By: Chris Yangas
Frigid weather in Athens set up for a close, low-scoring game between Ohio and Western Michigan in the 2016 MAC opener until Mikayla Cooper blasted a 3-run home run in the fifth inning, helping the Bobcats beat the Broncos, 5-2, Friday.
Taylor Saxton started Ohio’s surge with one out in the fifth inning when she swung at the ball, making it ricochet off the corner of home plate – in what had the effect of a bunt – but she ran it out for a base hit. Saxton then stole a base, and Deanna Cole grounded a pitch to advance Saxton to third base in the fifth inning.
Cole’s sacrificial out made for two outs and set the stage for Cooper to bat: a chance to raise her team and her slugging percentage.
Clearly, the pressure of breaking the tie didn’t get to her.
“I don’t like to think when I’m up at bat,” Cooper said. “I honestly didn’t know where the runners were. With two outs, I just think ‘I’m gonna’ go out there and I’m gonna’ kill it.’”
Cooper had an opportunity earlier in the contest to extend a 2-1 lead over the Broncos with Saxton at third and two outs, but she flied out to end the third inning. What got Cooper out then was that she admittedly missed Western Michigan pitcher Allyson Kus’ change-up pitch.
But Cooper knew how to make the adjustment in her third at-bat and crushed her sixth home run of the season, making the game, 5-2, and giving Ohio (18-8, 1-0 MAC) a win in its first MAC game of the season.
Ohio coach Jodi Hermanek attributes some of Cooper’s success to the way teammates pitch to her during recent practices.
“That was a great rise-ball pitch that she just did an amazing job staying through,” coach Hermanek said. “But that’s also her swing. I just told Madison (Claytor) and (Savannah Jo Dorsey) that we gotta’ stay relaxed and keep challenging her, and make her doing something different than the insider and make her chase a bit more.”
It’s hard to believe the ability of Hermanek and Cooper herself to decipher her hits and misses hasn’t paid off in a big way for Cooper this season. To say she’s been accurate is an understatement: Her success Friday brings her to a .442 batting average for the season.
Cooper has also hit a pair of homers and batted in five runs the last two games alone, going back to Ohio’s 7-0 shutout win over Marshall last Tuesday. She’s been big for the ‘Cats.
“I kind of like when I have pressure on me,” Cooper said. “It shows I don’t crack; it shows that I can fight through it.”
Ohio plays two more games against Western Michigan in a double-header tomorrow at the same venue, starting at 1 p.m.