Buckeyes Take Title with Run in Bottom of the Seventh
By John Porentas
The pitchers combined to allow just five hits and no earned runs in the Big Ten tournament championship game, a 2-1 Ohio State victory over No. 7 Northwestern. When it was all said and done, it was some strategy by the Buckeyes and some shoddy fielding by the Wildcats that made the difference.
The Wildcats are a power-hitting team that can put runs up in a hurry with the long ball. The Buckeyes can hit it out too, but rely more on small-ball and speed for their offense. Both teams have dominant pitching.
Wildcat ace and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Eileen Canney did her usual thing, dominating hitters and keeping the opposition off the board. So did OSU starter Kim Reeder and reliever Jamee Juarez. OSU Head Coach Linda Kalafatis, the Big Ten Coach of the Year, thought things might go that way, so Kalafatis had a plan.
Kalafatis wanted her quick team to hit the ball on the ground and coached her team to lay off the pitches that didn't fit that plan.
"One of our keys I think to this win was to be able to stay off the rise ball which forces swing-and-misses and popups usually and to put the ball down in play. That's kind of what we've done all year," said Kalafatis
Kalafatis had a different plan on defense. Kalafatis wanted her pitcher to keep the ball down to offset Northwestern's power, and also didn't want the Wildcats to get a bead on her pitcher. The plan was to go with one pitcher as a starter, then switch pitchers when it looked like the Wildcats were starting to adjust to her starter.
"Northwestern is a team that might look bad in their first at bat, but they're going to stick with it, they're going to make an adjustment," said Kalafatis
"The decision was who to start when. We thought if we started Reeder we could go with Jamee then re-enter Reeder if we needed to, whereas if we brought here in in relief then we would loose her for the game and wouldn't be able to re-enter her."
Kalafatis started Kim Reeder, and Reeder got it done, limiting Northwestern to just one hit in her four innings. Wildcat third baseman Darcy Sengewald singled to center with one out in the third inning. The ball was misplayed by OSU center fielder Liz Caputo allowing Sengewald to advance to second. When Caputo got the ball to the cutoff player, OSU shortstop Nycole Koyano, Koyano made a wild throw to third which resulted in a two-base error that saw Sengewald cross the plate with the first run of the game.
The Buckeyes were able to even the score when they got to Canney for two hits and a walk in the fourth inning and were aided by a Northwestern error. Juarez, playing third base and hitting sixth in the OSU lineup, delivered an RBI single to score the unearned run.
Juarez was called upon to move from third base to the circle in relief of Reeder in the fifth inning. When the move was made, the Wildcats greeted her with a derisive greeting.
"I like the pressure situations, and given the fact that Northwestern was cheering when I came in, that motivated me a little bit," said Juarez.
Juarez made the Wildcats pay for that little disrespect. She was nearly untouchable on the rubber and did not allow a hit while striking six of the nine Wildcats she retired. After the game, Northwestern Head Coach Kate Drohan admitted that the switch from Reeder to Juarez put her hitters off-balance in the later innings.
"There are a lot of factors that go into that. It's a different speed, they have different strike-pitches, you have to figure out quickly what the umpire is going to call, so I would say it's a factor," said Drohan.
"I think their hitters when we made the change with Jamee, Jamee's best pitch is the rise ball, we saw that Northwestern swung at a lot of those in their game against Michigan, we know that about some of those hitters," said Kalafatis
"We knew we were going to do it at some time. I considered doing it at one time through their lineup but Kim was throwing great, she had great command. It was probably the second time through. It really wasn't about anything that Kim didn't do. It was just about what else can Jamee bring and how can we disrupt them. They're a team that likes to gain momentum and we didn't want them to do that," said Kalafatis
"Kim did very well," said Juarez of Reeder's performance as a starter.
"We compliment each other very well. I'm just glad that she had a great outing. Coach had told us before the game started that we were going to try and mix things up. To hold them to one hit is just awesome. It says a lot about our staff,' said Juarez.
With OSU pitching bottling up up the Northwestern attack the OSU offense finally got something to happen in the seventh inning. Megan Schwab singled with one out then stole second on a strikeout. With a runner at second and two out Caputo singled to put runners at the corners with two outs and brought Koyano to the plate.
Koyano executed the OSU game-plan, to put the ball in play on the ground, and the like the pitching strategy, the offensive plan worked like a charm. Sengewald fielded the ball at third, but hurried her throw to first to throw out the speedy Koyano. Her throw was high and got by first baseman Garland Cooper and allowed Schwab to cross the plate with the winning run.
OSU won both the league tournament championship and regular-season championship despite being ranked lower nationally than both Northwestern and Michigan. The Buckeyes may have been behind both the Wildcats and Wolverines in the votes, but on the field, they proved they were the champions of the league. The win over the Wildcats was particularly satisfying for the Buckeyes who have had a tough time with Northwestern over the years.
"We've always had a little beef with Northwestern because we've traveled to their state and their fans have been rowdy against us and we've fought through it, but having them on our home field, we knew we wanted it more," said Koyano.
"It's amazing," said Juarez of OSU's accomplishments this season. "It's something we've been striving for since our freshman year. I don't think there are any words to explain how we feel and how great if feels."
The tournament title comes with the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Kalafatis is hoping the Buckeyes can host in the first round of the tournament.
"It is a bid process and there are a lot of geographics involved too," said Kalafatis of OSU prospects of hosting the tournament.
"I would hope that the momentum of winning this would continue to elevate us in that regard. I spoke with Jackie Joseph, the head coach at Michigan State before the tournament started and she sat with four years on that selection committee, so she's got a pretty good handle on things, and she thought that if we run the table in this tournament that we could have a good shot."
"We have bid it, I do know that," said Kalafatis.
Ohio State will head into the NCAA tournament with an overall record of 38-16. Northwestern now stands at 45-11 on the season.
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