Tough ending

Ohio catcher Natalie Alvarez, seen here earlier this season, had four hits and three RBIs in a pair of games on Saturday, but the Bobcats had a sour finish to the season. Toledo beat Ohio, 6-5 and then 9-2, in the championship round of the 2019 MAC Softball Tournament on Saturday, May 11, 2019 at Firestone Stadium in Akron.

Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, May 12 newspaper on Page B1.

AKRON — The Bobcats were on the brink of a program-first, a back-to-back run of being the conference tournament champion.

Instead, it literally fell through their hands.

Toledo, with three wins in one day, stunned Ohio in the championship round of the 2019 Mid-American Conference Softball Tournament on Saturday at Firestone Stadium. The Rockets (29-26), needing two wins in consecutive games against Ohio, won the opener 6-5, then routed the Bobcats 9-2 in the final.

Ohio (34-21) played brilliant softball for most of the tournament. But it all came unraveled at the end.

The Bobcats led Toledo 5-0 in the ‘first’ championship game on Saturday, and needed just six outs to secure a return to the NCAA Tournament. But Ohio lost its nerve.

The Bobcats had three errors in the final two innings of the first game, which opened the gates for Toledo’s six-run rally and tide-turning come-from-behind victory. In the second game, Ohio had five more errors — and had to stare down the plethora of unearned runs that followed.

Through the first 27 innings of the tournament, Ohio had two errors. The Bobcats had eight in their final eight.

Ohio pitcher Madi McCrady (23-13) was saddled with both losses, but the mistakes in the field were far more crushing to the Bobcats’ hopes. McCrady appeared to wear down late in the opener on Saturday, but returned to start the second game.

Toledo, however, appeared to have been able to lock on McCrady and was able to dial in. The Rockets had five hits in a five-run fourth inning in the second game that sealed Ohio’s fate.

The Rockets earned the championship. Toledo, throughout the week, beat each of the top four seeds in the tournament. The Rockets knocked off No. 2 Kent State twice, and then beat No. 3 Ohio twice in the championship round. Toledo also managed wins over No. 4 Northern Illinois and No. 2 Miami in the loser’s bracket.

The Rockets beat Miami, 5-0, in the first game of the day on Saturday to punch their ticket to the final. Ohio beat Toledo, 7-2, in the second round of the tournament on Thursday.

The appearance in the championship round was the fourth in four years for Ohio, but the Bobcats have just one title in those four chances. Saturday’s setback mirrored Ohio’s disappointment in 2017, when the Bobcats then reached the final unblemished but lost twice in the same day to Kent State for the MAC title.

Ohio’s two MAC Tournament championships have come in 2014 and 2018.

Toledo 6, Ohio 5

The Bobcats nursed a 1-0 lead until the fifth, and appeared to have the championship within its grasp after a four-run outburst.

Alex Day’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0, and Natalie Alvarez added a two-run single to make it 4-0. Charlee Pond’s RBI single made it 5-0.

And then it started to fall apart. Toledo scored three times in the sixth, via Kaitlyn Bergman’s two-run homer and Raelyn Nyren’s RBI double after an Ohio fielding error that would have ended the inning.

The ‘Cats still led 5-3 in the seventh. After a lead-off single, consecutive Ohio errors set the stage for the game-winning rally.

Bergman’s bases-loaded walk, off a tiring McCrady, tied the game 5-5.

Two batters later, Aubrey Reed lofted a sacrifice fly to deep center that pushed across the winning run. Ohio left a runner stranded at second in the bottom half of the inning.

McCrady took the loss after giving up three earned runs over seven innings. She gave up five hits and five walks with two strikeouts.

Erin Hunt, the fourth Toledo pitcher used, got the win with two innings of scoreless relief.

Toledo 9, Ohio 2

McCrady and the Bobcats responded well to the disappoint early in game two. Ohio scored in the first inning on another Alvarez RBI single, and McCrady worked three scoreless innings at the start.

But the Rockets just kept coming, and took the game over in the bottom of the fourth. Nyren tied the game 1-1 on her groundout with runners on the corners.

Then, with the bases loaded, Kylie Norwood sent a single to center that skipped by the Ohio outfield and rolled to the fence. Three runs scored on the play, and the Rockets tacked on another later in the inning on an errant pickoff throw.

Now down 5-1, Ohio got a run back in the fifth on Day’s RBI double. But it was a short respite.

Toledo added on four more runs in the sixth after four consecutive RBI singles from Samantha Golden, Ami Ill, Norwood and Megan Choate. That barrage came after two more Ohio errors set the stage, and all four runs — charged to reliever Kendall Meeks — were unearned.

McCrady left in the fourth inning and took a second consecutive loss, after giving up five runs (4 earned), on seven hits in 3.2 innings. Meeks pitched the final 2.1 innings for Ohio.

Hunt (16-11) picked up a second straight win for Toledo. She didn’t strike out a single batter, gave up eight hits and walked two, but her defense was sound behind her and she limited Ohio to just two runs.

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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