As the Maryland softball team struggled through the heart of its Big Ten schedule, its offense nearly evaporated.
While being swept by Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, the Terps were shut out three times, never scoring more than three runs in any single game. The offense generated just nine runs in those three series combined.
But against Ohio State last weekend, Maryland scored 12 runs, including two five-run games. It was a promising offensive rebound, despite the team suffering its fourth consecutive weekend sweep.
The Terps credited their improvement to a more aggressive approach.
"We've been working a lot in practice of getting our pitch and taking a hack," second baseman Skylynne Ellazar said before the series.
On Friday and Saturday, Maryland saw plenty of pitches in the zone, with more than 60 percent of the Buckeyes' pitches in those games going for strikes. The Terps went after those pitches, getting 12 hits in those games, including four for extra bases.
"It was just attacking pitches on the plate," catcher Anna Kufta said. "Getting ahead in the count, getting our pitches and doing something with them."
The top and middle of Maryland's batting order carried the offense in the two solid performances. On Friday, each of the Terps two-through-six hitters had a hit, accounting for all their offense in the 13-5 loss. On Saturday, five of the seven hits came from Maryland's top three batters. Ellazar and left fielder Amanda Brashear each had two, while Kufta added one of her own.
"More people are getting hot," coach Julie Wright said. "They've been staying in the game plan. They're always prepared, but they just haven't really been attacking pitches they can handle."
The Terps have shown signs of offensive strength before; notably, scoring 13 runs in a doubleheader sweep of Rutgers in mid-April. However, the Terps have not been able to string together strong offensive performances, which could be a concern heading into the last series of the regular season.
Maryland closes the regular season against Michigan State, which is seventh in the conference with a 3.19 ERA. Against Big Ten teams with lower ERAs than the Spartans, the Terps are 3-9, averaging just over two runs a game. Against conference teams with a worse ERA, they're 4-4 and average almost four runs a game.
Facing Michigan State will allow the Terps to see where they stand offensively heading into the Big Ten tournament. The Spartans have the type of pitching staff that has dominated the Terps, one anchored by a clear ace: Kristina Zalewski.
But Zalewski has struggled recently. She owns a 3.15 ERA in Big Ten play — more than a run above her full-season ERA — and is just 6-5 against conference foes, with 65 allowed hits in 60 innings .
After being shut down by Indiana's Tara Trainer and Michigan's Meghan Beaubien, Maryland was able to do some damage against Ohio State ace Morgan Ray, who allowed five runs Friday in her sole start of the series. If the Terps can get to Zalewski and hold the Spartans middling offense in check, they could pick up much-needed wins to clinch a spot in the Big Ten tournament.
"We're getting more and more people hot up and down the lineup," Wright said. "When you do that, you can put more runs on the board."