BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The Buckeyes started the 2018 season with a pair of wins at the FAU "First Pitch" Classic on Friday in Boca Raton, Fla. Ohio State picked up its fourth opening-day victory in the last five years with a 9-1 six-inning win over NIU. The squad followed it up with a 5-2 triumph over Duke to close out the afternoon.
Game One: Ohio State 9, NIU 1 (6)
Junior Emily Clark crushed a grand slam and drove in five runs (3-for-4, two runs, double) to stifle the Huskies. Classmate Lilli Piper was a spotless 3-for-3 with three runs and an RBI while senior Ashley Goodwin looped a three-RBI double. In the circle, senior Shelby McCombs struck out six over six innings and allowed just two hits.
IN A NUTSHELL
The Huskies were first on the board when a failed pick-off attempt with the bases loaded allowed Bekah Harnish to score. Ohio State's defense limited the damage with two quick outs to wrap up the opening frame.
The Buckeyes found their groove in the bottom of the third. It all started with senior Taylor White being hit by a pitch and freshman Niki Carver earning a walk for a pair of free bases. Piper followed up with a single down the left field line to plate White for the first run of 2018. With two in scoring position, Clark singled up the middle to load the bases. The next batter, Goodwin, delivered a perfectly placed three-RBI double to left center for a 4-1 lead.
Ohio State's hot bats struck again in the fourth as the squad tacked on four more runs. Senior Bailee Sturgeon singled, White reached on an error and Piper walked to once again stack the bags. Clark stepped up and cleared the bases with a powerful grand slam to extend the advantage, 8-1.
In the bottom of the sixth, Piper hit her third single of the game with two outs. Clark showed she still had more to give on a double to centerfield to send Piper in for the final tally, 9-1.
CLARK FOR THE WIN
Clark's grand slam was the second of her career. She first achieved the impressive feat a season ago on April 1, 2017 when the Buckeyes hosted Rutgers. She helped propel the team to a 12-2 (5) triumph at Buckeye Field.
Game Two: Ohio State 5, Duke 2
In the leadoff spot, White drove a doozy of a triple to centerfield to open the contest. Up next, Carver executed a sac fly to get her in for an early 1-0 edge.
Duke responded in the bottom half on a two-RBI double to go ahead 2-1.
The Buckeyes put the pressure on the Blue Devils in the bottom of the third. Sturgeon laid down a bunt to get on before she advanced to second on a passed ball. Carver tallied her first hit in Scarlet & Gray with a single to left field to put runners on the corners. Piper kept the momentum going as she punched a double down the right field line to send Sturgeon and Carver home and put OSU back on top, 3-2.
Ohio State added another run in the fourth. Rookie Kallie Boren sent a double to centerfield for her first hit as a Buckeye. Sophomore Amy Balich came in as a pinch runner for Boren and made her way to third on a wild pitch. Sturgeon's bunt caused some trouble for Duke's pitcher and the error allowed Balich to scamper in.
In the top of the seventh, White roped a double down the left field line and got over to third on a passed ball. A groundout by Piper helped push the run across to extend the lead to 5-2.
Piper (three RBI), Carver (one run, RBI) and White (two runs) notched two hits apiece. Junior RHP Morgan Ray fanned seven batters and allowed four hits and two runs in a complete game.
Ohio State returns to action tomorrow with games against Florida Atlantic and NIU at 6 p.m. ET and 8:15 p.m. ET, respectively.
Lilli Piper: Make You Proud