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Softball: Home runs propel Buckeyes to series win over Illinois

It was a weekend of the long ball against the Fighting Illini!

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Last week Ohio State played five games, including a doubleheader against Penn State and a three-game series against Illinois. During that span, 11 home runs were hit. The team had a .610 slugging percentage and was averaging 8.4 runs per game. The offense certainly was not a problem.

Let’s take a look at the series dub against Illinois this past weekend.

Game 1

This game started off with a bang, as shortstop Kami Kortokrax smacked her sixth home run of the season in the first inning — a solo shot to put the Bucks up early. The next inning, catcher Hannah Church hit a two-run homer of her own, and then the runs would just continue to pile on from there.

Designated player Sam Hackenbracht obviously had to get in on the home run party, a two-run shot in the third to make it 5-0. After a bases loaded walk and a fielding error in the fifth, two more runs were scored before the top of the sixth, where Illinois pitching really struggled. As in, giving up three hits, walking three and hitting one, which resulted in four runs scored, making it 11-0 and the Buckeyes eligible for a run rule.

The pitching stayed strong in the bottom half of the frame, as it had all game to give Ohio State a six-inning win. Allison Smith was simply amazing this weekend, and this was just the beginning. She threw five innings while only surrendering two hits and three walks. Lexi Paulsen pitched the final inning, giving up just one hit and one walk.

This was an all-around amazing start to the series.

Game 2

In the first game of the doubleheader Saturday, the offense once again was not a problem, but the Buckeyes gave up 13 runs and only scored nine, which was a problem.

The first inning was big for both teams, as Kortokrax was the start of the barrage of hits again. Her RBI double, Hackenbracht’s RBI single and a fielder’s choice brought in four runs. As for the pitching, Emily Ruck got roughed up in this game pretty bad. She gave up three runs off five hits in the first inning to give the Illini a solid start.

However, the offense was not backing down as they scored two runs off two hits in the second inning to make it 6-3 Buckeyes. But then the bottom of the third happened, and this is where Ruck truly got shelled. The righty gave up four runs off five hits, putting Illinois ahead 7-6. Interesting to note, all six scoring situations were the result of singles. Ruck did not give up the long ball, which is what she usually struggles with.

Redshirt freshman Kennedy Kay came in for relief and immediately got a double play to end the inning. She gave up a run in the fifth, then Hackenbracht did what she does best and hit a solo homer put the Buckeyes within one.

The bottom of the sixth is when it all fell apart. Kay was pulled after the first batter, and Smith replaced her, only to give up a three-run home run. Next, freshman Julia Miller came in and loaded the bases, then gave up another walk to allow a run. Finally, Paulsen came in for relief and gave up one run, but worked out of the inning. Four pitchers were used and five runs were scored, making it 13-7.

Melina Wilkison hit a two-run home run in the top of the seventh to try and get a rally going, but ultimately they fell short, 13-9. This was the first time all season that all five pitchers on the roster were used in the same game.

Game 3

Who else but Wilkison?! The right fielder hit yet another first-inning home run this season to put the Bucks ahead early. First baseman Mariah Rodriguez added one of her own in the third inning. In the fifth inning, Ohio State got crafty with its scoring as Wilkison hit a sacrifice fly, Kortokrax’s ground out allowed a run and Hackenbracht reaching on a throwing error allowed another.

A HBP, double and yet another fielding error costed Illinois four more runs in the sixth, making it 9-0. Its only run was scored in the bottom half of the frame on a wild pitch, but the game ended after the inning because of the run-rule.

Smith shined again in this one, throwing another complete game, only giving up one run on four hits and two walks.

Overall, what a fun weekend for the Buckeyes! Yes, they fell apart for one inning in their loss which costed them, but the truly impressed in their wins. In their two wins, they scored 20 combined runs, hit six home runs and allowed just one run. Smith was the winning pitcher in both Buckeye victories, going 11 innings on the weekend with a 1.27 ERA and .189 batting average against.

After going 4-1 away from home this past week, Ohio State returns to Columbus to begin a seven-game homestand today when it hosts Youngstown State. The game starts at 6 p.m. and will be streamed on BTN+.