Issues at the plate troubled the Hoosiers for the fourth consecutive Big Ten series.
IU softball, 19-24 overall and 5-9 in conference, struggled to score against No. 25 Ohio State and lost two of the three games in the weekend series.
The Hoosiers were shut out in a loss Friday night before rebounding with a 3-1 win Saturday afternoon. The victory was IU’s first win against a team ranked in the USA Today/Coaches Poll since February 2013 and snapped a streak of 42 against losses against ranked foes.
“Obviously, any time you beat a ranked team, it says a lot about you,” IU Coach Michelle Gardner said. “I’m very proud of the team’s effort this weekend.”
Saturday’s win also put an end to a winless spell for sophomore pitcher Emily Kirk. Kirk had not been credited with a win since May 2016 and pitched five no-hit innings against the Buckeyes.
Only two runners reached base while Kirk was pitching, on a walk and a hit batter.
On offense, IU provided enough run support to get Kirk the win. Senior infielder CaraMia Tsirigos, sophomore infielder Nicole Lawvere and senior utility player Erin Lehman all recorded RBI singles in the game.
“We played a full game on Saturday,” Tsirigos said. “We were in it and competing. Our pitchers were good and our defense was clean.”
While Saturday’s win represented a full performance from IU, the rest of the weekend reflected incomplete team efforts.
Friday’s 2-0 defeat saw the Hoosiers get only two hits off Ohio State senior pitcher Shelby Hursh. Furthermore, the loss spoiled a terrific game in the circle by IU sophomore pitcher Tara Trainer, who tossed her 13th complete game of the season and only allowed five hits.
“Some days you have it, and some days you don’t,” Tsirigos said. “We all work really hard and have each other’s back, no matter what.”
Sunday’s 8-2 loss was a microcosm of the 2017 season for IU.
After allowing three solo home runs to Ohio State in the first three innings of the game, IU had a chance to bust the game open. A two-run homer by Tsirigos, her team-leading eighth of the season, pulled IU to within one in the fourth.
IU loaded the bases in the fourth with one out and chased Hursh from the game in her second start of the weekend, but freshman Bella Norton and Lehman hit into back-to-back fielder’s choices, ending the inning for IU.
Ohio State then scored the final five runs of the game.
“We have to find a way to put things together back to back,” Gardner said. “We had the opportunities early Sunday, we just weren’t able to come through.”
All three of IU’s primary pitchers — Kirk, Trainer and freshman Emily Goodin — pitched in Sunday’s loss. The Hoosier pitchers have struggled with walks this season, although the problem this weekend was keeping the ball in the park.
Ohio State launched six home runs during the weekend and hit five Sunday alone.
“We absolutely battled this weekend,” Gardner said. “The score wasn’t indicative of how close Sunday was.”
With nine games left in conference play, seeding for the end-of-year Big Ten Tournament is coming into view. IU sits 10th among the conference’s 14 teams. The top 12 qualify for the tournament.
Only three games in the win column separate IU and the Big Ten’s bottom two teams, Rutgers and Maryland. IU’s only series win in Big Ten play came against Rutgers, while three of IU’s next four games will come against Maryland.
“That series will be huge,” Gardner said. “The next couple weekends we have an opportunity to do some things and execute.”
Before the Maryland series, IU will be host to Kentucky in a midweek game Wednesday night at Andy Mohr Field.