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Ohio catcher Emma Hoffner (7) makes the catch against Northern Illinois at Ohio Softball Field in Athens, Apr. 7, 2024.

Softball: Emma Hoffner leads Ohio in doubleheader sweep against Northern Illinois

At any level of softball, having a reliable catcher is integral to success. After all, there is no other position on the field that can see everything directly. For Ohio, Emma Hoffner is the rock behind the dish. Her contributions in the doubleheader sweep against Northern Illinois cannot go underappreciated like the importance of a good catcher. 

In Game 1 of the doubleheader, Hoffner got Ohio on the board with a blooper into left field for a single. While Hoffner’s offensive production in Game 1, with the exception of a walk that would later turn into a run for Ohio, would end there, her contributions to her team were not over. 

Hoffner worked with Ohio ace Skipp Miller to attempt to navigate an up-and-down pitching performance.

However, in the top of the sixth, Ohio was clinging to a narrow 8-6 lead when Ohio Coach Jenna Hall summoned freshman Mikie Lieving to take over for Miller. Lieving initially struggled to find the strike zone, throwing three straight balls to her first batter before giving up a hit to put the go-ahead run at the plate. A strikeout and line drive double play ended the inning, but that could not have been done without some help behind the plate. Hoffner assisted Miller and Lieving in getting through the first six innings and keeping Ohio in the game to keep a comeback attempt a possibility. 

That became more than a possibility as Ohio scored 3 runs in each of the final two innings of Game 1, going on to win 11-6. 

Game 2 was a completely different story for Hoffner. With Lieving getting the start, Hall also decided to change her lineup. Hoffner, who hit fifth in the previous game, would move down to the eighth spot in the second game. 

“We always talk about being in the lineup is the most important thing,” Hall said. “Especially with the way our offense is working, I feel like everybody’s getting on base … I just wanted her to get on time more. She was getting jammed up a little bit in the first game. She made a huge adjustment and saw the ball really well.” 

Hoffner had one of her best statistical performances of the season in Game 2. She put Ohio ahead 2-1 when she smoked a two-run home run in the second inning. In her next at-bat, she put Ohio ahead again, this time with an RBI double. To cap off an excellent day at the plate, Hoffner drove in her fourth run of the game to make it 4-2, Ohio, which would be the final score of Game 2. 

“I was just trying to be more consistent,” Hoffner said. “I think I’ve had games the last couple series where I’ve done really well in one game and going back and forth (with good and bad games). I just tried to get back to the basics: hit the ball and just do a job ... It turns out that doing a job is exactly what gets this team runs.” 

Another proud aspect of Hoffner’s game comes defensively. During the doubleheader, she caught two runners stealing, something that can swing the outcome of a game. Northern Illinois has one of the most potent baserunning attacks in the conference, leading the MAC with 72 steals entering the series. Hoffner was motivated by the matchup last season, during which she remembers being victimized by this attack. 

“They (Northern Illinois) stole a lot of bases on me,” Hoffner said. “I think we all knew that going in. They took a lot of bases ... I did not want to let that happen two years in a row.” 

The ability to shut down a running game greatly helps a freshman pitcher like Lieving. Ohio’s freshman pitcher has shown flashes of brilliance in her first season, but has also had her share of difficulties. One of the things that can happen when she is struggling is that she will be unable to locate her pitches. All day Saturday, Lieving was able to find the right pitch to throw in the right spot and execute. 

“She just mixed stuff up really well,” Hoffner said. “I think when (hitters) made adjustments on her, she was able to come back and try to make the adjustments back. Her changeup is amazing when it’s on. I think that was working today a lot.” 

When one thinks about how Hoffner helps her team, it is easy to think about her hitting prowess, which makes her a threat to do damage at the plate. However, one of the things that makes her so integral to her team is her ability to control the pace of the game. Her pitchers trust her to keep everything in front of her and calm them when things start to speed up. Hoffner is one of the main reasons Ohio will continue with its current six-game winning streak. 

@mbgoldstein1107

mg126321@ohio.edu

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