In its biggest matchup of the season thus far, Ohio State will go down to Columbia, South Carolina, this weekend for a four-game schedule, highlighted by a game against No. 7 Virginia Tech.
The Buckeyes (7-1) will play the Hokies (8-2) Friday to kick off the weekend. Ohio State will play a doubleheader Saturday, which includes South Carolina (8-2) and Troy (9-2), before finishing against in-state rival Miami (OH) (2-3) Sunday.
Virginia Tech already has two top 25 wins this season against No. 11 Missouri and No. 19 Kentucky, respectively. Its only two losses both came from No. 2 Alabama, not losing by more than two runs in each game. Friday will mark the first time the Buckeyes play the Hokies since 2016, and Ohio State has had the upper hand in six of the eight all-time matchups.
“It’s a mentality of, ‘How can we scrap it together to get more runs than they do?’ ” head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said. “I think it will be a pitcher’s duel, and if it’s not, I think both teams will be surprised.”
Virginia Tech is led by senior right-hander Keely Rochard, who was named 2021 ACC Pitcher of the Year. In 34 1/3 innings pitched this season, Rochard has a 1.02 ERA with 61 strikeouts.
Not to be outdone, the Buckeyes’ graduate lefty Lexie Handley’s 1.43 ERA is seventh best in the Big Ten, as are her 41 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings. Additionally, sophomore righty Allison Smith has pitched the second-most innings on the team with 15 and has struck out 20 while maintaining a 2.33 ERA.
“I couldn’t pinpoint one thing that was better than the other because it was all so good,” Schoenly said. “Second weekend in a row we had three different wins from three different pitchers, so it’s nice to be able to rely on a couple of different people.”
On the offensive side, the Buckeyes are expecting to see some more speed and movement at the plate this weekend, which has been a focus on practice this past week, junior infielder Avery Clark said.
“As hitters, we are working all locations. There is pitchers on their team that have five pitches, individually,” Clark said. “Making sure we are confident, working in, working out, up and down, and just trusting our eyes is super important.”
As a team, Ohio State’s .304 average is third best in the Big Ten. Clark is second on the team with a .346 average, while six players with at least 20 at-bats are hitting over .300 thus far. Clark said she believes the key to the Buckeyes’ offensive success is a result of being the first team on the board.
“Jumping out on top, I think, is very important for our team because we feel that security,” Clark said. “Scoring early is important and we know that coming into this weekend.”
One of the major contributors of driving in those runs is sophomore outfielder Taylor Heckman, who is third on the team in RBIs with five. She said she credits her teammates and coaches for believing in her to come up clutch with runners in scoring position.
“My teammates just have my back. (Assistant) coach Jordan (Clark) has prepared me, and my teammates have confidence in me, so I’m confident in myself going in the box,” Heckman said. “Coach Kelly and all the coaching staff has prepared me for that moment, so I just need to own it.”
Heckman said that no major changes were made in practice this week in order to prepare for Virginia Tech, and the team’s attitude was to treat it like any other game.
“I think it’s just staying within ourselves, not making the game too big,” Heckman said. “We really have nothing to lose. We have everything to gain, so why not just go out and have fun with it and play our game and not let it overpower us.”
First pitch between the Buckeyes and the Hokies will take place Friday at 1 p.m. It can be livestreamed on ESPN3. Ohio State will begin its doubleheader against South Carolina and Troy at 3:30 p.m. and the Redhawks Sunday at 10:30 a.m.