The two rival schools meet again.
The No. 20 Michigan softball team will conclude its six-game road trip this weekend, taking on Ohio State (5-1 Big Ten, 21-11 overall) in a matchup of two Big Ten contenders.
The three-game series will be the only time the two teams meet this season, so it could prove critical for tiebreaking purposes later in the season, since each team is 5-1 in conference play.
The Wolverines (5-1, 24-10) suffered their first conference loss last week at Indiana, but they remain in second place in the Big Ten behind Purdue.
After playing at home last season against the Buckeyes, Michigan has to travel to Columbus for the entire series this year.
The environment there is something that the Wolverines have not experienced this season.
“The crowd there is nasty,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “There’s no love lost when we walk on the field.”
Though the atmosphere of the crowd may be different, Hutchins doesn’t think that defines how Ohio State will play.
“I never get too focused on the other team,” Hutchins said. “I don’t put red-letter marks on teams, because every game counts the same.”
During last week’s inconsistent series at Indiana, the Wolverines scored five runs over the first two games of the series before scoring seven runs in the finale. A strong offensive performance will be needed for Michigan this weekend to counter the bat of opposing first baseman Evelyn Carrillo.
Carrillo, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, hit .722 with 13 hits, 13 RBIs, two home runs and a 1.167 slugging percentage last week to help lead the Buckeyes to a three-game sweep of Michigan State.
But Carrillo is not the only reason Ohio State is currently on an eight-game winning streak.
Senior shortstop Alicia Herron also plays a major factor. Herron leads the Big Ten in home runs with 10, RBIs with 40 and is also tops in slugging percentage, on base percentage, total bases and runs scored.
“We’ll have to be careful with her,” Hutchins said.
Just as that dynamic duo has led the Buckeyes to a hot start, the same could be said for Michigan sophomore right fielder Lyndsay Doyle and senior first baseman Amanda Chidester, who have each hit .500 in Big Ten play.
“We’re going to need some (other) people to step up in the order to have confidence at the plate,” Hutchins said.
Chidester and junior second baseman Ashley Lane have played at Ohio State before, unlike the sophomores and freshmen, and they know the atmosphere at Ohio State is unlike anything the team has experienced this year.
“I’m sure they’ll say stuff and be loud,” Lane said. “I’m expecting anything (from the crowd) at this point.”
To some teams, this type of atmosphere might scare a team off and affect its play in a negative way. According to Chidester and Lane, this is not the case for the Wolverines.
“It gets us pumped,” Chidester said.
“(There’s) a lot of excitement,” Lane added.