KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Trailing 2-0 going into the bottom of the fifth inning, the Ohio softball team (40-16) would go on to score six runs and hit two homeruns to help propel the Bobcats to a 7-3 victory over No. 23/25 James Madison (43-12), in the elimination game of the 2018 NCAA Knoxville Regional, inside Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. The win sends Ohio to the Knoxville Regional Championship series against No. 10 Tennessee tomorrow (May 20) at 1 p.m.
The two wins today mark the first two wins in program history for the Bobcats in the NCAA Tournament, and mark the first time ever that Ohio will play for a spot in next weekend's Super Regionals.
"We are so excited to be a part of the championship series for the regional for the first time in program history," head coach Jodi Hermanek said. "I'm just so ecstatically proud of our team and our program for delivering two huge games today and a long, long battle, a strong battle. Just super proud."
In the top of the first inning, the James Madison leadoff batter, Morgan Tolle would reach first on a single to center. However, the Bobcat defense would retire the next three to send the game to the bottom of the frame with the game scoreless.
Ohio would get their first hit of the game in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, Alex Day (Hilliard, Ohio) would single through the right side. However, JMU would get out of the inning, sending the game to the second with it still tied at 0-0.
JMU would get another leadoff runner on in the top of the second inning when Kierstin Roadcap led off with a double off the top of the wall. However, the Ohio defense would get the next three outs to send the game to the bottom of the frame with it still scoreless.
Ohio would get another baserunner on in the bottom of the second inning. Natalie Alvarez (Long Beach, Calif.) would lead off the inning with a walk. She would be replaced on the bases by Deanna Cole (Akron, Ohio). Cole would move to second on a sacrifice bunt, however the Bobcats would be unable to score, sending the game to the third with it tied at 0-0.
JMU would get a runner on in the top of the third, when with one out, Tolle drew a walk, However, Allie Englant (Long Beach, Calif.) would collect the last two outs of the inning to send the game to the bottom of the frame with it still tied at 0-0.
The Bobcats would get another baserunner on in the bottom of the third inning, when with two outs, Day would be hit by a pitch. However, the Bobcats would not be able to get her around, sending the game to the fourth inning with it still tied at 0-0.
JMU would get another baserunner on in the top of the fourth inning, when with two outs, Jessica Mrozek would single off the right center wall. However, starter Madi McCrady (Brimfield, Ohio) would get the next batter to lineout to center, ending the inning and sending the game to the bottom of the fourth with it still tied at 0-0.
Ohio would get a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the fourth inning. Katie Yun (North Canton, Ohio) led the inning off with a single. She would then move to second on a sacrifice bunt. However, JMU would record the next two outs, sending the game to the top of the fifth with the game still scoreless.
James Madison would strike in the top of the fifth inning. Pinch hitter Lynsey Meeks would draw a walk. Madison Naujokas would re-enter the game to run. Naujokas would score the next at bat when Samuels reached on a throwing error. Naujokas would then move to third on a fly ball. Naujokas would then score on a one-out RBI single from Sara Jubas. Danielle Stiene (Loveland, Ohio) would then enter the game to take over for reliever Kendall Meeks (Guysville, Ohio), and Stiene would record the next two outs to send the game to the bottom of the fifth inning with Ohio trailing 2-0.
The Bobcats would come roaring back in the bottom of the fifth inning. With one out, Saxton would reach first on a single and then move to third on a throwing error by the leftfielder. She would then score moments later when Mikayla Cooper (Delaware, Ohio) doubled to left center. Then with two outs, Morgan Geno (Chillicothe, Ohio) would demolish a homerun to the right field bleachers, putting Ohio up 3-2.
However, the Bobcats weren't done yet. After Yun reached on a fielding error, Alvarez would destroy a homerun of her own to left field, giving Ohio a 5-2 lead. Then after a JMU pitching change, Michaela Dorsey (Grove City, Ohio) would single to left field and then score on a MacKenzie Brunswick (Bellefontaine, Ohio) triple to the right field corner. JMU would record the final out, however, the Bobcats would have scored six runs to take a 6-2 lead to the top of the sixth.
"That's just the stage that we're on," Hermanek said. "There's going to be pressure given to you at this stage of the season. If we can just stay calm, trust one pitch at a time, whether it's offensively or defensively what we're delivering, then we're going to see with clarity. If we can see with clarity, then we're going to be able to come out the way that we want to and finish. I think that we've been practicing what we preach there on the clarity part for a lot of parts of the season and nobody buckled up under pressure. So, I think that we're still clear. I think we're still being resilient under pressure and it's just a big maturity stat to the team."
JMU would get a run back in the top of the sixth inning. After Stiene struck out the first batter, Mrozek would single and move to second on an error. Mrozek would then score on a one-out RBI single from Natalie Cutright. Stiene would then get the next two batters to strike out, ending the inning with Ohio leading 6-3.
Ohio would get the run back in the bottom of the sixth inning. Saxton would reach first on a single and then advance to third on another JMU throwing error. Cooper would then bring her home on a sacrifice fly. JMU would record the next two batters, but the Bobcats would go to the top of the seventh with a 7-3 lead.
The Bobcats would go out on defense in the top of the seventh inning and would send the Dukes down in order, ending the game and sealing the Bobcats' 7-3 victory.
At the plate, Ohio scored seven runs on nine hits. Saxton went 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Geno and Alvarez both added home runs and two RBI apiece, while Brunswick added a triple and an RBI and Cooper recorded a double and two RBI. Day added a hit, while Yun and Dorsey both recorded a hit and a run scored.
In the circle, McCrady got the start, going four innings, allowing no runs on three hits and walking one. Meeks pitched 0.1 innings, allowing two runs on one hit. Stiene (29-7) would wrap up the game, going 2.2 innings, allowing one run on two hits and striking out three batters.
The Bobcats return to action in the Knoxville Regional Championship series tomorrow (May 20) at 1 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3.