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Ohio's Taylor Saxton celebrates after she scores another run in the March 25, 2017, game against Toledo at the Ohio Softball Stadium. (HANNAH RUHOFF | FOR THE POST)

Softball: Ohio’s program takes major steps in a historic season

Ohio came into the 2017 season with big expectations.

The team was the preseason pick to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

Those expectations were high with good reason — the Bobcats were returning a talented and hungry roster that was coming off losing to rival Miami in the MAC Championship Game. The team also had three players on the roster that were on the 2014 team that went to a NCAA regional after winning the MAC.

When the 2017 season closed, the Bobcats had reached amazing highs. But there were also some humbling lows.

Ohio finished 42-18, which broke the single-season school record for most wins in a single season. The previous record was 39 wins by the 1995 team.

To break this record, the Bobcats needed to get both strong pitching and good offensive production. They got it.

In the circle, Ohio was consistently strong, as the team maintained a 1.96 ERA with 541 strikeouts in 411 1/3 innings pitched.

Leading the effort was Savannah Jo Dorsey. Ohio’s ace had an amazing final season in Athens, as she went 25-9 in 40 appearances with a 1.13 ERA. She also notched eight shutouts, two saves and 360 strikeouts in 247 innings. Dorsey completed 28 of her 33 starts on her way to another All-MAC first team honors. Dorsey pitched just over 60 percent of Ohio's total innings on the season.

Dorsey, who will be attending medical school in the fall, also named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-District softball team. After an impressive MAC Tournament that saw her allow just four runs in five starts, she was named to the All-Tournament team. Dorsey’s final honor came Thursday, when she was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Mideast Region Second Team.

Danielle Stiene had an impressive junior campaign and was strong in the rotation behind Dorsey. She made 29 appearances, 23 of them starts. She also posted strong numbers, going 14-8 with a 2.37 ERA, four shutouts, one save and 170 strikeouts in 139 innings.

She threw two no-hitters during the season, including one against University of North Carolina at Wilmington in an elimination game of the National Invitational Softball Championship regional.

For her impressive season, Stiene earned second team All-MAC honors.

Behind the two big names of Dorsey and Stiene stood Desirae Villanueva. The freshman made nine appearances, two of them starts, and went 2-1 with a 7.10 ERA while striking out 10 in 23 2/3 innings.

That pitching dominance was illustrated during Ohio's early-season game against Tennessee, as the Bobcats held the high-powered Volunteers to just two runs in a loss.

And after losing just two of their first 14 games, the Bobcats received their first-ever rankings vote in program history.

Backing up the dominant pitching and helping to grow all the attention surrounding the team was the powerful offense. New assistant coach Jeremy Manley came in and helped Ohio hit for a .278 average with 36 home runs and 246 RBIs.

Mikayla Cooper and Morgan Geno both received All-MAC first team honors. Cooper hit .337 with five home runs and 26 RBIs, while Geno hit .314 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs.

Madison Claytor and Alex Day earned All-MAC second team honors. Claytor hit .253 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs, and Day hit .318 with two home runs and 26 RBIs.

Alexa Holland earned a spot on the All-Freshman team with a .237 average with 14 RBIs and four stolen bases.

The team stole 55 bases, with Taylor Saxton leading the way with 19 in 60 games. Deanna Cole was second on the team with 15, even though injuries held her to only 36 games.

And Cole was just one of the Bobcats that missed time during the season because of injuries. Michaela Dorsey and Dallas Messenger were held to just 14 games each, while MacKenzie Brunswick missed eight games. Senior Cassie Hutchinson only played in 35 games because of two separate injuries.

These injuries caused coach Jodi Hermanek to go out and bring in soccer player Alexis Milesky to help add speed to the team. Milesky filled that role perfectly, as she scored 10 runs and stole one base in 21 games.

The injuries also forced Hermanek to make adjustments to the lineup, including giving Holland a starting role and giving walk-on Brittany Keen a bigger role as a situational outfielder and base runner. Keen played in 27 games, batted .167 and stole two bases.

The ever-shifting lineup caused the offense to have trouble finding a consistent rhythm at points during the season, which led to the Bobcats being shut out or held to one run in 18 games. Ohio’s record in those 18 games was 5-13.

Another problem the Bobcats had during the season was winning against Kent State. The Golden Flashes went 4-2 against the Bobcats, including earning wins in back-to-back games to win the MAC Championship and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. 

Following the losses to Kent State, Ohio would go on to play postseason softball in the inaugural NISC. Liberty’s 4-3 win in the regional championship game ended Ohio’s season.

The loss would mean the end to the college careers of Dorsey, Claytor, Hutchinson and Milesky. Claytor and Hutchinson were the original members of the class, but, because of a back injury earlier in her career, Dorsey was redshirted, making this season her last year of eligibility. The four are the winningest class in Ohio history.

Despite the loss of experience and leadership, Hermanek will still have a strong and versatile group returning come 2018.

Day moved before the season from middle infield to third base and found a home at the new position, boasting a .952 fielding percentage. Cooper, who bounced between third base and first base during the fall, found her spring home at shortstop and carried a .907 fielding percentage. Brunswick, who came to Ohio as a middle infielder, saw time at left field, first base and center field at points during the season. 

Jamie Wren, who hit .275 with one home run and 22 RBIs, split time this season starting at first base and center field, and Natalie Alvarez, who hit .263 with four home runs and 30 RBIs, made starts at both catcher and right field.

This versatility, combined with Hermanek’s excellent recruiting class, means Ohio has a bright future that is ready to improve off a historic 2017 campaign.


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