Ohio’s Ty Black slides into second base during the Bobcats’ game against Butler on March 24. (FILE)
Coach Rob Smith knows that as Mid-American Conference play begins for Ohio, one series will not be more important than any other.
Smith realizes that starting well can be beneficial, particularly in terms of securing a spot in the MAC Tournament. But he also knows that even if the Bobcats don’t start MAC play well, they can still be in position to earn a spot in the conference tournament.
The Bobcats will play their first conference series of the season this weekend on the road against Bowling Green. The first game will be Friday at 3:05 p.m., and the games on Saturday and Sunday are set for 1:05 p.m.
“We know there’s a certain number of wins we probably gotta get,” Smith said. “And the goal is to grab those wins whenever you can to get into that tournament.”
The Bobcats won the MAC Championship last year, and they won it in 2015 as well. Smith said that in 2016, he noticed teams in the conference played the Bobcats with more energy.
Ohio is the reigning champions, and as it prepares for Bowling Green, Smith figures that the Falcons will play with energy this weekend.
“We always have great, spirited, competitive series with them (the Falcons),” Smith said. “And being at their place, they’re going to come after us. So we have to match that and be ready to push that as well.”
The Bobcats have been aggressive in their hitting approach early in the season, and that’s something that could help them against the Falcons.
The Falcons’ pitching staff has an ERA of 7.21. The Bobcats have batted .277 as a team so far this season, and they have two players – Rudy Rott and Nick Bredeson – batting over .300. This season, Smith has stressed the importance of being aggressive on offense.
“Pitchers are taught to throw strikes early in the count, so hitters need to be ready to hit early in the count,” Smith said. “And the deeper it goes into the count, it tends to favor the pitcher over the hitter.”
Bowling Green has allowed 214 hits this season, and five pitchers have given up 20 or more hits. The Falcons haven’t pitched well to begin the season, but with MAC play beginning, Smith knows the intensity will be different.
In terms of the Bobcats maintaining their quality hitting against the Falcons and beyond, continuing to drive in runs will be important.
Trevor Hafner, a sophomore transfer from Sinclair Community College, has helped do that. Hafner leads the team in RBIs (16), and the Falcons’ pitchers have allowed 132 earned runs this season.
With Hafner driving his teammates in, and Rott and Bredeson leading the team in hits, the Bobcats’ lineup has proven to be a tough matchup for pitchers so far.
“Rudy is probably one of the best hitters I’ve ever played with, so you get to see how he approaches each at-bat, how he works pitchers,” Hafner said. “And then you kind of feed off that when they’re in there working, you step in and you want to do the same thing.”