Things That Caught My EyeWhat on earth did I just watchLast night Houston beat Los Angeles 13-12 at home in 10 innings in one of the most ridiculous baseball related experiences America has collectively endured. The FanGraphs win probability chart looks like an advanced Lunar Lander level on Atari. There were seven home runs in the game’s 5-hour, 17-minute runtime. The Astros outscored or tied five NFL teams this week. Based on average change in win probability alone, it was the second-best ever World Series game ever. [FiveThirtyEight]Alabama is No. 3…of all time. Alabama is at the top of the Associated Press college football poll this week for the 99th time. This puts them above Notre Dame and behind only Ohio State and Oklahoma in all-time appearances at #1. [ESPN]Ohio State gets a massive winNo. 6 ranked Ohio State had a come-from-behind victory over No. 2 ranked Penn State to win 39-38. They entered the fourth quarter down 35-20 with an abysmal chance at winning. Later, down by 5 and with just under two minutes left the Buckeyes scored a touchdown, a single play that raised their win probability by 34.2 percentage points, one of the biggest swings of the week. Following the win, we give Ohio State a 64 percent chance of winning the Big Ten conference and a 57 percent chance of making the playoff, while Penn State has a mere 3 percent chance of winning the conference and only a 13 percent chance of making the playoff. [ESPN, FiveThirtyEight]Maybe comparing your employees to prisoners isn’t super coolTexans owner Bob McNair made a comment that “We can’t have the inmates running the prison” during an NFL owners meeting in reference to recent player demonstrations against white supremacy. This ticked off his team mightily. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back D’Onta Foreman missed a practice Friday in response, and Sunday all but about 10 Texans players took a knee during the national anthem. [ESPN]Something’s up with the ballsPlayers have begun to flag that something is off with the balls this World Series. Gosh, I wonder what’s up. The regular season wrapped with the most home runs ever. The rate during that season — that insane, record-breaking season — of one homer every 27.1 at-bats. In this World Series through the first four games, there were 15 homers or one every 17.5 at-bats. That’s a crazy 35 percent improvement in the rate, which is huge. Then you think about last night: There were 7 home runs in 85 at bats, or 1 every 12.1 at-bats. Something’s up. [Sports Illustrated]Olympics could be a distractionYear three of the National Women’s Hockey League started up Saturday, and the league will balance new signings and partnerships with the challenge of running operations while the top talent in the league is off the ice elsewhere preparing for the 2018 Olympic games. [ESPN]Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions? game!Big Number19 touchdownsIt would appear that Houston has found its future in Deshaun Watson, who Sunday passed Kurt Warner with 19 touchdowns in his first seven games. His statline in Sunday’s loss to Seattle was outstanding, and on the season he’s got three games with four passing touchdowns. Houston is far from a favorite but also far from out of the hunt when it comes to the playoffs this year — 18 percent chance of making the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight — but finding a player like Watson could turn things around in years to come. [ESPN, FiveThirtyEight]Leaks from Slack: Every Single Message Sent on Sundayrob:Well well well NFL See more MLB predictions We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe waltjust looked at our predictions by the way and there’s a 19 percent chance the Browns go Defeated this seasonalways worth keeping an eye on that lovely numbergiven that we’re halfway thereNiners have a 9 percent chanceso actually a decent chance one of them goes defeated tbhPredictions MLB Oh, and don’t forgetWest Virginia had to put in the backup mascot on Saturday All newsletters See more NFL predictions
College football fans aren’t habituated to the rhythm of a playoff — at least not in the same way college basketball fans are before the NCAA tournament. But the games Saturday and the selection committee’s choices Sunday will determine the four teams that enter the first-ever college football playoff. FiveThirtyEight will be here throughout the weekend to update our forecast on which teams are most likely to make it.The math has become simpler after Oregon’s emphatic 51-13 victory Friday night against Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game. Instead of seven teams competing for four positions, there are now effectively five teams — Alabama, TCU, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor — competing for three slots, with Oregon having secured its position and Arizona out of the running.Nothing’s official yet, but in this case, our statistical model aligns with common sense. Oregon, No. 2 in the selection committee’s rankings entering the weekend, made the playoff in all 20,000 simulations that we ran Saturday morning. Arizona, which now has three losses, never did. Here are the latest numbers:For comparison’s sake, here’s our forecast before the Pac-12 championship:It’s become crowded at the top. No. 1-ranked Alabama is an 82 percent favorite to beat Missouri in the SEC championship, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). And the Crimson Tide are more likely than not to make the playoff even if they lose to Missouri.Third-ranked TCU probably won’t make the playoff if they lose to 2-9 Iowa State. But they’re 97 percent favorites to win the game, per FPI. Crazy things can happen in college football — but if the Cyclones win, it would be perhaps the most memorable college football upset since Appalachian State beat Michigan in 2007.For the time being, Oregon is the favorite to win the national championship, with a 37 percent chance of doing so. (Alabama may overtake the Ducks if they defeat Missouri, but Oregon’s dominance against Arizona is likely to impress FPI, as well as Vegas oddsmakers.)Oregon’s win is also modestly bad news for the teams ranked No. 5 and 6 entering the weekend, Ohio State and Baylor, because they now have one fewer opportunity to leapfrog other teams in the rankings. Ohio State’s probability of making the playoff dropped to about 30 percent from 35 percent after Oregon’s win; Baylor’s declined slightly, to about 16 percent from 18 percent.Still, Oregon’s gain came mostly at the expense of Arizona. The result wasn’t a total disaster for Ohio State and Baylor, in part because an Arizona win would have created a mess of its own. Arizona, No. 7 entering the weekend, would have had an argument for making the playoff if it beat Oregon. Oregon might have had an argument even with a loss.But Oregon won. Could the Ducks wind up with the No. 1 seed? They almost certainly will if Alabama loses to Missouri. Otherwise, they’ll probably stay at No. 2, according to the model. But the FiveThirtyEight model is calibrated based on a historical analysis of voting in the Coaches Poll. The playoff selection committee has been a bit more aggressive so far in promoting teams after dominant victories. Perhaps if Alabama wins clumsily against Missouri, the Ducks could overtake it. Either way, it was a happy Friday night in Eugene.
With only eight days remaining in the 2014-15 regular season, it’s time to check in on FiveThirtyEight’s NBA Power Ratings. If you’re wondering how these numbers work, the short version is that all 30 NBA teams are ranked according to a projection of their true talent over the upcoming week — and the upcoming week only — using Real Plus-Minus (RPM) player ratings provided by Jeremias Engelmann and Steve Ilardi. For more details on the methodology,1This week, we tweaked the simulation methodology to include the NBA’s official tie-breaking procedures. Before this week, we had been approximating tie breakers. see our introductory rankings post.The Eastern Conference playoff plot continues to thicken. Last Monday in this space, our model listed the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers with playoff probabilities of 76 percent and 50 percent, respectively, with the Brooklyn Nets (38 percent) and Boston Celtics (25 percent) likely to be on the outside looking in.Now, the tables have turned.The Celtics, aided by a 3-1 record over the past week (and an improved power rating), now sport a 57 percent playoff probability and more expected end-of-season wins than either Miami or Indiana. Likewise, the Nets leapfrogged the Pacers and Heat by an even greater margin after going 4-1 over the past week-plus. Brooklyn’s chances of making the playoffs are now nearly 77 percent, a radical departure from its 17 percent postseason probability of two weeks prior.And if Brooklyn and Boston are now in the driver’s seats for the final pair of Eastern Conference playoff berths, that means the Heat and Pacers are currently both underdogs to make the postseason. Miami has lost four straight games, and its power rating is down because several of its good RPM players (such as Luol Deng, Hassan Whiteside and Chris Andersen) are listed as day-to-day with injuries. And for its part, Indiana went 2-2 on the week-plus, but even at .500, the Pacers lost ground to the surging Celtics and Nets.The Heat have things a bit better than the Pacers. They face an easier remaining schedule, and the league’s tie-breakers favor them in the event of a tie with Boston and/or Brooklyn, which accounts for Miami’s superior playoff odds despite a projected win tally identical to that of Indiana. But for each team, it’s a big reversal from where they stood just a week ago.So while there’s little time left in the schedule, the Eastern Conference playoff picture is no clearer than it’s been the past few weeks — the front-runners to get in are just different.
One school of thinking about the MLB trade deadline, which passes at 4 p.m. Eastern time, is that teams should address their weaknesses and become more balanced in preparation for the stretch run. The notion, which we’ve taken as a given around these parts in the past, is that sacrificing in some area of strength (whether on offense, pitching or defense) to plug a weakness makes a team less vulnerable in the postseason. But is that true? Certainly teams should patch up their weaknesses if it doesn’t mean taking away from their strengths, but all else being equal, balance for its own sake may not necessarily help improve a team’s chances.It’s easy to look at a team’s offense/defense balance — defined as how closely matched a team’s run-scoring and run-prevention capabilities are. We can quantify the clubs most in need of it at the deadline this season by indexing each team’s (park-adjusted) runs scored and allowed per game against the league average. In the chart below, the teams in the bottom right-hand corner are the most balanced — they’re good at both scoring and preventing runs1In this case, a lower defensive index is better because it means a team allowed fewer runs. — but those in the adjacent quadrants have a weakness in one of the two categories. (Those in the top left are just bad at everything.) But to examine the broader question of whether balance helps a team, we need to see if our measure of balance — specifically, the absolute difference between a team’s index and the league average of 100 on both offense and defense — tracks meaningfully with a team’s future success after controlling for its overall talent level.To that end, I computed the same offensive and defensive indices as above for each team on July 31 of every season since 1986, when the trade deadline was permanently moved to that date (except this year, when the commish moved it to Aug. 1 because July 31 fell on a Sunday). As a first pass, I checked whether a change in a team’s balance correlated with improved play over the remainder of the regular season — and the relationship was practically non-existent.2In statistical parlance, the r between the change in a team’s balance from before the trade deadline to after and its change in winning percentage was 0.018. I then did the same thing but for eventual playoff teams only … and got the same result.3This time, the correlation was -0.009. Finally, I looked at whether a playoff-bound team’s balance had any real bearing on its World Series odds after controlling for its talent, and again, a team’s balance had no significant effect. (If anything, less balanced playoff teams have tended to win the World Series more often since 1986, though that finding is likely just noise.)In other words, balance isn’t something for a team to seek at the deadline — talent is. Teams should be wary about dealing from a strength to improve a weakness if it doesn’t leave them in a better overall place than where they started. Even under the bright lights, a run saved is still worth the same as a run scored, balance be damned.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
IN SportALL EVENTSShare of The Dutch do one thing very, very wellThe countries that have won the largest share of their medals in one sport at the Winter Olympics Among countries that won at least 10 medals in a single sport. Through Feb. 14, 2018 (South Korea time).Source: Sports-Reference.com SwitzerlandAlpine skiing20595013940.042.5 CroatiaAlpine skiing410411100.090.9 NetherlandsSpeedskating401144212195.4%94.2% FranceAlpine skiing15483311545.541.7 ChinaShort track930125375.056.6 The Summer Games’ one-sport specialistsThe countries that have won the largest share of their Summer Olympic medals in one sport At the Olympics in South Korea, highly populated countries such as the U.S. can contend in a broad range of sports, including skiing, hockey, skating and more. But smaller countries have a harder time producing world-class athletes in so many disciplines, so they often concentrate on just a few. Then there’s the Netherlands, which owns one event alone: speedskating.Through the end of competition Wednesday (South Korea time) at the Pyeongchang Games, 40 of the 42 gold medals Dutch competitors have won in any Winter Olympics had come in speedskating — not to be confused with speedskating’s more exciting half-brother, short-track speed skating, which the Olympics count as a separate discipline. Just seven of the nation’s 121 total Winter medals came in a sport other than speedskating, a measly 5.8 percent. At the previous Winter Olympics in 2014, the Dutch claimed 24 medals: 23 in speedskating and one, a bronze, in short track skating. Eight of their medals were gold.In sports, a country’s dominance often fades — look at Romania in Olympic gymnastics or U.S. men in tennis Grand Slams. But Dutch speedskaters have sustained their superiority. In the 2010 Olympics, they won eight medals: seven in speedskating and one, a gold, in snowboarding. They won nine in 2006, all in speedskating. So far this Olympics, they’ve already won nine speedskating medals,1Not counting their two on the short track, or the silver speedskating medal the country won on Thursday. including five golds. The most impressive Dutch medal so far in these games: a third consecutive gold in the 5,000 meter race for Sven Kramer, who is 31 years old. He is the first man to win three straight golds in the same Olympic speedskating event. He won this year’s race by nearly two seconds. JamaicaTrack & Field777898.7 Things weren’t always this way. Looking at all the medals ever given out in speedskating, the Dutch have captured 21 percent. This is impressive, but it’s short of other countries’ performances in other sports: Canada has won 31 percent of all curling medals, and the U.S. has won 29 percent of all snowboarding medals, for instance. But much of this has to do with the fact that speedskating has a long history at the Olympics, and the Netherlands has only reached its current level of dominance relatively recently. The Dutch won 13.1 percent of all speedskating medals between 1924 and the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and all of those came after 1952. But since the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, the Netherlands has captured 36.6 percent of all podium spots.2Through the end of competition (Korea time) on Feb. 14, 2018. Medals South KoreaShort track2243275481.579.6 CountrySportIn sportTotalshare of total IndonesiaBadminton193063.3 MoroccoTrack & Field192382.6 Trinidad and TobagoTrack & Field151979.0 BahamasTrack & Field121485.7 CountrySportGoldTotalGoldsTOTALGoldsTotal The Dutch dominance is so complete that it inspires wacky theories. NBC’s Katie Couric was mocked for her recent statement that the Dutch are so good because they have a longstanding tradition of skating from place to place on frozen canals. The problem: Those canals freeze only a few times a year, if at all, and when people skate on them, it’s for recreation. Dutch skeedskaters are also rumored to have an ideal body type for the sport, but while the country’s racers are often tall, so are many of their opponents from other countries. Nor do the Dutch use a proprietary method to glide past other competitors: While many members of the team have spectacular form, which includes bending low and skating with force and precision, the technique isn’t a secret.The real cause, more than anything else, is dedication. Starting in childhood, Dutch skaters train with excellent instructors. The Dutch team’s skating equipment is the best in the world, too. For the Olympics in 2014, officials from the host city of Sochi went to the Netherlands to learn how to build a top-of-the-line racing rink. By the time they are ready to compete, Dutch stars have been skating in ideal conditions and learning how to peak in time for the biggest races.The ultimate proof of a country’s prowess in an Olympic event is sweeping all three medals. The Netherlands managed it earlier this week, when Dutch women took gold, silver and bronze in a 3,000 meter speedskating race. In another race, the 31-year-old Ireen Wust won her fifth career gold medal and 10th overall medal, a speedskating record. That victory was a surprise, as the silver medalist, Miho Takagi of Japan, was a strong favorite. Wust is the first Dutch athlete to win five gold medals.The only champions who beat out the Dutch in terms of winning all their medals in a single sport in either the Winter or Summer Games3Among countries that have won at least 10 medals in a single sport. are Ethiopia and Jamaica, who excel in track and field races. Ethiopia has 53 summer medals, all of them in track and field. Jamaica, famous for the record-holding sprinter Usain Bolt, has won 98.7 percent of its medals in track. The Dutch are next on the list, at 94.2 percent. Great BritainFigure skating515113345.545.5 Among countries that won at least 10 medals in a single sportSource: Sports-Reference.com AustriaAlpine skiing351156122157.452.0 KenyaTrack & Field9310093.0 EthiopiaTrack & Field5353100.0% FinlandCross-country ski20774316446.547.0 SlovakiaCanoeing182864.3 IranWrestling436863.2 TurkeyWrestling639566.3 SwedenCross-country ski31765515356.449.7 So, will the Dutch team’s rule ever end? This seems impossible now, especially given the relatively low levels of attention the sport gets in powerful countries like the U.S. But you never know. As the U.S. and many other countries have shown, Olympic dominance usually doesn’t last forever. Enjoy it, those of you from the Netherlands, while you can.
Former OSU tight end Nick Vannett (81) celebrates after one of his 2 1st-half touchdowns during a game against Rutgers on Oct. 18 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Lantern File photoOhio State continued its dominance of the 2016 NFL draft, as tight end Nick Vannett became the 10th Buckeye to be selected. Overall, Vannett is the 94th player picked, after his name was called by the Seahawks.This selection sets a new record, as the Buckeyes are the first program to have 10 selections in the opening trio of rounds of the draft.The Westerville, Ohio, native was used sparingly in the OSU offense throughout his tenure, producing 55 receptions for 585 yards and six touchdowns. After redshirting his freshman year, Vannett played throughout his remaining four years, totaling 53 games played.Although the production numbers were low compared to the rest of the offensive starters for OSU, many NFL scouts valued the 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end for his athleticism.During the 2014 championship run for the Scarlet and Gray, Vannett enjoyed his highest level of production, hauling in five touchdowns, as well as appearing in a career-high 15 games.It is worth noting that the predecessor to Vannett, former OSU tight end Jeff Heuerman, produced similar numbers (52 receptions, 792 yards, seven touchdowns) to those of Vannett and was selected by the Denver Broncos last year in the third round.Although his athleticism gives Vannett immense upside, there has been some concern over how effective he can be as a blocker, a skill tight ends in the spread offense aren’t called upon regularly to employ. With his large frame and proven strength for the position, the Seahawks will focus on developing Vannett as an establish blocker, while also benefiting from his versatility as a pass-catcher. With Jimmy Graham the primary tight end in Seattle, it seems as though it will take time before Vannett sees consistent playing time.
Former Ohio State shooting guard Katie Smith is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and set the record for points scored by either a man or woman in the Big Ten during her four-season collegiate career from 1992 to 1996. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State AthleticsOne of the greatest players in Ohio State women’s basketball history, Katie Smith was selected as one of 10 finalists for the 2018 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.The three-time Olympic gold medalist set the record for points scored by either a man or woman in the Big Ten during her four-season collegiate career from 1992 to 1996. Smith was honored as the Big Ten Player of the Year her senior year. In her freshman season, she powered her team to a conference title and NCAA championship appearance.Smith played 15 season in the WNBA and two professionally for the Columbus Quest from 1996 to 1997. When she retired in 2013, she was the all-time women’s professional basketball leading scorer with 7,885 points. Smith was voted one of the 20 best and most-influential players in WNBA history in 2016. After her playing career ended, she was hired as an assistant coach by the New York Liberty. She became the team’s head coach Oct. 16.“She’s totally deserving of that honor and she should be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame,” Ohio State women’s basketball head coach Kevin McGuff said. “She’s an unbelievable player. She was an unbelievable player here. She’s a great coach now. I can’t wait to see all her success with the New York Liberty.”Smith was inducted into Ohio State’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001. McGuff said she frequently makes trips to Columbus continues to stay in touch with the program.“I love the fact she comes around a lot, she stays connected to the program, which I love,” McGuff said. “She’s a great role model to the current players.”The 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame finalists were announced were Jan. 11. Inductees will be announced the night of Feb. 12 during the Louisville-Connecticut game. The class of 2018 will be introduced during the Final Four in Columbus, meaning Smith might have a homecoming if inducted.
Redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop drives to the basket in the first half of Ohio State’s 74-62 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor. Credit: Jacob Myers | Managing Editor for ContentANN ARBOR, Mich. — Win out and No. 8 Ohio State had nothing to worry — it would be the Big Ten regular-season champion. After Thursday’s derailment at unranked Penn State, the two-loss Buckeyes had no breathing room in Sunday’s matchup at No. 22 Michigan.Now, the conference title at the end of an improbable regular season is no longer in their control.Senior forward Jae’Sean Tate scored 20 points and had a career-high 15 rebounds, but the offensive output wasn’t found from other players for the Buckeyes (22-7, 13-3 Big Ten) in their 74-62 loss to Michigan (22-7, 11-5 Big Ten). Michigan freshman Jordan Poole scored a surprising 15 points while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led with 17 and Moritz Wagner added 12.“Losing up here to them, it hurts,” Tate said. “But at the end of the day, we still got two more Big Ten games to play and we just got to learn from it.”Redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop scored 17 points, but struggled from the field, shooting 5-of-17. This is the second game in a row Bates-Diop had difficulty shooting, which has coincided with Ohio State’s issues from the field as well.The issues of ball movement and playing against a physical opponent resurfaced against Michigan in a game Ohio State seemingly had to have in order to win the conference title next week. Now the Buckeyes sit a game back of Michigan State and are reeling a bit coming into the end of the season.“I just think that we haven’t been the team that’s been more hungrier,” Tate said. “We could blame it on thinking that we had a two-game lead in the Big Ten, but I feel like teams have had us on our heels whereas in the past where we’ve won, we are the ones that have been the aggressors. We just got to get back to that.”The Buckeyes were on the track to do just that multiple times in the second half. When Michigan scored the first three points of the second half to take an eight-point lead, the Buckeyes went on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 36-34. The Wolverines then grew their lead to nine after back-to-back layups with 10:40 remaining. Ohio State shrunk that to four with a layup from Tate and Bates-Diop’s second 3 of the game.Trailing 55-52 with 7:53 on the clock after a Tate-made free throw, Poole connected on his fourth 3 of the game from the right corner.Ohio State then went nearly six minutes — from 8:30 to 2:53 remaining — without a bucket.Out of the final media timeout, Michigan began to pull away from their rivals. Abdur-Rahman drilled a 3 from the top of the key and Wagner came down the floor on the next possession to complete a 3-point play that put the Wolverines up 68-55 with 2:12 remaining.The Wolverines led since seven minutes remained in the first half, but the Buckeyes were within striking distance until the final minutes. Only when they had their chance, they could never get over the hump.Junior point guard C.J. Jackson scored his lone points on a 3 in the first half and finished with zero assists, following his one-assist performance at Penn State. Ohio State recorded just eight assists on 24 field goals and committed 14 turnovers.Moving forward, Holtmann said he might use Tate and Bates-Diop to alleviate some pressure from primary ballhanders Jackson and redshirt senior guard Andrew Dakich.“Obviously it was a concern coming into the season, not just our depth, but our ability to manage that,” Holtmann said. “We just have to challenge our guards to make better decisions in some of those situations. I’m confident they will. It’s not necessarily their strength, but I’m optimistic they will.”After both teams shot 41 percent in the first half, Michigan’s offense came to life with 56.5 percent shooting in the second frame, and its defense held Ohio State to 41.9 percent.Up Next:Ohio State returns to Columbus for its final home game against Rutgers at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Ohio State junior Lilli Piper rounds third base with the intent to score against Wright State on Sep. 24. Credit: Gretchen Rudolph | For The LanternLilli Piper made it clear from the beginning: she wanted to play college basketball. That’s why when now-Ohio State head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly recruited her to play softball at Miami (Ohio), where she was coaching at the time, Piper wasn’t interested. Kovach Schoenly backed off, as did many other softball coaches, when Piper instead began to pursue a collegiate career playing basketball. Even though she scaled back her of recruiting Piper, Kovach Schoenly was still recruiting the other girls on Piper’s travel team, so she continued to watch her play. “I had told her when I heard she was going to play basketball … ‘If you ever decide you want to play [softball], come find me because I would love to have you on my team,’” Kovach Schoenly said.After just one season playing both basketball and softball for Akron, Piper took Kovach Schoenly up on her offer.The now-junior shortstop Piper not only transferred schools, but she gave up basketball at Akron to pursue only softball at Ohio State.“She was willing to leave a pretty cushy thing at Akron, you know, you’re on a full ride and you get all of these things as a basketball player,” Kovach Schoenly said.Piper wasn’t exactly having a bad year at Akron, either. She played in 20 softball games — starting in 11 — for the Zips. She slashed .313/.327/.417 with a home run and two stolen bases.She also held her own in basketball, the sport she decided to leave. She appeared in 29 games, averaging 3.2 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game, and even had a 24-point, nine-rebound effort against Buffalo in the MAC semifinals.Despite the success as a two-sport athlete, Piper said playing softball full-time just began to feel like the right option. Her parents didn’t have any objections to the decision, either.“Both my parents voted for softball when I was growing up, so they really pushed that and I kind of went against it and I guess I had to find my own path back to softball,” Piper said.Attending Akron made a lot of sense for Piper at the beginning. It was close to home — Pipher is from Norton, Ohio — and she had been around the university a lot with her aunt, Kay Piper, who played both softball and volleyball there from 1982 to 1985.“Knowing that I played there and I think also she’d been around Akron U a lot because I used to take her to some of the games and stuff. I think she felt comfortable going there,” Kay Piper said.Kay’s number, 23, is one of only two retired numbers in program history, but Piper was still able to wear it for the year that she played at Akron. Seeing her wear that number was an “immense sense of pride,” Kay said. Although Piper’s decision to transfer to Ohio State was a risk, she was not leaving all comfort behind in Akron.A few of the people who played on Piper’s travel team were already playing at Ohio State, so Piper did not feel as though she was “jumping into a situation blind.”Piper quickly found her groove at Ohio State and has continued to thrive since she arrived. She sits among the Buckeyes’ leaders in nearly every offensive category through nine games this season with a .389/.421/.778 slash line and three homers, 12 RBIs, 10 runs scored and two stolen bases. In 2017, her first year with the Buckeyes, she led the team in all the categories, except stolen bases, where she was second, and was a second-team All-American.“Last year she came here and she made a name for herself. In one year to be All-American is so hard,” Kovach Schoenly said.Piper went into this season with a renewed confidence though, after she recently tried out for the USA Women’s National Team during Christmas break. She took part in the open tryout and was picked to go to the invitational tryout.“I just feel like I can’t be beat,” Piper said, “I’ve seen the best.”Piper is looking to continue to do what she said she does best this season: have fun and enjoy herself.“I just like to have a lot of fun,” Piper said. “At the end of the day this is just a game and yeah we take it, I mean this is our jobs at the end of the day but we might as well make it fun while we’re doing it.”
Ohio State senior Nate Romans (7) swings at home plate in the Buckeyes’ home opener against the Lipscomb Bison on March 15, 2019 at Bill Davis Stadium. Credit: Sal Marandino | For The LanternDespite the cold temperatures, the Ohio State baseball team heated up to end itsfive-game losing streak in its home opener. Ohio State (8-9) routed Lipscomb (9-7) 14-3. The bats came alive for the Buckeyes, producing 18 hits, a season-high, and two home runs. “I told [the team] after the game, ‘That’s us. That’s what we’re capable of. That’s what we can do,’” head coach Greg Beals said. The Buckeyes blew the game open with a seven-run fifth inning. Four of those runs were scored with two outs, and the lead was extended to 13-1. Freshman third baseman Zach Dezenzo erupted with two home runs in the game, his second and third of the year, adding three RBIs. “Both those pitches were up and out,” Dezenzo said. “Just tried to put a good swing on it and hit something hard.”Freshman pitcher Garrett Burhenn shined against a Lipscomb team that came into the game batting .297. Burhenn allowed three runs, one of which was earned, and two hits in six innings of work. “It feels really good to be back at home and being able to start our home series and set the tone for the weekend,” Burhenn said. “I feel like we all did a great job. It was a good team win.”Burhenn struck out five, while walking two. The solid pitching was continued by Ohio State redshirt senior Thomas Waning and junior Joe Gahm. The pair struck out three and allowed only one hit in two innings of relief. With two runners on via walk, Ohio State junior first baseman Conner Pohl opened the scoring with a two-out single in the bottom of the first inning, knocking in junior shortstop Noah West. Pohl would finish the game with three RBIs. West recorded his first two stolen bases of the season. The Buckeyes increased their season stolen base total from five to eight. Lipscomb came into the game with 25 stolen bases, but were unable to steal a bag in the series opener.Lipscomb senior pitcher Chris Kachmar would go on to struggle recording outs in an efficient fashion. He was pulled in the fourth inning after recording only nine outs on 93 pitches. Kachmar came into the game with a 3-0 record and seven walks allowed in four starts. The starter earned his first loss of the season and had an uncharacteristic four walks allowed in only three innings pitched. After a pair of singles by Ohio State junior right fielder Dominic Canzone and senior left fielder Brady Cherry and a walk to redshirt sophomore catcher Brent Todys, the bases were loaded in the third inning. A 10-pitch at bat to fifth-year senior designated hitter Nate Romans ended with a two-run, two-out single to right field to balloon the lead to 4-0. “I was just trying to fight, because I was down to two strikes both at bats. Just fighting off his good pitches and then put a good swing on it,” Romans said. Romans finished the game with three RBIs on two hits. The first hit surrendered by Burhenn came by way of a solo shot in the fifth inning over the left field wall. It was junior Lipscomb junior shortstop Brian Moore’s first home run of the season. Dezenzo hit his second home run of the day when he skied a two-run bomb over the right field fence in the fifth inning. After a triple by redshirt senior center fielder Ridge Winand, West hit him in with a one-out double to extend the lead to 9-1. The Bisons drew more blood in the sixth inning as sophomore outfielder Carson Wright brought in two runs on a two-out single to make the game 13-3. Winand scored his third run of the game on a wild pitch in the sixth inning to end the scoring for the Buckeyes. Burhenn moved to 3-1 on the year with the win. “I think we’re really confident in this home stretch here that we can get things turned around the right way,” Dezenzo said. The Buckeyes will play their second game against Lipscomb at 3:05 p.m. Saturday.