Coming off a weekend in which Ohio was swept by rival Kent State, the team is still hopeful in its ability to make a run for the Mid-American Conference championship.
Entering last weekend, Ohio was part of a four-way tie for first in the MAC with Kent State, Ball State and Central Michigan. After losing three to Kent State, the team has fallen out of first and into fifth in the MAC standings.
“The mentality at this time of year is that we have to be the hunter, we can’t be the hunted. We have to go out there and be aggressive and be the aggressor and punch a team in the face first before we get punched,” Ohio coach Craig Moore said. “I think with that mindset and with the guys' maturity and the ups and downs that we’ve had all year, I don’t think they're affected by where we’re at and where we want to go.”
Ohio has a chance to climb back up in the MAC with important series against Ball State and Western Michigan in the coming two weeks, two teams that are currently ahead of Ohio in the MAC standings.
“We have an opportunity to head to Kalamazoo to play (Western Michigan) which is going to be a very big series, it’s not an easy place to play,” Moore said. “I have the utmost confidence and belief in our guys and our team that they will rise to the challenge. I just have a feeling that they will; I know this team and I know that we will. They’ve done it numerous times over the course of the year, we just weren't able to do it over the weekend.”
Before Ohio makes the trip to Kalamazoo, they will partake in their final home series of the year against Ball State this weekend. The series against Ball State will have similar implications as the one against Western Michigan and gives Ohio a chance to get back on track after last weekend.
Ohio’s final series of the regular season will be against an Akron team that has struggled in the conference with a 9-15 record. If Ohio can hang on and reach the MAC tournament, it will have a chance to do something it hasn’t done in the last five years: win the MAC.
“We’ve been talking about it since the fall; you want to put yourself in a position to play meaningful games in May. We’ve done that, this team has done that, they’ve put themselves in a position to play meaningful games,” Moore said. “I think if they work together and stay together as a team, then that can be the difference.”
Although this year’s team is capable of rivaling Ohio’s past tournament teams, they are far different in nature from any of Ohio’s recent championship teams.
In the past, Ohio was carried by pitching and defense. This year, pitching has been the weak point of a team that displays one of the best offenses in the conference.
The last time Ohio won the MAC in 2017, the team had a combined ERA of 4.42. Meanwhile, the current combined ERA of the 2023 team is 7.99.
“In order for us to make a run down the stretch, we need to execute on the mound. We’ve got to be fundamentally sound defensively… If you can pitch well and make the routine plays, then it gives your offense a chance, an opportunity to win a game late, obviously we’ve shown the capability to do that with our offense to win games late,” Moore said. “That’s what needs to happen for us to get into a position to start to win games.”
Ohio has seemingly been one step away all season. If it can put it all together down the stretch and form a complete team of both great offense and good pitching, there’s no reason why it can’t take home its first MAC championship since 2017.