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Members of the Ohio softball team huddle up for a cheer during the second game against Western Michigan at Ohio Softball Field, April 20, 2024, in Athens.

Softball: Ohio's second season under Jenna Hall brings hopeful future to program

Ohio’s 2024 season ultimately came to an end last week without a Mid-American Conference trophy in hand or an NCAA Tournament appearance on the horizon. Despite ending the season on a loss, second-year Ohio coach Jenna Hall and the entire program have set a steady foundation for prolonged success to come.

Each area of the game - pitching, hitting and defense - shined at different times in 2024 but also showed areas for improvement. However, a second consecutive 30-win season in Hall’s first two seasons at the helm is nothing to brush aside. Hall established a culture of winning and discipline on the field that might not show up in any box scores, but it is evident by watching the games. 

In the circle, it was another successful campaign for redshirt sophomore Skipp Miller. Despite having one of the best seasons in the MAC for pitching, Miller did not strike out as many batters in 2024 with 119 compared to her previous 158 during her freshman campaign. With a decrease in strikeouts, Miller also decreased the number of walks she allowed with 93 in 2023 compared to 68 in 2024. Miller kept her pitch count lower and learned how to be more efficient with her pitches. 

Miller ended the season on the All-MAC First Team for a second consecutive year.

The newcomer in the circle this season was Mikie Lieving. The freshman from New Haven, West Virginia, was a huge addition to the pitching staff, especially down the stretch. Hall leaned on Lieving from the outset of the season as the No. 2 starter behind Miller and that trust in one of her first signees paid off in spades. 

While there was a period of adjustment for Lieving in the middle of the season, the returns were overwhelmingly positive. She would improve as the season went on with her control and kept the ball on the ground while allowing her defense to work. Like Miller, she would pick up the strikeouts when she needed them but was not heavily reliant on punchouts. 

The defense for Ohio was one of the confounding spots during the season. Despite the statistics placing Ohio No. 3 in the MAC with 68 errors, some of those figures are inflated by the beginning of the season when Ohio struggled defensively. Ohio was more of a team that offered a mixed bag defensively. There were certainly times when the ball was booted on a routine play, but when it needed to, Ohio was up to the task defensively. Multiple outfield assists kept innings from spiraling out of control and diving plays on the infield made it easier for pitchers to trust the players in the field. 

Offensively, Ohio put together another strong season. Unlike its rival, Miami, Ohio did not rely on home runs for its offense. As a team, Ohio hit just 38 long balls which ranked No. 3 in the conference. That being said, Ohio was greatly overshadowed by Miami’s record-breaking year in that category. 

Simply put, Ohio hit the ball well and ran the bases well. Ohio did not score an eye-popping amount of runs, but its pitching was good enough that it did not have to score double digits every game.

Some of the big contributors offensively might not have stats that jump off the page, but the complete offensive attack from Ohio made the team dangerous. Shelby Westler continued her ascent as one of the stars for Ohio despite missing a month of play in April before returning for the MAC Tournament. Yasmine Logan and Emma Hoffner both put up good seasons ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in home runs and RBI for the team. Izzie Wilson also broke out as a freshman, hitting .313 and driving in 26 runs. 

Next season, Ohio will bring in Hall’s first full recruiting class as it loses some valuable production and experience. Four of the regular starters were seniors and will need to be replaced.

The big question for many teams after losing in the conference tournament is what is next for the future. The question becomes how Ohio closes the gap between its rival, Miami. The answer is far from obvious, but the fact is that both Miami and Ohio will battle at the top of the MAC for years to come. The next steps for Ohio will be as fascinating as it looks to maintain the successes from the past two years of Hall’s tenure into the first MAC title since 2018. 


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