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Ohio infielder Sydney Grein (33) throws the ball to a teammateagainst Northern Illinois at Ohio Softball Field in Athens, Apr. 7, 2024.

Softball: Ohio returns to what makes it so dangerous in recent winning streak

A 1-6 start to Mid-American Conference play was far from what Ohio (20-18, 8-6 MAC) wanted. Quite frankly, that is probably the worst thing that could have happened. Teams talk all the time about playing with consistency and vigor throughout the season. As the calendar turned to March, Ohio embarked on a stretch that saw it go 5-13 in March. That number might look a little better considering the pair of wins Ohio picked up in the final two games of the month. So how does a team that looked dead in the water arrive at this point in the season with everything in front of it?

The obvious answer to that would be winning. Ohio used the final two games against Central Michigan to close out the month on a two-game winning streak. Since then, Ohio has stretched that streak to a season-high seven games.

The formula for Ohio has been figuring out how to win games late. Ohio has outscored its opponents 26-8 from the fourth inning on during this streak. Breakout stars Shelby Westler and Yasmine Logan have anchored the middle of the lineup, assisted by catcher Emma Hoffner. Each of them has taken turns as the marquee hitter on a given day for Ohio. Skipp Miller and Mikie Lieving have dominated in the circle, allowing there to be more room for error at the plate and for Ohio Head Coach Jenna Hall to allow her team to become more aggressive on the bases. 

The way Ohio is playing, there is no doubt that it is capable of winning the MAC in a typical season. However, this season, Miami (29-6, 11-0 MAC) has ruled the conference. Miami’s dominant season rolls on with it continuing a 16-game win streak and 11-0 start to MAC play. Ohio was swept by its biggest rival in the most recent edition of The Battle of the Bricks in Oxford. Miami has an offense that rivals any in the country, as it has hit 68 more home runs than the next team in the conference rankings with 101 home runs. Simply put, Miami is an offensive juggernaut and a force to be reckoned with this season. 

That being said, games are not played on paper or with statistics. Ohio and Miami look poised to meet again this season in the MAC Tournament. It feels rather unlikely that, given its current pace, Miami will lose more than six of its final 16 MAC games. Ohio does not need to compete with Miami in the standings. It needs to compete with the two teams ahead of it in the standings, Toledo (18-14, 9-3 MAC) and Akron (17-20, 7-5 MAC). Those two teams are on the radar for Ohio, granting it a great chance at moving to second place in the conference. 

One area where Ohio has the advantage over nearly all of its conference foes is in the circle. The reigning Freshman Pitcher of the Year, Miller has been able to find her peak form again this season. Miller is joined by Lieving in the rotation as the latter makes a push for the same award that was given to Miller a season ago. Miller and Lieving employ a similar strategy of allowing the batters to put the ball in play. This is a strategy that has worked in recent weeks as Ohio’s defense has been rather crisp. When the two pitchers are on point, there may not be a better one-two punch in the conference. 

One thing that has been seen at all levels of play is that good pitching beats good hitting. The adage “hitting wins games, but pitching wins championships” is something Ohio hopes rings true this spring as it attempts to unseat its bitter rival as conference champs. 

This is not to say that Ohio is bound to meet Miami in the MAC Tournament and pull off a magical Cinderella-esque run to capture conference supremacy from its rivals. Maybe it does happen, but the fact is that Ohio has positioned itself very well to actually compete for the conference crown. Out of any team in the MAC, Ohio boasts the best shot at unseating Miami as the champion. Between the level of experience and the quality of play recently, Ohio matches up with Miami far better than when the teams matched up a few weeks ago.  


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