COLUMBUS, Ohio - The 45th season of Ohio State softball begins in just over a week, and bolstered by the return of six starters and their entire pitching staff, the Buckeyes appear to have all the pieces to make another run towards NCAA Tournament postseason play.
BUCKEYES IN A NUTSHELL
• Ohio State was 34-20-1 last season, its fifth straight season of 30 or more wins. To top it off, the Buckeyes earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, its first postseason appearance since 2010.
• Head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly and her staff enter their fifth season with a 128-89-1 record and 48-43 mark in Big Ten play. Last year, Kovach Schoenly became the fastest coach in program history to reach 100 wins for the Scarlet and Gray.
• Three of the teams top five hitters are back, led by senior Alex Bayne, who became one of the best power hitters in the nation last year. The Manvel, Texas native belted 19 home runs, tied for a single-season school record, while also hitting .365 with 49 RBI and 53 runs scored.
• Emily Clark (.324, 27 runs, 24 RBI, 10 doubles) enters her sophomore year coming off a stellar freshman season that saw her earn first team All-NFCA Midwest Region honors at second base. She will also see time this year behind the plate as a catcher.
• The other two returnees who have postseason accolades to their credit are center fielder Taylor White (.307, 37 runs scored, 32 RBI, six home runs) and pitcher Shelby Hursh (16-11, 2.88 ERA, 199 Ks).
• Junior Ashley Goodwin and senior Anna Kirk are a pair of veterans who have each started over 50 career games and can play third base or second base.
• Five newcomers figure to add talent, athleticism and versatility: sophomore Lilli Piper and freshmen Amy Balich, Andi Farrah, Spencer Sansom and Carley Gaskill.
Ohio State must replace four-year starter Maddy McIntyre at shortstop, but have plenty of options with a plethora of infielders - Piper, Balich and Gaskill. Kirk and Goodwin came both play multiple positions with Kirk seeing the majority of her time at third or second base while Goodwin played both third and first base last year. Clark played the majority of her freshman season at second base and finished with a .989 fielding percentage. Behind the plate, Becca Gavin was one of the Big Ten's best at throwing out runners, throwing out nine runners in 21 attempts.
White, a junior from Granada Hills, Calif., locked down the center field spot early last year and never left, starting all 55 games and made six outfield assists. The defensive highlight of her season was a diving catch in shallow center field against Michigan that made SportsCenter's Top Plays. She also had a strong season at the plate, hitting .342 in 23 Big Ten games with 22 runs scored and 14 RBI.
Bayne, an infielder her entire career, experienced a seamless transition to right field last year and made the Big Ten's All-Defensive Team. Her nine assists led all conference outfielders and complemented the breakout performance at the plate (.364, 19 home runs, 53 runs scored, 49 RBI, 12 stolen bases). In left field, the Buckeyes must replace All-American Cammi Prantl, who finished her career as the school's all-time hits and doubles leader.
One of the strengths of the 2016 Buckeyes, Ohio State's entire staff returns and is led by the senior duo of Hursh and Lena Springer (5-4, 2.72 ERA, 79.2 IP). Everyone that returns saw at least 13.1 innings last year. Sophomore Morgan Ray (63.0 IP, 46 Ks) flashed her immense potential last year along with Kat Duvall, who was the winning pitcher in four of her six appearances. Junior Shelby McCombs saw 31.1 innings of action, who six games and also added a walk-off home run versus Georgia Tech.
Five non-conference tournaments, at least 17 games against teams that made last year's NCAA Tournament and 13 contests in the friendly confines of Buckeye Field highlight the 2017 schedule, which begins Feb. 10-12 at the Aggie Classic on the campus of Texas A&M. In Big Ten play, the Buckeyes host Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa while traveling to Maryland, Penn State, Michigan State and Illinois.
• 100% of the Buckeyes' pitching production from 2016.
• 65% of the Buckeyes' run production from 2016 (leaders Bayne and Clark combined to score 80 runs).
• 66% of the Buckeyes' home run production from 2016 (leaders Bayne and Clark combined to hit 25).
• 57% of the Buckeyes' total hit production from 2016 (leaders Bayne and White combined for 113 hits).
• 57% of the Buckeyes' total RBI production from 2016 (leaders Bayne and White combined for 81 RBI).
• 86% of the Buckeyes' stolen base production from 2016 (leaders Bayne and White were 27-for-32).