In a sport known for small-ball, the Buckeyes brought the big sticks on Saturday afternoon at New Buckeye Field. Ohio State blasted four home runs, including a fifth-inning big fly from school career homer leader Sam Marder that put it ahead for good, to take a 7-2 win against Kentucky in front of a crowd that included football head coach Jim Tressel.
Ohio State improved to 47-9, giving the Buckeyes the second-most wins in program history, to make the final 16 in the nation.
"I think it legitimizes Ohio State softball," head coach Linda Kalafatis said. "I think it shows that we're able to finish. We've been at this point before and just haven't gotten over the hump. We're a veteran team, and these kids, they know what it takes to get there.
"We're here, and it means we just keep playing."
Ohio State advances to take on sixth-ranked Georgia in a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional from May 21-23. Though the NCAA has not announced the series site, the Buckeyes are expected to have to travel to Athens to take on the Bulldogs.
That fact is no problem for OSU, which was just one win away from a Super Regional in 2007 before losing two straight at home against Cal State-Fullerton. This time, Marder, a freshman on that Big Ten title team, delivered before the game a message her sports psychology professor had given her earlier in the week: to treat the game as though it was any other.
"That basically was what I told everyone this morning," she said. "We were in the same situation two years ago and we came in and we might have put too much pressure on ourselves."
That pressure might have disappeared early when freshman Vanessa Spears, the second batter of the game, cleared the wall with a solo homer to give OSU a 1-0 lead. In the second inning, first-team All-Big Ten center fielder Dee Dee Hillman drove in Whitney Cooper with a double.
Kentucky plated two off of pitcher Kim Reeder in the second, but the Buckeyes came back with Marder's two-run blast, which snapped an 0-for-7 streak for her in the postseason, to take a 4-2 lead they would not give up.
"It was nice," said Marder, whose homer was her 19th of the year and 43rd of her career, both records. "More importantly, though, this team has done a great job throughout this entire regional. I haven't been doing well at all and our team has been winning. It's been great."
Two batters later, Courtney Pruner drove another shot over the wall to give OSU a 5-2 lead Reeder would not give up. From that point on, Reeder allowed just two singles to complete her 26th win of the year and 77th of her career, both school records the senior set on the day.
"It's a great record individually to hold, but I think it's just a testament to how well the team has done behind me in the last four years," she said. "That wasn't my best performance (today) by any means, but I'm excited that it's past us and we're moving on."
Freshman Alicia Herron finished things off for the Buckeyes, absolutely drilling a two-run homer well over the left-field wall in the seventh before making two excellent defensive plays from her shortstop position in the bottom half of the inning.
When the final out was secured, the team poured out of the dugout to celebrate the latest step on a historic season.
"We knew we had the ingredients," Kalafatis said. "We knew we had some kids that really, really wanted this bad. Our leadership has been excellent. We felt if we stayed on the right path that we would do it, and we've worked hard."