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Maryland softball hosts Ohio State in Home Big Ten Opener

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Maryland had a promising start to their first Big Ten softball season winning two of three at Iowa. The Ohio State Buckeyes come to College Park for three games beginning Friday to inaugurate the Terps B1G home slate.

In 2014, the Big Ten sent five teams to the NCAA Softball Tournament. Three of those teams reached a Super Regional. Ohio State was in neither group. In fact, because the conference plays an unbalanced schedule, the only 2014 NCAA qualifier on Maryland's schedule for their first B1G season is the Michigan Wolverines who will close out the Terrapins' home season. This doesn't mean, however, that playing Ohio State will be a cakewalk for the resurgent Terps. Let's take a look.

A glance at the 2014 Buckeyes

Ohio State finished their 2014 season with a record of 30-25. They were extremely good at home where they won 12 of 14 games and not particularly good on the road where they won only four while losing eleven. They played three of the B1G's five NCAA Tournament teams and were swept on the road at Michigan and Nebraska but won all three games when they hosted Northwestern.

They finished the season winning 10 of their last 12 games in a stretch that included a Big Ten Tournament win over Nebraska in Evanston. Their season ended with a loss to Minnesota in the conference tournament semifinals. Minnesota was one of the three B1G teams to reach the Super Regionals.

What's happening in 2015

The Buckeyes will come to College Park with a 15-12 record. Most recently, they swept a doubleheader from Wright State. They opened their Big Ten season by hosting Michigan and were rudely swept by the fourth ranked (#3 RPI) Woverines. Michigan picked up two run rule wins and outscored the Buckeyes 46-2 (and that's not a typo) in the three games.

Still, Ohio State is not a squad the Terps should take lightly. They started their season 7-1 and have since lost eight of 11 in a stretch that included a seven game losing streak. That streak started with a pair of losses at Pac-12 power (#21 RPI) Washington. The Buckeyes then lost two at home to a solid (#46 RPI) Louisville squad before the Michigan debacle.

Thus far this season, Maryland and Ohio State appear to be fairly comparable squads. Though the season is young enough for the RPI to be somewhat volatile, enough games have been played to use it to provide some reasonable objective comparison. Ohio State's current RPI is 43 and Maryland's is 74. However, the three games against number three Michigan plus a game with fourth ranked Auburn (also a run rule loss) are enough to boost their RPI a bit.

Ohio State has had one "bad' loss on the year to number 162 UT-Arlington. Their remaining 11 losses have all been to teams in the RPI top 50. The Buckeyes have four wins against top 100 RPI teams. Their average RPI win is 151.46 and their average loss is 32.3

For  comparison, Maryland's lowest RPI loss is to number 101 Iowa followed by a loss to number 92 Tulsa and the pair of losses to St. Francis, PA currently ranked 69th. The Terrapins' remaining eight losses have all come to teams in the RPI top 40 and the Terps have an average RPI loss of 46.58. Maryland has also won four games against  top 100 squads but their average RPI win is 172.79.

Hitting, pitching and fielding

The 2015 Buckeyes can hit. They have a team batting average of .306 and seven players who see regular playing time are batting .300 or better. They score 5.6 runs per game but had averaged over six per game before they ran into Michigan. They hit for good power with 25 home runs and bring seven players with 10 or more RBI. The Buckeyes do a good job getting runners around to score when they reach base stranding an average of just 5.7 per game. Maryland leaves 7.5 runners on per game.

On the surface, pitching looks like a weakness for OSU. They will bring a team ERA of 5.51 to College Park and give up 6.33 runs per game. However, of the 171 total runs scored against the Buckeyes, 80 came in that seven game losing streak to one outstanding and two very good teams. Absent those seven games, Ohio State's opponents average just 3.79 runs per game.

In the field, Ohio State is an average team and is similar to but marginally better than Maryland. The Buckeyes have committed 33 errors in 24 games and have a .959 fielding percentage. Maryland has 47 errors in 31 games for a .950 percentage.

Players to Watch

Ohio State's best all-around hitter is senior outfielder Caitlyn Conrad (#11). She is the Buckeyes' second leading hitter with a .380 batting average. She's tied for the team lead in home runs with five and leads the Bucks with 27 RBI and a .663 slugging percentage.

Conrad is ably assisted at the plate by redshirt junior Maddy McIntyre (#30) and sophomore Anna Kirk (#47). Each has also smacked five home runs. Though she's only hitting for a .288 average, Kirk is second on the team with 19 RBI and third in slugging percentage at .562. McIntyre flips that script. She's third with 18 RBI and second with a .633 slugging percentage. McIntyre hits for a .333 average. Expect to see McIntyre and Kirk in the Buckeyes' infield.

Just as Maryland relies on Kaitlyn Schmeiser to carry the bulk of the pitching load, Ohio State leans heavily on senior Olivia O'Reilly (#12). O'Reilly has started 15 of the Buckeyes' 27 games and has pitched to an 8-3 record with a 3.71 ERA. The Terps should be able to put the ball in play against O'Reilly who has only 42 strikeouts in 73.2 innings pitched. On the other hand, the Terrpains, who have drawn 135 walks for the season, are not likely to do so against O'Reilly who walks just one batter every other inning.

Ohio State head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly is considerably less likely to use O'Reilly in a relief role than Maryland's coach Courtney Deifel is with Schmeiser. O'Reilly has started 15 games and appeared in only 16 while Schmeiser has started 16 games but has pitched in 28 of Maryland's 31 games thus far this season. If it seems that O'Reilly has been a workhorse - eating up 41.5 percent of the innings pitched - her workload pales in comparison to Schmeiser who has pitched 57.4 percent of Maryland's innings.

The Terrapins' best success at the plate is likely to come if they can knock O'Reilly out of the game or in the game that she doesn't start. Ohio State's three remaining pitchers, who have more or less equally shared the remaining starting duties have a combined 6.80 ERA.

Coverage

LiveStats and Twitter will be available for all three games. You can use this link to Maryland softball's schedule page to activate LiveStats or Maryland's Twitter feed beginning at game time. The Saturday and Sunday games will both be streamed by BTN Plus and will be available to subscribers. Friday's game is scheduled to start at 6:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday are scheduled for 1:00 pm starts.