Entering its weekend series against Ohio State, Maryland softball had won nine of 10 games when scoring at least five runs. So when the Terps scored five runs against the Buckeyes on Friday and Saturday, they seemed positioned to win those contests.
But Maryland's starters struggled in Columbus, failing to limit Ohio State's dynamic offense. The Terps allowed 22 runs to the Buckeyes over those two games. Ohio State used six homers, including five against Friday starter Ryan Denhart, to dominate Maryland's pitching staff.
Ohio State's offensive explosion in its 13-5 win Friday was aided by a strong wind, which carried fly balls out to center field. However, Maryland coach Julie Wright did not blame the conditions for the homer barrage and weekend pitching struggles, which contributed to the Terps' sixth straight loss entering their final regular season series.
"The wind wasn't a factor. What happened was that Ryan had a bad day," Wright said. "She was leaving way too much over the middle, and they were attacking that."
Maryland's pitchers had difficulty against the middle of Ohio State's order. The Buckeyes' two through five hitters supplied four of the five homers Friday.
Shortstop Lilli Piper, one of the Buckeyes' top offensive threats, challenged the Terps in the first two games of the series. She posted five hits and six RBIs, including a home run on Friday.
Neither of the Terps' starters was able to solve the Buckeyes' lineup. In 5 ⅓ innings, Denhart allowed 13 hits and 12 runs. Sydney Golden allowed nine runs in four innings Saturday, and Denhart allowed four runs in six innings Sunday.
Containing opposing lineups has been a challenge for the Terps in conference play. They have allowed over 25 runs in each of their last four three-game weekend series. Their 143 runs allowed and -86 run differential in Big Ten play are both worst in the conference.
While Maryland's pitchers struggled, defensive miscues extended several innings. The Terps made six errors and allowed six unearned runs on the series.
In Big Ten play, Maryland has made 35 errors accounting for 25 unearned runs. The Terps have now allowed an unearned run in seven straight games and are 10-29 overall in games where they make at least one error.
"When you're adding baserunners with errors, the pitchers feel a little more pressure and it turns into a snowball effect," Wright said. "When you're playing clean defense, the pitchers can relax, everybody can relax, and you can trust your fielders."
Wright feels that her young team — despite being 2-12 over its last 14 Big Ten games — has started to mature against higher-level teams. Still, its improvement will depend on its pitchers' abilities to capitalize when its offense supplies five or more runs.
"When you suffer some losses, at times you can mentally crack," Wright said. "I think they are now seeing that they can win any game at any time. They're fighters, and they're starting to really own that identity."