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Ohio reached heights the program hadn’t before in 2018. The Bobcats earned not just their first win in NCAA Tournament play, but also won twice while they were at the Knoxville Regional.
After losing the first game in Knoxville to James Madison, 2-1, in a rain-lengthened affair, Ohio came back on Saturday with its back against the wall in the double-elimination bracket.
In the second game of three at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium on Saturday, May 20, the Bobcats won their first NCAA Tournament game. Ohio shut out Monmouth, 4-0. In the nightcap, Ohio came back from a two-run deficit with a wild six-run inning to avenge the previous loss to James Madison, 7-3.
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Taylor Saxton throws the ball to Mikayla Cooper after an out during Ohio's game against Buffalo on Friday, April 27. The Bobcats beat the Bulls 9-1. (FILE)
The next day, Ohio played host Tennessee in the championship series of the Regional, where the Bobcats had to win two games, compared to Lady Vols only having to win one game.
Ohio lost to Tennessee 5-1, ending its magical season.
That magical season contained a Mid-American Conference Championship, the second time the Bobcats won the conference tournament. They also won the MAC regular season title for the second time ever, too.
Danielle Stiene cemented herself in the Ohio record books. She was the MAC Pitcher of the Year and also won MAC Tournament MVP. She threw a no-hitter in the semifinal of the tournament.
She was strong all season, going 29-6. The 29 wins set a program record, and she finished second all-time in strikeouts in program history.
At the plate, Ohio was led by then-seniors Mikayla Cooper and Taylor Saxton. Cooper led the team with a .335 average, also chipping in 11 home runs. It was bolstered by the juniors, such as first-team all-MAC infielder Alex Day, who led the team with 12 homers.
That junior class also holds players that will lead the team in this upcoming season, with Natalie Alvarez returning behind the plate, Morgan Geno will hold down the designated hitter spot, and Mackenzie Brunswick and Michaela Dorsey anchor the outfield.
With all the success, coach Jodi Hermanek was hired away to coach at an Atlantic Coast Conference school in < a href="https://www.thepostathens.com/article/2018/08/ohio-softball-coach-jodi-hermanek-accepts-new-position-at-pitt">Pitt. Hermanek coached the Bobcats for ten seasons, going 289-252.
Kenzie Roark was hired to take Hermanek’s place. Roark played her college softball at Virginia Tech and was most recently an assistant coach at South Carolina Upstate for the past five seasons.
Ohio failed to make the Mid-American Conference Tournament, but still had the conference player of the year in Rudy Rott.
Rott was the third player in program history to earn MAC Player of the Year honors, following Mitch Longo in 2015 and Marc Krauss in 2009.
He led the Bobcats in average, hits, home runs and RBIs. He was the conference leader in hits and was tied for the lead in home runs.
Rott also had a .996 fielding percentage, committing only two errors on the season at first base. He will look to improve on those numbers in his senior season.
Ohio’s senior class of hitters included Tony Giannini, two-way player Michael Klein, Nick Bredeson and Evan Bourn.
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Ohio second baseman Aaron Levy tags Northern Illinois' Samuel Vega during a doubleheader on March 31. (FILE)
Giannini and then-sophomore Tanner Piechnick were the only two hitters other than Rott to have more than 50 hits. With Rott as the exception, the Bobcat offense struggled. They hit .254 as a team, with Rott’s 15 home runs contributing almost a third of the team’s 47.
Ohio graduated a lot from its pitching staff from a year ago. The Bobcats’ Friday starter last year, Gerry Salisbury, is the headliner. They also graduated Josh Petersen, Logan Jacik, Jake Roehn, Butch Baird, Cory Blessing and the two-way player, Klein.
Pitchers such as Eddie Kutt, Derek Carr, Nick Kamrada, Chace Harris, among others, will likely be carrying the load for Ohio this season.
Ohio’s pitching, kind of like its hitting, struggled for parts of the season. As a team, the Bobcats pitched to a 4.45 ERA. Salisbury led the team in innings, with 82, and had a 4.94 ERA.
Roehn, who holds the Ohio record for career saves, struggled at times, too. He had a 4.65 ERA in 31 innings. He also almost gave up a hit per inning, with 30 hits allowed over the season.
With the Bobcats’ struggles, they missed the MAC tournament, finishing eighth. The top six teams make the tournament in Avon. They finished five losses worse than the No. 6 team, Eastern Michigan.