Softball observers who've considered the Big 10 to instead be the "Big 2" of Northwestern and Michigan (and I count myself among them), may now have to make room for another team, Ohio State. The Buckeyes stunned Northwestern, 5-3 in extra innings, in the opener of the teams' series today.
In fact, Ohio State nearly had the game in hand earlier, yet remained unfazed by a Northwestern comeback. Quoting from a game article, "Northwestern's Erin Dyer hit a two out, three run home run in the sixth inning to tie the game at 3-3 and force extra-innings..." After a clutch home run in last year's World Series (against Alabama) by the same player, I coined the term that Northwestern had been rescued from "Dyer straits," and it happened again today.
This time, however, Ohio State had its own hero as, again quoting from the article, "Sophomore Courtney Pruner homered twice, including a two run shot in the top of the ninth inning..."
The two teams go at it again tomorrow.
Talking about clutch homers, Michigan got one from -- who else -- Samantha Findlay, en route to an extra-inning win over Iowa.
One other team that might be poised to join the elite of the Big 10 is Penn State. Due to the ubiquitous weather problems around the nation, Penn State has played only two conference games thus far, sweeping Wisconsin, but the Nittany Lions come in to play Northwestern in a Sunday doubleheader and thus have a chance to enhance their resume (Penn State also owns a win over Michigan in the Fullerton tournament).
The biggest theme I could glean from this weekend's softball schedule is that, in two major conferences, an upstart, undefeated team (in league play) will have a chance to show whether it's a legitimate contender for the conference title.
In the Big 10, Ohio State (21-13, 4-0) heads to Evanston to take on last year's national runner-up, Northwestern (31-7, 6-1). The Buckeyes have swept two games each from Minnesota and Wisconsin, but have had inclement weather put the kaibosh on their last eight games, including a pair with another Big 10 power, Michigan.
Meanwhile, in the Big 12, Missouri (5-0, 29-17) hosts Oklahoma (7-2, 42-4, ranked No. 2 and 3 in the two national polls). Mizzou's conference wins have come over Texas (twice), Oklahoma State (twice), and Texas Tech (once, with the other game of the series cancelled due to weather). In addition to Oklahoma, the Tigers still have to face conference powers Baylor (7-0 in league) and Texas A&M, so whether they can maintain a gaudy Big 12 record for long remains in question.