Softball Ohio State faces Illinois in the last home series

Senior shortstop Lilli Piper (22) celebrates after coming into home safely in a game against Indiana on March 24 at Buckeye Field. Ohio State won 2-0. Credit: Gretchen Rudolph | For The LanternComing off a four-win week the Ohio State softball team (29-14, 12-5 Big Ten) will return to Buckeye Field for the final time to start a three-game series against Illinois (27-19, 6-11 Big Ten).Ohio State continued its five-game win streak against Ohio and Michigan State, and hope to build off that momentum against the Fighting Illini.“I am excited,” freshman infielder Ashley Prange said. “We are going to finish strong, and finish Big Ten strong.”Many players saw success this past week. Senior shortstop Lilli Piper hit .700 with three home runs and five RBI, earning her the Big Ten Player of the Week award, the fifth of her career. “Our pitching was strong, we played good defense,” Ohio State head coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said. “It was one of the first weekends we put it all together.”Illinois, on the other hand, has lost its past four games against two strong teams: Michigan and Northwestern.“They played some tough teams,” Schoenly said. “I anticipate they will be ready and hungry this weekend to change the way of losing recently for them.”However, there are some Illinois players Ohio State needs to watch out for. Sophomore catcher Bella Loya leads the Fighting Illini with a .411 average, 12 home runs and 46 RBI. Senior outfielder Kiana Sherlund also has a .380 AVG and 44 runs this season. Illinois freshman pitcher Sydney Sickels holds a 3.27 ERA with a 17-11 record.However, Ohio State senior pitcher Morgan Ray has a 2.09 ERA and recorded a career-high 13 strikeouts against Michigan State last week. Schoenly said the team will try to be strong in big moments, minimizing Illinois’s big plays and maximizing Ohio State’s big plays. “Every series have its own identity,” Schoenly said. “For us, it’s gonna be a matter of getting out so we can get them, so they can’t have big innings.” However, Schoenly said the Buckeyes are also excited to play, especially with it being the last home series of the season.  “The girls are excited to be at Buckeye Field, play in front of our fans and use this momentum to help us,” Schoenly said. Ohio State will open the series against Illinois at 6 p.m. Friday The second game will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, and the final game will start at 1 p.m. Sunday.