Updated Wed, Feb 26, 2014 1:01 pm
A 12-1 start for the Ohio softball team has the Bobcats in exciting new territory.
With the best record among Mid-American Conference schools three weeks into the 2014 season, the ‘Cats are finding ways to win in a season in which some expected the team to fall off.
“It’s one of the best starts I’ve had of my coaching career,” head coach Jodi Hermanek said. “They deserve it. It’s what they’ve worked hard for and now they’ve got to be hungry for more.”
In losing catcher Lauren Gellerman along with first baseman and pitcher Caitlin Colvin, Ohio lost its top two home run hitters, run producers and run scorers, with the two having combined for 44 home runs, 97 RBIs and 79 runs in 2013.
Ohio has also missed redshirt senior Chelsea Hortman, who has yet to play in a game this season.
On top of the losses of Gellerman and Colvin, the Bobcats’ play without Hortman has to be considered impressive. Hortman was expected to lead this Ohio offense, but her presence has hardly been missed. The senior hit .329 a year ago, slugged five home runs and posted 20 RBIs in just 82 at-bats.
“She’s healthy. She’s good,” Hermanek said. But Hermanek did not give a definitive answer about the slugger’s status.
Losing stars has not caused Ohio to miss a beat in terms of performance. The Bobcats have hit a combined .322 and are receiving notable contributions from numerous Bobcats. Without Hortman, Gellerman and Colvin the team has still managed to average 5.2 runs a game, compared to 4.7 in 2013.
The production won’t stop with the silencing of one bat either.
Players like Adrienne Gebele, Alexandria Basquez Amanda Dalton and Madison Claytor are all wielding hot bats. Gebele and Claytor are hitting above .400 and are pacing the Ohio offense. Gebele in particular is feeling it with a .476 batting average and a .511 on-base percentage in the heart of the lineup.
“Everyone had a job and they did it,” Dalton said. “We can move runners, we can hit home runs, we can do all of it. We don’t have to rely on one or two people throughout the lineup to get the job done. We’re solid all the way through.
Basquez leads the team in RBIs at 11 and relishes stepping into a leadership role.
“Just knowing that I can actually help, it feels great,” Basquez said. “Just being able to know that my team trusts me to be able to step into the box means a lot, especially since it’s my senior year.”
Ohio started off the season going 4-0 at the Carolina Classic and defeated the likes of Iowa and South Carolina. Over that weekend, the ‘Cats scored 33 runs and received contributions from nearly the whole lineup.
“It is kind of cool beating super high-ranked teams but it is kind of just business now,” Dalton said. “We see what level we can play at and now we go into tournaments thinking there’s no one we can’t beat.”
Ohio’s offense fell off a bit in the next four games, as it scored only 11 runs over four games at the Opsrey Invitational on the campus of the University of North Florida.
In stepped the Ohio pitching, led by Savannah Jo Dorsey who earned victories in each of the team’s four games on the weekend. Dorsey allowed only two runs (one earned) over 22 innings at the Osprey Invitational. Dorsey’s no-hitter in Ohio’s last game of the invitational is the highlight of the Bobcats’ young season so far.
The sophomore has struck out 66 opponents and has an ERA of 2.04 in 57 1/3 innings of work and maintains a record of 9-1.
The Bobcats can be counted on for clutch late-game play, as they showed in Jacksonville. Last at-bat wins against Savannah State (a sacrifice fly off the bat of Basquez ended the game) and a 5-4 walk-off single against Troy by Gebele helped to prove the team’s clutch play. Not to forget the first weekend’s performances in which Ohio scored runs late to stave off good opponents at the Carolina Classic.
Ohio further exemplified the ability to win close games, winning four of its five games at the Frost Classic, with all of the wins coming by three runs or less.
In fact, 11 of Ohio’s 12 wins in 2014 have been by three runs or less.
On top of Dorsey’s pitching, Lauren McClary has settled into the permanent No. 2 spot in the rotation and has tossed 31 solid innings this season.
Stepping into the spots in the lineup that many times were previously occupied Colvin and Gellerman, freshmen Madison Claytor and Casie Hutchinson have provided an unanticipated spark. Claytor has filled the vacant catcher’s spot that previously seemed like it would go to Gebele who now plays in the outfield.
Hutchinson is hitting a hot .385 while filling the three-spot formerly occupied by Gellerman. Claytor is hitting .432 and has nine RBIs and 26 total bases.
“We were so excited, we were all shocked when Madison stepped in and she was starting catching right away” Basquez said. “No hesitation, stepped right in and started calling pitches.”
With a group of Bobcats going off with their bats mixed with pitching prowess and clutch play, Ohio has a motivated group that looks set to speed along with power to conference play.