It will be strength against strength when the No. 18 Michigan softball team (6-0 Big Ten, 26-7-1 overall) visits No. 25 Ohio State (6-0, 27-7) this weekend.
The Wolverines’ top-ranked pitching rotation, which hasn’t surrendered a run in Big Ten play thus far, will face a Buckeye offense that hits .444 and averages over 11 runs per game — good for the conference lead in both categories.
Ohio State’s run production was apparent against Rutgers last weekend, as it outscored its opponent, 32-3, in a brisk sweep. The Buckeyes also notched three victories against Maryland to open conference play in late March.
Sophomore Lilli Piper, who hits .443 with nine home runs and 38 RBI, leads Ohio State offensively. She will undoubtedly be the toughest matchup both senior right-hander Megan Betsa and junior right-hander Tera Blanco have faced in the last month.
But it’s not a one-woman show for the Buckeyes. Seven players are hitting over the .300 mark, including junior Taylor White, who has hit seven home runs in 2017.
“You look at Taylor White — she’s a player,” Hutchins said. “They hit very well.”
In the circle, Ohio State right-handers Shelby Hurst (1.79 earned-run average) and Lena Miller (2.08) are talented starters who can capitalize on Michigan’s struggles against effective pitching.
When facing pitchers with an ERA under 2.00, the Wolverines are averaging just 1.625 runs per game and have been shut out three times. That shortcoming proves to be the culprit behind Michigan’s lackluster 2-6-1 record against ranked opponents this season.
If that trend is any indication, the Buckeyes’ ranking isn’t promising for the Wolverines.
Then again, Michigan’s offense has excelled recently, averaging eight runs per game in Big Ten play. Sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield’s bat (.556) ranks fourth in conference while sophomore outfielder Natalie Peters’.444 mark rounds out the category’s top 10.
“(Canfield) has improved so much since last season,” said junior designated player Amanda Vargas. “It just pumps me up to watch her”
After rain and snow hit the Columbus area this week, a doubleheader is now scheduled for Saturday with the series concluding Sunday afternoon.
With six days in between games, Hutchins will put an emphasis on “playing live” in Friday’s practice, scrimmaging for an abbreviated session. By doing so, she hopes to prepare the Wolverines to add to their 12-game winning streak.
But Hutchins is still very aware of Ohio State’s capabilities.
“They’re a talented team,” Hutchins said. “They’re a balanced team, hit for power, and pitch well. We have our hands full.”