Ohio's (30-20, 20-8 Mid-American Conference) path to No. 1 in the MAC tournament wasn't an easy one coming into the weekend, and a 5-3 loss to Buffalo (13-36, 7-18 Mid-American Conference) in game 1 ended its chances of hosting the tournament. However, considering the Bobcats' gloomy outlook headed into game 2 and their porous start in game 2, the Bobcats can hold their heads high following their performance in the doubleheader.
The Bobcats received bad news long before the first pitch against Buffalo. Miami, the only team ahead of Ohio going into the weekend, beat Kent State in the series opener Friday night. That result meant that if the Redhawks won both of their games on Saturday they would automatically clinch the No.1 seed in the MAC tournament. The Redhawks could have also clinched the No.1 seed with a win and a Bobcat loss in one of the two games it played against Buffalo.
With the pressure on, pitcher Skipp Miller delivered quality pitches after a slight hiccup. Miller walked two of the game's first three batters, but a soft liner to Sydney Grein turned into a double play and kept the Bulls out of the scoring column. Even though the Bobcats recorded the first two hits of the game, they didn't get a runner into scoring position until Belle Hummel reached on a passed ball and used aggressive base-running to get to third. Alexis Dawe then flew out, stranding Hummel on third, but the Bobcats' offense put together successful at-bats in the fourth. Emma Hoffner scored the game's first run with a solo home run to left field, and just two batters later, Grein hit another solo home run to center field.
While the Bobcats' offense worked to create a lead, Miller didn't allow a hit through the first four innings of the game. Miller's no-hit bid was abruptly ended when Abbey Nagel blooped a single to center field that Yasmine Logan couldn't quite catch. The weak-hit single didn't appear to faze Miller who popped up the next Bulls hitter, but Miller then let the next two hitters reach base leaving the bases loaded with only one out. Kate Vara then delivered a crushing blow to Ohio's chances at hosting the MAC tournament, when she hit a grand slam to left-center field giving the Bulls a 4-2 lead.
A once-promising start for Miller turned ugly in the sixth when Mia Mitchell doubled at the beginning of the inning and subsequently stole home on a double steal play. Miller walked two more Bulls hitters and was taken out for Keegan Moore. Moore got out of a bases-loaded two-out jam, but the Bobcats trailed by three runs heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Despite only giving up four hits, Miller gave up five earned runs in 5 and 2/3 innings pitched.
In the bottom of the sixth, an error meant the Bobcats had runners on the corners with only one out for Shelby Westler. Westler grounded into a fielder's choice which scored the Bobcats' third run of the game, but still had them behind. After Cici Keidel walked, Tori O'Brien had a chance to tie the game or put the Bobcats in front, but she grounded to the pitcher to end the inning.
The Bobcats had one last chance in the bottom of the seventh, but the first two hitters failed to reach base. Alexis Dawe was hit by a pitch which gave Hoffner an opportunity to tie the game, instead, she grounded out and the Bobcats lost the game 5-3.
Hoffner finished the game, 2-for-4 with a double and a home run. Grein finished the game 1-for-3 with a home run. A tough defeat became worse when Miami defeated Kent State 4-1 in the first game of their doubleheader. This result, combined with Ohio's defeat in game 1, means the Redhawks will host the MAC tournament.
Although the Bobcats' chances at No. 1 in the MAC tournament were gone, a win in game 2 and a Miami loss in the afternoon could keep the Bobcats' hopes of being co-regular season champs alive.
Much like Miller in game 1, Ohio Pitcher Kylie Coffelt started dominant in game 2. Coffelt retired the first twelve hitters she faced, including three straight strikeouts in the third inning.
The first hit of the game came in the bottom of the third inning when Yasmine Logan hit an infield single, but neither Dawe nor Hoffner could take advantage of the opportunity with a runner on second.
In the bottom of the fourth, Annalia Paoli had the first extra-base hit of the game with a double to right. Grein then reached on an infield single, and advanced Paoli to third. Westler drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single, but Grein was tagged out on a ground ball hit from Keidel and the Bobcats made no further damage in the inning.
Just like in the previous game, the Bulls broke up another no-hit bid with a single to lead off the fifth. Coffelt walked the next hitter she faced, and Lily Lauck doubled to tie the game. Another walk loaded the bases with no outs, but Coffelt was able to use the urgency of the situation to her advantage. A ground ball hit directly to Grein allowed her to get the force out at home, and a high, shallow foul ball was caught for out number two. Coffelt struck out the next batter and got out of the bases-loaded-no-outs jam unscathed.
"Bases were loaded, I knew that wasn't going to be a big deal," Coffelt said. "I knew my defense had it behind me, and so I just hit my spots and went from there."
Coffelt pitched the full seven innings, allowing only two earned runs while striking out eight hitters.
Ohio's offense stalled in the fifth, and Abbey Nagel hit a 2-run double in the top of the sixth to put the Bulls on top.
Trailing by two runs in the bottom of the seventh, Keidel gave the Bobcats a perfect start when she lined a double to center field that went over the outfielder's head. O'Brien singled with a perfect bunt that advanced Keidel to third and Kaci Branch delivered an RBI single as a pinch hitter. With two runners on and no outs, Logan crushed a walk-off 3-run home run to left, giving the Bobcats a 5-3 win.
"I was glad to see the fight at the end," head coach Jenna Hall said. "I told them afterwards, 'When we're intentional and focused like that last inning, we can do pretty much anything we want to do when it comes to offense.'"
Logan finished the game 2-for-4 with 3 RBIs, while Westler went 1-for-3 with an RBI.
Ohio's win combined with a surprising 10-8 loss from Miami in its second game, means it is a win on Sunday away from a co-MAC regular season championship.