Ohio went further than it had ever gone before this season. Next season, and seasons to come, the Bobcats may even take themselves further.
To recap: Ohio won its first-ever NCAA Tournament game, a 4-0 win over Monmouth. It even got its second win, this one a 7-3 victory against James Madison.
The Bobcats’ remarkable season — they went 20-3 in the Mid-American Conference — was marked by senior leadership. In the circle, Danielle Stiene won a program-record 29 games on the way to being named MAC Pitcher of the Year. The lineup was led by Mikayla Cooper and her team-high .335 average and 11 home runs, good for second on the team. The lineup was capped by redshirt senior Taylor Saxton with her 10 stolen bases and 33 runs.
Those senior leaders lead the way, but they were followed by the junior class. That 7-3 win over James Madison, which put Ohio into the Knoxville Regional championship series, featured a six run inning led by some of those juniors.
Morgan Geno hit an opposite-field home run to put the Bobcats ahead in that game. Natalie Alvarez added two more with a home run of her own. Mackenzie Brunswick capped the scoring with a RBI triple. All three are juniors.
Not to mention redshirt junior Michaela Dorsey, who hit .454 in the four games in the tournament. She also hit the two-run home run that gave the Bobcats the lead in the MAC Championship game.
There’s also first team all-MAC infielder Alex Day, who led the team in hits with 65, and home runs with 12.
The junior class has been through a lot, and have gained valuable experience going into their final seasons as Bobcats. Dorsey, as a redshirt player, went out in two games in the MAC Tournament. The class as a whole made it to the championship series of the conference tournament and lost. And this year, they won the conference title, both in the regular season and in the conference tournament, and won first games in program history in the NCAA Tournament.
“Now we know what to not only win MACs, but come to regionals and win some games,” Dorsey said."
And there’s also the immediate contributions that this year’s freshman class made. Katie Yun slotted quickly in at shortstop, hitting nine home runs and hitting .295 on her way to the MAC all-freshman team. Allie Englant became the starter in left field, and got an RBI single to put Ohio ahead early on Tennessee. Madi McCrady was slotted behind Stiene in the rotation, striking out 7.82 batters per seven innings.
That freshman class’ first year as Bobcats was what could have been the program’s best. This year’s senior class is the winningest in program history, beating out the previous year’s senior class. There’s a good chance next year’s class continues that trend.
“This freshman class was very easy to lead this year and very much a part of the success that we’ve had,” coach Jodi Hermanek said. “I think all things are triggering in the right direction for Ohio softball.”
And it’s not just Hermanek that thinks things are moving in the right direction. At the Knoxville Regional, Ohio gave the host and winner Tennessee the best competiton. The Bobcats gained the respect of the Lady Vols, who knew the future was bright.
One thing that Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly was quick to point out was the Ohio’s ability to always develop an ace. This year was Stiene, the year’s previous was Savannah Jo Dorsey, who signed to play professional softball in the Netherlands. Next year, who that ace will be is still up in the air.
But, at least the co-head coach of the team that has hosted an NCAA Regional 14 years in a row knows that someone will step into that role.
“I know (Hermanek),” said Karen Weekly, co-head coach of Tennessee. “She always has a winning team, and it starts in the circle.”