For the first 13 innings of its Wednesday afternoon doubleheader, Ohio looked nothing like a team fighting for home-field advantage in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. In fact, Toledo, its opponent, looked far hungrier and complete as it headed toward a doubleheader sweep as well as a deflating defeat for Ohio.
Then, everything turned upside down.
With Ohio down 9-6 going into the bottom of the 7th inning, Alexis Dawe led off the inning with an infield single and would later score on an RBI double off the bat of Annalia Paoli. Over the two games, Paoli only got out twice in her seven at bats and added a pair of home runs in the process.
Nonetheless, the Bobcats would need more than one run to tie the game. The hero from Tuesday’s triumph, Shelby Westler, walked to the plate with the chance to tie the game as two runners stood in scoring position. Westler’s sacrifice fly brought the Bobcats within one run, but also gave them one final chance to knot the game at nine runs apiece.
On a 1-1 count, CiCi Keidel collected her biggest hit of the season as she drove in Paoli to tie the game. The Ohio faithful in attendance erupted as it was finally able to rejoice after tense moments all day.
The 8th inning was less exciting as both teams were unable to take the lead, but the 9th inning would prove to be the chance for Ohio to flex its muscles and push its way past Toledo.
Paoli led off the inning against Toledo right hander Sophia Knight with a walk. After an infield single from Sydney Grein, the stage was again set for Westler to end the game. This time, she came through in the biggest way possible. Her walkoff hit to the right-center field gap gave Ohio a much-needed win.
However, the win does not completely cover up some of the miscues that allowed Toledo to take command of the game. Yes, the victory does mask them, but Ohio knows it will have to tighten things up moving forward if it wants a chance at hosting the MAC Tournament.
“I did think we started the game out a bit slow, a bit sloppy,” Ohio coach Jenna Hall said. “Then (we) started to get back into it. Like I said, being present enough in those moments to step up when (we) need it is huge. The confidence continued to rise and I think that is what we were lacking. There was a little hesitation early… We were a little on our heels (in Game 2), more protective rather than aggressive.”
Hall’s comments justify the notion that a combined nine errors across the doubleheader is likely not going to cut it in the postseason. While Ohio did come out on top, Hall does not necessarily believe that was due to the defense, but more likely due to timely hitting and situational awareness.
The situational awareness that won the game, though, is something that can be taken into the postseason. Ohio struggled mightily against Toledo’s Sophia Knight in the first game of the day after scoring three runs in the first inning. When Toledo brought Knight into the second game of the afternoon, any offensive progress being made was squashed.
However, Ohio was able to mount the rally in the 7th inning as well as the game-winning push in the 9th inning against Knight. One thing that was apparent was the change of approach for the Ohio hitters when facing Knight for the second time in the afternoon.
“I think that we were aggressively patient and waiting for the pitch we wanted was key,” Hall said. “I think she took us out of our comfort zones earlier in the day and then made sure that we stayed behind the ball. I think we were getting underneath it and then coming off the ball at times. We talked about getting through pitches and staying on top of them and I think that was a part of a lot of the execution late in the game.”
One of the players that seemed to excel against Knight was Paoli. Her first home run of the day was against Knight as well as her RBI double and rally-igniting walk.
“I was just looking for a hard pitch,” Paoli said. “I was laying off all the changeups because I have been swinging at them a little more than I should. I was really just looking for something hard on the inner half.”
Regardless of how it got the job done, Ohio was able to pick up the win to split the doubleheader and win the series, which could be a key moment in the race for the MAC’s top spot.