COLUMBUS, Ohio - Bolstered by the return to six starters, three all-region selections and its entire five-person pitching staff, Ohio State officially kicks off the 2017 season this weekend when it travels to College Station, Texas for the Aggie Classic on the campus of Texas A&M.
BUCKEYES IN A NUTSHELL
• Led by seniors Shelby Hursh, Anna Kirk, Lena Springer and Alex Bayne, Ohio State is looking to made back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 2009-2010.
• Ohio State is receiving votes in both the NFCA and USA Softball Top 25 polls.
• Returning to the fold are outfielders Taylor White and Bayne along with infielders Emily Clark (catcher/second base), Kirk (second base, third base), Ashley Goodwin (first base, third base) and Becca Gavin (catcher).
• In the circle, Springer and Hursh ranked first and second, respectively, in ERA last season for a staff that boasted a 3.32 team ERA. Hursh was a second team NFCA All-Midwest Region choice and struck out more than one batter per inning (177.1 IP, 199 Ks).
• Three of Ohio State's top five hitters return from last season. The trio of White, Bayne and Clark combined to hit 31 home runs with 108 RBI and 117 runs scored.
• Bolstering the return to 16 letterwinners are five newcomers. They include four freshmen and a sophomore transfer, Lilli Piper.
• Head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly enters her fifth season guiding the Scarlet and Gray and has won at least 30 games every year while in Columbus. Last season, she became the fastest coach in program history to reach 100 wins.
• Ohio State was one of six Big Ten teams to make last year's NCAA Tournament and had nine wins over RPI top-75 teams.
ABOUT THE OPPONENTS
2016 Record: 39-20, 9-15 SEC
Postseason: Lafayette Regional
Top Returning Hitter: Kelli Milligan, .379, 59 runs scored, 12 RBI, 54 stolen bases
Top Returning Pitcher: Samantha Show, 25-10, 202 IP, 3.67 ERA, 172 Ks
2016 Record: 35-22, 18-9 SLC
Postseason: Lost in Southland Conference Tournament
Top Returning Hitter: Kelly Meeuwsen, .324, 22 doubles, 42 RBI
Top Returning Pitcher: Ciara Luna, 17-8, 161.2 IP, 2.60 ERA, 161 Ks
2016 Record: 24-27-1, 11-11-1 MAC
Postseason: Lost in MAC Tournament
Top Returning Hitter: Maison Kalina, .273, 18 RBI
Top Returning Pitcher: Hanna Warren, 7-10, 106.1 IP, 3.55 ERA, 52 Ks
A HOMECOMING FOR BAYNE...
Alex Bayne grew up in Manvel, Texas, which is less than two hours from Texas A&M's campus in College Station. While staring for Manvel High School, she was a two-time offensive team MVP and earned all-district honors while playing shortstop and third base. This year, she ranks sixth amongst all returning players nationally in home runs and seventh in home runs/game.
While a native of New Britain, Connecticut, Lena Springer is no stranger to the state of Texas. Her older brother, George, is the starting right fielder for the Houston Astros. He is entering his fourth year with the team and has 65 career home runs.
OUT TO A FAST START
In three of the last four years, Ohio State has gotten out to a strong start. Last year, it won three of four contests at the LSU Tiger Classic and two years ago sept four games at the Charleston Southern Tournament. In 2013, the Buckeyes went 3-1 - with a win over No. 8 Georgia - at the Bulldogs' season-opening tournament.
• One of four Big Ten teams to be ranked or receiving votes in both the USA Softball and NFCA Top 25 polls.
• Bayne is a member of the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 "Watch List."
• Bayne was also selected by College Sports Madness as a third team preseason All-American.
• Hursh and Bayne made FastPitchNews.com's list of the 50 best returning pitchers and hitters, respectively.
A NOTE ABOUT THE PITCHING STAFF
Ohio State's staff of Hursh, Springer, Shelby McCombs, Morgan Ray and Katya Duvall struck out 317 batters in 364.1 innings last year while holding opposing batters to a .246 average. Hursh (16-11) tossed a no-hitter against Penn State on April 5 while Springer, Ray, McCombs and Duvall all won at last three games.
NOTING THE 2016 REGULAR SEASON
As part of its 52-game regular season last year, Ohio State:
• Was ranked for five straight weeks in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 poll.
• Played its first 22 games away from home, winning 15 of those contests (15-7).
• Picked up nine wins over teams ranked in the Top 75 of the RPI. Six of those victories were either on the road or at neutral sites.
• Played 12 games against teams that made the 2015 NCAA Tournament with wins in four of those contests, all either on the road or at neutral sites. Specifically, between Feb. 27 and March 19 played seven of 10 games vs. NCAA teams from last year and went 4-3.
• Won thirteen games in a conference that has six teams ranked in the Top 50 of the RPI and sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament.
• Had six walk-off wins and was 16-12 in games decided by one or two runs.
PACKIN' THEM IN
For the fourth straight season, Ohio State won 10 or more games at home in 2016. It also set a single-game attendance record (1,627 vs. Northwestern) and averaged over 598 fans/game, which is a season attendance record. Additionally, the 3,094 fans that packed Buckeye Field April 22-24 for the Purdue series was the highest attended series in school history.
A MARKED IMPROVEMENT
Several players made significant statistical improvements from 2015 to 2016, perhaps none more impressively than Springer. She shaved nearly four runs off her ERA in nearly the exact same number of innings while giving up 40 less hits and decreasing her opponents' batting average by 88 points. As a staff, Ohio State's team ERA improved by two full runs and batting average against was down by 48 points. It also had 74 more strikeouts.
On defense, the Buckeyes finished second in the Big Ten with a .974 fielding percentage, an 18-point improvement from 2015 (28 less errors).
• Ohio State was 16-0-1 in games in which Alex Bayne hit a home run. Bayne also ended the year by reaching base in 17 straight contests.
• The three first team All-Region honorees ties with 1994 and 2002 for the most in program history. The four All-Big Ten honorees is also the most since placing six on the All-Big Ten teams in 2010.
• Ohio State's 63 home runs ranked fourth in the Big Ten and fourth in school history. Thirty-six percent of Ohio State's total runs this season have scored on a home run (112 of 304). Ohio State is 25-8-1 this season whit hitting at least one home run.
• The Buckeyes are 26-3 when leading after six innings and the five-person pitching staff of Hursh, Springer, Ray, Duvall and McCombs had a combined .243 batting average against in the seventh inning.