By Pete Nakos
ATHENS, Ohio -- Losing a doubleheader in the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship — which eliminated Ohio from NCAA Tournament contention — will leave any team sour. But coach Jodi Hermanek, in her tenth year at Ohio, has dealt with losses in conference championship games in the past. Her softball teams have always gone right back to work, reloaded with another strong class of freshmen and mentally made sure the losses were put in the past.
That's what she'll be looking for heading into the 2018 season, those characteristics. Yeah, she'll be the first to tell you that it sucks being in a league where only the tournament champion makes it to the NCAA Tournament, but she's not one to make excuses.
"We had an amazing season last year," Hermanek said. "You can't just deem it as a failure because of one day last year. The accolades, accomplishment, and games we won are things you can build a program sustaining.
"I think we're not that far out as a conference from getting two teams in, we're definitely knocking on the door. Right now we have four teams in the conference under 100 RPI, that's what we as a conference are gearing up to continue. That means coming up with a strategy for your schedule — compete really hard, get some quality wins — and see how many wins we can get in our conference."
The biggest loss from last year's graduating class was Savannah Jo Dorsey. The pitcher set program records, but just a glimpse at last season tells all that is needed — a 1.13 ERA and 360 strikeouts.
But, as Hermanek says, there's always a point when she has to move on from a player. The Bobcats won't have Dorsey as their ace this season, instead, the reigns of the pitching staff will be handed over to senior pitcher Danielle Stiene.
"I'm so confident in our pitching staff," Hermanek said. "This year we have four pitchers that I can put my trust in. These practices in the full, they've done a job for us. I'm confident in this staff as a whole and they're so different that I think their uniqueness will help them finish and win games for us."
Ohio won't have trouble finding talent to replace last years, its senior class is highlighted by redshirt senior infielder Taylor Saxton, who was elected team captain for the third-straight season. Saxton hit .317 last season with an on-base percentage of .377.
She'll help lead the Bobcats along with fellow senior power hitter, Mikayla Cooper.
"With the experience we have up and down the lineup, it's really going to be about starting right where we left off," Hermanek said. "We'll need to use our experiences to put us forward the first game in."
This past off-season the Bobcats added four new freshmen to their roster: outfielder Allie Englant, infielder Katie Yun, catcher Brooke Rice and pitcher Madi McCrady. All will make immediate impacts for the Bobcats.
McCrady is expected to help Stiene with the reigns of the pitching staff. Yun will be the starting shortstop as Cooper moves over to first base to round out one of the strongest defensive infields for Ohio in recent memory. Behind the plate, Rice is one of the strongest arms Hermanek has ever seen.
Overall, for Saxton, she's content with the way her softball career has turned out, even if it meant staying an extra year. She'd like to think that she's made a lasting impact on the program.
Ohio has never been the underdog in softball, specifically in the MAC. But, over her career in Athens, she's helped the brand and name of Ohio spread through key wins, such as a win over Kentucky at the OFS two years ago.
With a new season starting, she's ready to take on an underdog mentality with games against Virginia, North Carolina State and Kentucky all in the first month of the season. The season officially starts on Friday, Feb. 16 and Saxton is ready to pull off some upsets, have the Bobcats' RPI continue to strengthen and for the season to finally start.
"I know I want to be better than I was last year," she said. "Just impacting the team in the best way I can. I just want to be remembered as a good teammate and good leader throughout this last season."