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Buckeye softball set to open their season this week

This team is going to be good.

@OhioStateSB Twitter

It’s currently 20 degrees in Columbus as the calendar flips to February, but softball season begins this week! The Ohio State softball team opens up their season Feb. 10 against Georgia in Orlando, Florida.

Last year was solid for the Bucks, but with the addition of some key new players, they are looking to ball out in 2023.

First, recapping the 2022 season, Ohio State was 36-17 overall and 13-9 in Big Ten play. They had a couple of players with conference honors who have since graduated. Lexie Handley, the southpaw pitcher from Auburn, was undoubtedly the team’s ace. She finished 2022 with 271 strikeouts in 225.0 innings, a 2.52 ERA and 22 wins. Her strikeout total is a single-season program record. Handley was named Second Team All-Big Ten.

The Buckeyes also lost first baseman and power hitter Niki Carver, who hit .348 with 35 RBI and 11 home runs. She was a huge bat for the team, and received First Team All-Big Ten honors. Both of these women were also great leaders for the program, so they will be definitely be missed this year.

However, do not fear, as there are 19 returning players and five amazing freshmen who could all make an immediate impact.

Starting with one of the veterans who is one of the top players in the country, catcher/utility Sam Hackenbracht is looking to have the best season of her career.

Christian Harsa

She has been the team’s best hitter for the entirety of her collegiate career. Hackenbracht enters the 2023 season with 30 career home runs, which already places her eighth on the program’s all-time list. Last season, she battled through a torn labrum and torn bicep to still hit .377, 16 home runs and 52 RBI. Now with a full offseason to get healthy, she will be back behind the plate, terrorizing opposing teams’ offenses AND defenses.

In the circle, the Buckeyes return two pitchers, lefty Allison Smith and right-hander Emily Ruck. Both were pretty steady last season, as Smith tossed 70.2 innings with a 3.37 ERA and 69 strikeouts while Ruck countered with a 3.09 ERA in 54.1 innings. I expect one of them to step into a larger role this season, as Handley shouldered the majority of the innings last year.

There are some freshmen pitchers who I am really excited to watch. Righty Julia Miller was a first team All-Ohio selection her senior year, and led the state in strikeouts, no-hitters and perfect games. She had a 0.48 ERA with 378 strikeouts, seven no-hitters and four perfect games. I feel like the stats talk for themselves, but I can’t wait to see her find her role in the program.

Another Ohio-bred pitcher is Lexi Paulsen. She was a two-time All-Ohio selection and totaled 522 strikeouts during her final two seasons. Additionally, the team will get their first look at redshirt-freshman pitcher Kennedy Kay, who missed the entire season with a torn ACL. She was a dominant two-way player in high school, so I’m intrigued to see if she will do that in college as well.

Tom E. Puskar

The left side of the infield was locked up last season with the duo of third baseman McKenzie Bump and freshman shortstop Kami Kortokrax. Both women had solid seasons at the plate, too. The outfield was also impressive last season, and I expect it to look the same this year. Left fielder Jaycee Ruberti, center fielder/active program leader in games played, Meggie Otte, and freshman right fielder Melina Wilkison were successful on both sides of the ball.

So, there you have it. There is a lot of power and consistency at the plate on this roster. There is strong pitching, with some rookies looking to make an impact right away. The return of a fully healthy Hackenbracht is certainly something to keep an eye on. Overall, this team gets along extremely well, and they just have a lot of fun together. As a result, they are a lot of fun to watch as well.

College softball is one of the best collegiate sports to follow along with. I may be a bit biased, since I played softball up until college, but I still believe, and millions of viewers around the country agree with me, that it is very fun to watch. The women keep it fun and engaging, and their talent is super impressive.

Let this be the year you finally tune into college softball — especially Buckeye softball!