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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Riding wins in 15 of its last 16 games, including two conference-opening sweeps, the 21st-ranked Ohio State softball team tangles with No. 16 Michigan this weekend in Columbus. The series gets underway with a doubleheader on Saturday (2 p.m.) then concludes on Sunday with a single game at 1 p.m.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Admission to Buckeye Field is free, as is parking. With large crowds expected, fans are encouraged to arrive early. Click here for a parking map.
BUCKEYES IN A NUTSHELL
The Buckeyes have won a season-high eight straight games and are 22-7 overall, 6-0 in the Big Ten.
Ohio State made its first appearance in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll this week, checking in at No. 25. It is No. 21 in the ESPN.com/USA poll, its second straight week in the rankings.
On offense, six different players who have registered at least 50 at-bats are hitting .300 or better. Sophomore Lilli Piper ranks amongst the Big Ten's best in batting average (third, .443), slugging percentage (fifth, .814), RBI (fourth, 38) and runs scored (12, 29). She's also fifth in home runs with nine.
Senior Alex Bayne continues to lead the team in home runs with 11 and hit .700 last weekend in three victories over Rutgers and one against Wright State. Her 11 homers are second best in the conference and she also checks in with a .344 average, 28 RBI and 32 runs scored.
Emily Clark, this week's Big Ten co-Player of the Week, hit a blistering .875 last week with a .917 on-base percentage and 1.750 slugging percentage while improving her overall average to .333 with 33 RBI, second most on the team.
Lead-off hitter Anna Kirk had the sixth best on-base percentage in the league at .524 and is also hitting .338 with 33 runs scored.
In six conference games, junior Taylor White is hitting .579 with a league-best 19 RBI, nine runs scored and four home runs. She's one of three players in the lineup who already has double digit RBI in Big Ten-only games.
At the bottom of the lineup, left fielder Bri Betschel is batting .322 with 15 runs scored. Last week against Rutgers and Wright State, she had four hits in four games, including a double and run-scoring single.
Maddie Marotti has also strengthened the bottom of the lineup, as she's 6-for-15 (.400) over the past five games with three runs scored).
The Buckeyes' five-person pitching staff gave up just four runs over 20.0 innings of action last week to lower its team ERA to 2.00, third best in the conference. Each of the five pitchers have an individual ERA of 2.59 or lower, led by senior Shelby Hursh (70.1 IP, 1.79 ERA, 67 Ks) and Lena Springer (60.2 IP, 2.08 ERA, 45 Ks). Katya Duvall and Shelby McCombs each have ERAs below 2.00 (1.24 and 1.94, respectively) while Morgan Ray is third on the team in innings (27.0) and is striking out nearly on batter per inning.
Each game this weekend will be streamed live on BTN Plus. Additionally, a link to live stats is available on the schedule tab of OhioStateBuckeyes.com.
2017 Record: 26-7-1, 6-0 Big Ten
2016 Record: 52-7, 21-2 Big Ten; Big Ten regular season champion
Top Hitter: Kelly Christner - .448, 28 RBI, 31 runs scored, .551 on-base percentage; Abby Ramirez - .372, 28 runs scored, 11 stolen bases
Top Pitcher: Megan Betsa - 125.1 IP, 13-5, 1.23 ERA, 221 Ks
Strength against Strength: Ohio State's offense has scored 10 runs or more in five of six games while Michigan's pitching staff has registered seven consecutive shutouts.
CLARK: THE WEEK THAT WAS
On her way to earning Big Ten, FastPitchNews.com and espnW Player of the Week honors, Clark batted .875 in four wins over Wright State and Rutgers with a .917 on-base percentage and 1.750 slugging percentage.
She established a career high with five RBI vs. Wright State and then matched that on Saturday with five against Rutgers, aided by her first career grand slam.
Clark successfully reached base in her final 10 plate appearances of the week.
She had a 1.000 fielding percentage while playing both second base and catching with 11 putouts and nine assists.
BEST B1G START
With wins in six of its first six conference games, Ohio State is off to its best Big Ten start in program history. Five other times - in 1987, 1991, 1992, 2007 and 2014 - it won five of its first six games.
STREAKS AND SNIPITS
Ohio State is off to its best 29-game start since 2009 when it was 24-5.
In its current stretch of 16 games, the Buckeyes have scored first 14 times and overall are 16-3 in games in which they are first on the scoreboard.
Twenty of the Big Ten-leading 37 home runs that Ohio State has hit have come with runners on base, including six grand slams.
Six different players have four RBI or more in six Big Ten games.
Ohio State pitchers have allowed three earned runs or less in six of the last seven games.
Ohio State is 22-3-1 when Bayne hits a home run (16-0-1 in 2016, 6-3 in 2017).
THE LAST 10 GAMES
Lilli Piper | .576, 19 RBI, five HRs, 16 runs scored
Piper has emerged as one of the most dangerous hitters in the league with a combination of power (1.152 slugging percentage) and speed (16 runs scored, two stolen bases). She hit home runs in two of three games vs. Rutgers and has multiple hits in eight straight games.
Taylor White | .448, 20 RBI, four HRs, 10 runs scored
Since the start of Big Ten play, White has taken her offensive numbers to a different level. She currently leads the conference in RBI (19) and has four home runs, all of which have come with runners on base. Against Rutgers last weekend, she was 6-for-8 (.750) with nine RBI and two home runs.
Emily Clark | .406, 18 RBI, three HRs, two doubles, .750 slugging percentage
In addition to the pop she's provided at the plate - two of her three home runs have come with runners on base - Clark has also been reliable of defense. Playing both second base and catching, she has a .977 fielding percentage with just one error in 43 opportunities.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCE
Half of Ohio State's starting infield were a members of the same summer travel ball team - the Ohio Lasers - that brought home a national championship in 2014. Piper and Clark were players while Kirk served as an assistant coach. Three other current Buckeyes - Becca Gavin, Shelby McCombs and Bailee Sturgeon - also won a national title in the Lasers organization earlier in their travel ball careers.
The top three hitters in Big Ten-only games thus far are all Buckeyes: Piper (.700), White (.579) and Bayne (.556). Piper also leads the league in slugging percentage, runs scored and hits.
Over the last four-plus year, the Ohio State is 48-21 at Buckeye Field and have won at least 10 games at home in each of the last five seasons.
In their current eight-game winning streak, the Buckeyes have registered at least nine hits in each game with a season-high 19 coming in a 22-0 win at Maryland.
Ohio State ranks fourth nationally in home runs per game (1.28), 13th in scoring (6.48 runs/game) and 12th in slugging percentage (.517).
Individually, Piper and Bayne are No. 5 nationally in RBI per game and home runs per game, respectively.
The last time Ohio State has two separate win streaks of seven or more games was 2009.
TWO OUTS? NO PROBLEM
Half of the 177 runs that Buckeye batters have driven in this year have come with two outs (89 of 177). Last weekend against Rutgers, 13 of 32 runs were scored with two outs and as a team, Ohio State is batting .355 overall with two outs.
The third RPI of the 2017 was released on Monday and Ohio State is No. 29. The Buckeyes are 4-2 vs. teams ranked between 26 and 50 and own eight wins against Top 100 teams. It has already played eight games against Top 50 opponents and has seven remaining on the schedule (three vs. Michigan, three vs. Illinois and one vs. Pittsburgh).