ATHENS, Ohio –Under first-year head coach Kenzie Roark, the Ohio softball team will open the 46th season of Bobcat softball when they travel to Kennesaw, Ga., to participate in the Phyllis Rafter Memorial. While there, the Bobcats will take on Eastern Illinois, Chattanooga, Morehead State and host Kennesaw State.
The Bobcats will take on Eastern Illinois on Friday, February 8 at 12 p.m. and Chattanooga at 2:30 p.m. On Saturday, Ohio will face Morehead State at 12:30 p.m. before playing Kennesaw State at 5:30 p.m. Play concludes on Sunday when the Bobcats take on Eastern Illinois one last time at 12:30 p.m.
THE KENZIE ROARK ERA BEGINS
The 2019 season marks new head coach Kenzie Roark's first season with the Bobcats. Before coming to Ohio, Roark spent four years with South Carolina Upstate as their pitching coach. Under her coaching, the Spartans won two Atlantic Sun Conference Regular Reason Championships and three ASUN Tournament Championships. Multiple of Roark's pitchers were recognized, including two ASUN Pitchers of the Year.
Before Upstate, Roarke was the pitching coach at East Tennessee State from 2012-14 where she helped the Lady Bucs accumulate their most wins since 2010. Roark's career began at Virginia Tech as a student assistant in 2011; this coaching staff was named the 2012 NFCA Mid-Atlantic Region Coaching Staff of the Year.
Before working for the Hokies, Roark played for Virginia Tech. She was named an Atlantic Coast Conference All-Tournament and Player of the Week during her career. As a freshman, she made an appearance in the 2008 College World Series. She ranks second all-time with 155 career appearances and fourth with 510 strikeouts, solidifying Roark as one of Virginia Tech's greatest pitchers of all time.
NEW STAFF FACES
Along with Roark, Ashley Taylor and Garrett Furnel were also added to the Bobcats staff to round out the 2019 coaching staff.
Taylor comes to Ohio after one year as the assistant softball coach at Tennessee Tech., after a successful collegiate career at Austin Peay.
Furnal spent last season at UNC Wilmington. In 2018, UNCW advanced to the CAA tournament for the second consecutive year. The CAA head softball coaches in the conference identified UNCW sophomore Dominique Travers and freshman Emily Langkamp as top athletes in the conference. Langkamp was also named All-Rookie Team after starting all 49 games recording the fewest strikeouts on the team. Two other girls joined the 100-Hit Club and multiple athletes received spots on the North Carolina Collegiate Sports Information Association All-State Second Team.
2018 BOBCAT REWIND
Ohio finished the 2018 season 40-17, 20-3 in-conference, clinching the Mid-American Conference Regualr season crown for the first time since 1995 and earning their first ever number one seed in the MAC Tournemnt. The Bobcats would go on to win the 2018 MAC Tournament crown for the first time since 2014. After downing Northern Illinois 2-0, the Bobcats continued on to the NCAA Tournament Regionals in Knoxville, Tenn. While there, the Bobcats earned their first two NCAA victories, defeating Monmouth and James Madison, helping them advance to the Regional Finals for the first time in program history.
Overall, the team finished with a collective on-base percentage of .365, a .462 slugging percentage and a .283 batting average. The Bobcats scored 304 runs, had 274 RBIs, hit 72 doubles and 57 homeruns, stole 37 bases and had 16 shutouts.
The Bobcats have six returning seniors, including Alex Day and redshirt senior Michaela Dorsey. Day finished the 2018 season with the highest batting average of the returners, .333. In 195 at-bats, she knocked 12 homeruns and 44 RBIs. Dorsey falls not far behind with a .329 batting average, 46 hits, 10 doubles and eight homeruns. Last Season, Day and Dorsey both earned NFCA All-Mideast Region honors, while Day was also named to the All-MAC first team.
Morgan Geno also returns for the Bocbats, last season the designated hitter finished the season hitting .254 with a .571 slugging percentage, nine homeruns and eight doubles. Geno also earned All-MAC second team honors.
Other returners include sophomores Katie Yun, who was named to the MAC All-Freshman Team, Allie Englant, Brooke Rice and Madi McCrady, juniors Desirae Villanueva, Alexa Holland, and Kendall Meeks, and seniors MacKenzie Brunswick, Deanna Cole and Natalie Alvarez.
NEW TO THE SQUAD
Ohio is welcoming five newcomers to the team. Charlee Pond looks to add depth to the Bobcats' infield along with Caroline Spacek. Pond was named the Coastal League's Offensive Player of the Year and named All-State First Team twice while Spacek was named Newcomer of the year in 2014 as well as the Offensive "MVP" the following year. Mackensie Kohl looks to contribute in the circle; she lettered three times and helped lead her team to a Division I Championship in 2016. Taytum Hargrave brings additional speed to the outfield; she led her high school team in both batting average and stolen bases for three years and was named All-Conference three times as well. Justice Ruggles will be contributing in the outfield; she was named All-Conference, All-District, All-Regional and First Team All-State multiple years in a row.
The Bobcats were picked to finish third in the Mid-American Conference preseason poll. Both Ball State, who received six first place votes, and Kent State, who received two first place votes, finished ahead of Ohio in first and second place, respectively. Western Michigan finished fourth.
SCOUTING EASTERN ILLINOIS
The Panthers finished the 2018 season 36-20, closing out the season with their highest winning percentage (.643) since 2014. With a 13-9 record in the Ohio Valley Conference, Eastern Illinois finished the season sixth overall in their conference after falling to Austin Peay in the OVC Tournament.
Among the returners for the Panthers is junior Haley Mitchell, senior Kalya Bear. Mitchell led the team in 2018 with a .417 batting average; in 54 games and 180 at-bats, she finished the season with 75 hits, 12 homeruns and 63 RBIs. Bear followed closely behind with a .354 cumulative batting average and 70 hits.
Returning to the circle for Eastern Illinois is sophomore Valerie Thompson. In 2018, Thompson appeared in 15 games, pitched a total of 34.1 innings and struck out 13 batters.
Chattanooga's 2018 season came to an end in the Southern Conference Tournament, finishing the season 26-30 overall and fourth in the Southern Conference.
Returning for the Mocs is junior Aly Walker. In 2018, Walker was at the top of the pack with a .361 batting average and .534 slugging percentage. She finished the season with 28 runs scored, nine doubles, one triple, four homeruns and 13 RBIs.
Junior Celie Hudson will be returning to pitch for Chattanooga. Last season, she made 36 appearances with 28 starts and 13 complete games, closing out the season with a 3.62 ERA.
SCOUTING MOREHEAD STATE
Morehead State finished their 2018 season 28-23, falling to Austin Peay in the Ohio Valley Conference 1-0 in 10 innings. As a team, the Eagles 35 doubles, 30 homeruns and 141 RBIs on the season.
Senior Aubrey Bennett is returning to the field for the Morehead State. In her 2018 season, Bennett played in all 51 games. She finished with 37 hits and two doubles.
Sophomore Megan Murphy is returning to the circle for the Eagles. Last season, Murphy had an ERA of 4.02, made eight appearances and pitched 15.2 innings. Sophomore Sara King will also be returning; the team added freshmen left-hander Lakyn Largent to the 2019 pitching staff as well.
SCOUTING KENNESAW STATE
After clinching their program's first Atlantic Sun Conference championship, the Owls' 2018 season came to a close in the NCAA Regional, falling to Jacksonville State in 10 innings. Kennesaw State finished 39-17 overall, losing only three ASUN conference games.
Juniors Maddie Roth and Olivia Gocke as well as sophomore Lexi Solorzano are returning for the Owls. All three led the team with .377, .353 and .319 batting averages, respectively. Roth had the second highest number of RBIs on the season, finishing with 36. Gocke finished the 2018 season with 66 hits and 10 doubles and Solorzano finished her freshman season with a .435 slugging percentage.
Senior Haley Andrews is returning to pitch for Kennesaw State. In 42 innings pitched, Andrews struck out 37 batters, gave up 14 earned runs and finished the season with a 2.33 ERA. She appeared in 12 games, started in seven and won five.
Up next, the Bobcats head to Columbia, South Carolina, to participate in the Gamecock Invitational. On Friday, February 15, Ohio takes on South Carolina at 5 p.m. Play continues on Saturday where the Bobcats are set to play UNC Greensboro at 10 a.m. On Sunday, the Bobcats face off against Campbell at 10 a.m. and then Charlotte at 3 p.m.