Well, it certainly wasn’t the start to the postseason Ohio was hoping for.
A 7-1 loss to Central Michigan in the first round of the 2022 Mid-American Conference Tournament has Ohio’s MAC title hopes on life support, as it will face a winner-take-all game Friday.
All season, the Bobcats have relied on a stellar offense that ranks in the top four in the MAC in batting average, runs scored, hits, home runs, doubles and triples, as well as a number of other categories. Thursday afternoon, however, Ohio’s offense mustered just one run on four hits, with three of those hits coming in the final two innings, when Ohio already trailed by five runs.
Ohio’s offensive struggles can best be summed up by the performance of its two best hitters, Annalia Paoli and Allie Englant, who combine to lead Ohio in almost every major offensive category this season.
Paoli and Englant were a combined 1-5 Thursday with a pair of strikeouts — both by Paoli — and a pair of runners left on base. One of those runners was stranded in the first inning, when Paoli struck out swinging with a runner on second to end the inning.
Looking back, that should have been a sign that the Bobcats would struggle offensively, and sure enough, they did.
“We squared balls up, we just hit them right at people,” Ohio head coach Kenzie Roark said. “We had a few hard hit balls in the gap that they made great plays on.”
Great defense is no surprise from Central Michigan, the team that made by far the fewest errors in the MAC this season. They had just one error Thursday, and even that was a popup that shortstop Maddie Springer couldn’t quite snag with the sun in her eyes while sprinting into shallow left field.
Ohio’s defense, however, was not as stellar. In Central Michigan’s big third inning, where they scored four runs and blew the game open, Ohio couldn’t quite make a couple of close plays that might have ended the inning. Instead, it culminated in a Lauren Yuhas error that allowed the fourth run to score.
In the next inning, a leadoff double knocked Ohio starter Mackensie Kohl out of the game, which led to probably the only bright spot for Ohio on an extremely disappointing afternoon.
Kylie Coffelt came in for four innings of relief and allowed just one run on three hits and retired 12 of the 16 batters she faced.
Coffelt has improved immensely over the course of this season, and Thursday was no different as she did all she could to keep Ohio in the game.
“(Coffelt’s performance) was big, it gave us a chance,” Roark said. “Anytime you can come in and keep the score where it’s at, that gives you a chance to win.”
Ohio now faces a win-or-go-home game against Bowling Green. The two teams squared off back in March in Ohio’s second MAC series of the season. They only played two of the three games, as the third was canceled due to weather, and they each won one.
The Bobcats’ offense will need to show up Friday, but if we have learned anything about the Bobcats this season, it’s that they can score runs at will. They may be facing elimination, but the Bobcats’ postseason is far from over.