Despite suffering an early loss to Florida on Saturday in an NCAA regional in Gainesville, Florida, the Ohio State softball team stayed alive by edging South Florida 3-2 in the nightcap.
The Buckeyes (36-15) must beat the second-ranked Gators (52-8) twice on Sunday in order to advance.
Florida scored seven runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to prevail 10-2 in the opener and give the Buckeyes their first loss in the double-elimination bracket.
Amanda Lorenz had two hits and three RBI and Jaimie Hoover added two RBI for the Gators, who had seven hits but drew 15 walks. Lorenz gave Florida the lead for good with a two-run single in the fifth off of Buckeyes pitcher Shelby McCombs (17-7), who went five innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits but walked 11.
Ashley Goodwin began the scoring for OSU with a solo homer in the fourth, and the Buckeyes' lead grew to 2-0 an inning later thanks to an RBI single by Lilli Piper that scored Becca Gavin. But Florida starter Kelly Barnhill (28-1) was solid throughout as she yielded three hits and struck out nine in the win.
Facing elimination, Ohio State took the nightcap after falling behind 2-0 to the Bulls (39-22). McCombs and Goodwin each had an RBI in a three-run bottom of the third inning that gave the Buckeyes the lead for good. Morgan Ray (17-8) produced a complete game and gave up only one earned run and three hits.
The Buckeyes and Gators meet at noon and, if Ohio State wins, the deciding game will be played afterward.
Host Michigan State plated four runs in the opening two innings and led throughout in an 8-3 victory over Ohio State in East Lansing, Michigan, to conclude the Big Ten regular season for the Buckeyes (34-20, 14-10).
Kobie Foppe trimmed the deficit to 4-1 in the top of the third inning with an RBI single for Ohio State, but Zach McGuire followed with a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning to send the Spartans (20-30, 11-12) on their way. Starting pitcher Adam Niemeyer (3-3) took the loss for OSU after he allowed four runs on four hits and walked three.
Meanwhile, the Spartans' Mike Momka (2-4) limited the Buckeyes to one run and six hits with one walk. His seven innings on the mound was a career high.
Dominic Canzone had two doubles and a run scored, and Bo Coolen added an RBI for Ohio State, which will now head to the Big Ten tournament in Omaha, Nebraska. The tournament runs from Wednesday through next Sunday.
Taking part in the NCAA tournament in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the Buckeyes sit in 24th place after two rounds. Ohio State has a 627 total, well back of first-place UCLA (573).
Leading the way for the Buckeyes is Jacklyn Lee, whose 143 has her tied for eighth place in the individual standings. With 161 after 36 holes, Alex Wright and Rio Watanabe are both tied for 115th.