckeyes, as Storako came in for relief in the second inning and was simply unhittable for the remainder of the game.
Michigan’s offensive leader, graduate outfielder Kristina Burkhardt, came in clutch in the third inning, hitting a leadoff triple, which would lead to her scoring. She had a .415 batting average coming into this weekend, starting every game of the season.
The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, Lexie Blair, ultimately put the dagger in the Bucks with a two-RBI double in the fourth inning, putting the Wolverines ahead where Ohio State would not catch them. The game ended with the top of the Buckeyes’ lineup going down 1-2-3.
This series was so fun to watch. The big players shined and two of the games came down to the last batter. While Ohio State only came away with one win, any W counts when it’s against TTUN. The Bucks look to bounce back against Penn State in a doubleheader Tuesday.