With three weekends to go, the Bobcats have a two-game lead for the sixth — and final tournament qualifying — spot in the Mid-American Conference.
The question now, however, is can Ohio navigate the toughest portion of league play and continue to hold on to that position?
The Bobcats (15-26, 9-9 MAC) lead Western Michigan (6-10 MAC), Bowling Green (6-12) and Eastern Michigan (6-12) for the coveted sixth place in the standings. Ohio faces league heavyweight Miami (32-12, 12-6 MAC) in a pivotal three-game series this weekend at Bob Wren Stadium.
It’s the last home series of the year for Ohio, which will have to travel to MAC-leading Ball State (28-15, 12-4 MAC) for a three-game series next weekend. The Bobcats don’t have to win each one of the next six games to reach the conference tournament, but a couple wins would go a long way to locking up a tournament spot.
Ohio’s final MAC series will be May 16-18 at Western Michigan. It’s possible the Bobcats will have clinched a spot in the tournament by then. But if losses stack up against the MAC’s best over the next weekends that could be a do-or-die trip for Ohio.
“We knew this was going to be the toughest stretch, right?” said Ohio head coach Rob Smith on Sunday, after his Bobcats won 1 of 3 in a home series against Kent State.
“Our biggest goal is just to be able to get ourselves into position where if we win a series at Western, we’re in.”
Miami will be a tough opponent to stack up wins against. The RedHawks, cooled off with two losses last weekend against NIU, slipped from first place in the MAC for the first time all season after last weekend.
Miami brings a potent offense to Athens. The RedHawks rank 11th nationally in batting average (.310), lead the country in triples (27), and check in No. 4 in the NCAA in on-base percentage (.420).
Christian Tejada (.359) and Jordan Stephens (.344 and .406 in MAC play) lead an offense that is averaging 7.4 runs per game. The Bobcats, hitting. 235 on the year, average just 4.8 runs per game.
The series begins on Friday with a 6 p.m. start in Bob Wren Stadium with Ohio’s Edward Kutt IV (3-2, 2.50 ERA) taking on Miami right-hander Sam Bachman (6-0, 3.76 ERA.
The series continues on Saturday with a scheduled 3 p.m. start, and wraps up on Sunday at 1 p.m. Ohio’s Sunday starter — Kenny Ogg (3-6, 4.88 ERA) — has been unbeatable in his last two starts.
Ogg knows every start, every game, is imperative to the Bobcats’ chances of making the MAC Tournament.
“This is it, this is the season right now,” Ogg said Sunday, after throwing eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory. “We all want the ball in our hands in that situation.”
Softball wraps up regular-season at Buffalo
Ohio (28-19, 9-8 MAC) will be at Buffalo (10-29-1, 6-7-1 MAC) for a three-game series on the final weekend of the regular season in MAC softball play.
The series begins with a 3 p.m. start on Friday, then concludes with a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday. All three games will be played at Dobson Field at nearby D’Youville College.
Ohio is currently in a three-way tie for fourth place in the MAC standings. Miami (13-4 MAC) will lock up the regular-season title with its next win, and will be hosting last place Akron this weekend.
Because of a number of weather cancellations this season, the MAC standings will come down to winning percentage. It means the seeding for the MAC Tournament — one through eight — will be tough to forecast until all games have been accounted for.
For example, Ball State (9-8 MAC) will be playing non-league opponents this weekend — there are 11 teams in the MAC this season. The Cardinals .529 winning percent may be good enough to hold on to fourth, but Ohio could pass BSU with a pair of wins this weekend.
If the Bobcats win one game — either one of three or one of just one — they’ll clinch a spot in the MAC Tournament.
Buffalo needs at least one win, and perhaps two, to punch a ticket for the postseason tournament.
The 2019 MAC Tournament will begin on Wednesday, May 8 in Akron. The Bobcats are the defending tournament champions.