While Ohio State swept the Maryland softball team in last weekend’s series, the Terps were more aggressive at the plate than usual. Coach Julie Wright’s team was able to get ahead in the count and capitalize more often than they had against other top Big Ten opponents.
That approach proved beneficial, as the Terps scored 12 runs over three games, producing one of their top offensive weekends this season. Maryland hadn’t recorded at least 12 runs in a weekend series since doing so against Penn State at the end of March.
Wright said her team’s success against the Buckeyes was the result of a consistent approach. She anticipates her hitters should have their timing figured out in the on-deck circle, and have more success recognizing pitches in their second at-bats.
The offensive outbreak has provided the Terps with a spark entering their final regular season series against Michigan State. Maryland will aim to continue its offensive outburst facing the Spartans’ pitching staff, hoping to provide momentum entering the Big Ten tournament later this month.
“It was just attacking pitches on the plate,” catcher Anna Kufta said of Maryland’s performance in Columbus, “Getting ahead in the count, getting our pitches and doing something with them.”
The performance against the Buckeyes will likely bode well for Maryland, as Michigan State’s weekend starters are not as daunting as Ohio State’s. The Buckeyes’ team ERA is more than half a run better than the Spartans’.
Maryland is hoping to maintain its offensive approach against Michigan State ace Kristina Zalewski. The fifth-year senior leads the Spartans with a 2.08 ERA in 134 ⅓ innings. However, Zalewski has struggled in conference play, with just a 6-5 record and a 3.15 ERA.
Still, Maryland is aware that Zalewski’s arsenal could keep them off balance, limiting their opportunities early in counts.
“She throws hard, and she does a good job of mixing pitches in and out and trying to make you swing and miss,” Wright said. “She’s got a lot of starting experience, but we’ve done a lot of preparing for her so I think we’re ready.”
Despite scoring five runs against Buckeyes starter Morgan Ray on Friday, the Terps have generally struggled against opposing teams’ top starters in conference games. Maryland scored just four times in 14 innings against Indiana starter Tara Trainer, and recorded no runs in two games against Michigan’s Meghan Beaubien.
However, Maryland’s lineup adjusted and had success against Ray, as well as fellow Ohio State starter Shelby McCombs. The pair allowed all 12 of the Terps’ runs in the series.
“I’ll give her credit, she’s a good pitcher,” center fielder Kassidy Cross said of Zalewski, “but we just have to hit her mistakes. She’s going to throw mistakes, all pitchers do, and we just have to attack that.”
If Maryland is able to remain patient against Zalewski, its lineup might be able to produce against Michigan State’s other pitchers. The three other pitchers on the staff have ERAs higher than four, and have had difficulty throwing strikes in Big Ten play.
Regardless of who is in the circle, Wright wants her team to build off of its performance against the Buckeyes.
“It just takes time to develop that process in young hitters,” Wright said. “When we follow the game plan as it’s been set, we’ve been doing a really good job.”