Nate Mallott entered Ohio’s dugout and ducked.
Teammates roared and swarmed him with claps and pats on the head after he circled the bases for Ohio’s eighth run Friday against Toledo.
Two at-bats earlier, Mallott gave the Bobcats a six-run lead after he launched a two-run double to left field for his fifth RBI of the night. Two innings earlier, he lined a bases-loaded double to same spot and scored three runs to give Ohio its first lead.
The backup catcher couldn’t be stopped, and the dugout celebrations continued throughout Ohio’s 16-5 win over Toledo in the first of three games this weekend at Bob Wren Stadium.
“He had a couple big hits that changed the game,” coach Rob Smith said. “When you get opportunities with game changing moments and someone delivers, that can really flip the script. He delivered twice.”
Mallott finished Friday 2-for-3 with two doubles and five RBIs to lead Ohio’s biggest offensive night of the year against a depleted Toledo pitching staff. The Rockets entered the series on a five-game losing streak and owned a ghastly 6.50 ERA, and the Bobcats, who carried a Mid-American Conference-worst .230 batting average, needed to take advantage.
But no one pounced faster than Mallott.
The redshirt junior has split catching duties with Tanner Piechnick and Dan McCauley for most of the season, but an ankle injury to Piechnick moved Mallott into a starting role from the No. 8 spot in the lineup.
Until Friday, Mallott was just another player stuck in an offense struggling to score runs, and Smith had to stick with Mallott behind the plate despite his .156 batting average.
When Mallott noticed how much Toledo had struggled from the mound, he knew it was an opportunity to flip misfortunes. He prepared most for the fastball from Michael Jacob, Toledo’s Friday starter, and it paid off.
“They ran up some velocities,” Mallott said, “but I think we did a good job of seeing that fastball and getting it early.”
Until Piechnick returns, Mallott will be a mainstay behind the plate and continue to anchor the bottom half of Ohio’s lineup. Performances like Friday will be rare for Mallott, but it’s just what Ohio needs from the rest of its lineup if it wants to stay in the race for the MAC Tournament.
The Bobcats have seldom found breakout performances from players besides Rudy Rott and Trevor Lukkes, who have combined for a .317 batting average. Mallott’s resurgence Friday is an example of what Ohio needs from its other starters every few games to give the Bobcats a shot at winning two or three games in a series instead of one or none.
When Ohio’s offense has struggled most, the bottom half of the lineup couldn’t consistently place runners on base. So when the Bobcats’ power hitters in Rott and Lukkes hammered opposing pitchers, the damage was kept to a minimum.
But with more performances like Mallott’s, Ohio’s offense will thrive, and the dugout celebrations will continue.