Season Review: Softball claims OAC Tournament title, reaches NCAA Tournament and posts 13th consecutive upper-division OAC finish in 2018

Season Review: Softball claims OAC Tournament title, reaches NCAA Tournament and posts 13th consecutive upper-division OAC finish in 2018

By Caleb Scott

ADA — Second-year head coach Jackie Price had the Polar Bear softball team competing a high level once again in 2018 as Northern grabbed the OAC Tournament title, advanced to the NCAA Tournament and recorded its 13th straight upper-division Ohio Athletic Conference finish this season.

Northern finished the 2018 season with an impressive 32-11 record, which are the most wins the program has seen in a single season since Price played for the Polar Bears in 2010.

ONU also reached the NCAA III Tournament for the first time since Price guided the Polar Bears to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 as a player.

After posting a 13-5 record in the OAC standings in the regular season and earning the No. 2 seed in the OAC Tournament, Northern was able to knock off host Otterbein to claim its first OAC Tournament title since 2009.

An automatic bid to the NCAA III Tournament would allow ONU to square off with Case Western Reserve in the South Bend, Indiana Regional and claim an opening 1-0 victory.

Northern would then put forth a solid effort against No. 19-ranked St. Mary's (Ind.), winning the contest 5-0.

The Polar Bears season would come to an end as Case Western was able to sweep Northern the claim the South Bend, Indiana Regional title.

Ohio Northern's successful 2018 campaign was highlighted by numerous broken records and accolades along the way.

Senior Kirsten Lightel (Tallmadge) was named the Ohio Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year and the Northern coaching staff claimed Coaching Staff of the Years honors as the ONU softball team saw six athletes garner All-Conference honors for the 2018 season.

Lightel and sophomore Brady Guest (Convoy/Crestview) were named First Team All-OAC, while junior Hailee Loughman (Brookville) and sophomore Gabby Stewart (Union, Ky./St. Henry) were named Second Team All-OAC and senior Jenna Hollar (Lima/Bath) and junior Kaitlin Surdej (Lancaster/Central) were both named Honorable Mention All-OAC.

Head coach Jackie (Mangola) Price and assistants Tina (Mangola) Price and Les Bowman were named the OAC Staff of the Year. Price becomes the only coach in ONU history to be named both the OAC Player of the Year and OAC Coach of the Year at Ohio Northern. Price was named the OAC Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011.

Lightel earned her second career OAC Pitcher of the Year nod, her third career First Team All-OAC nod and her fourth career All-OAC honor.

The senior is ONU's all-time leader in strikeouts (512), career ERA (1.45), and innings pitched (602.1). Lightel is also the only pitcher in school history to throw 100 strikeouts in each of her four seasons at ONU and became the first pitcher in school history to notch 500 career strikeouts.

Lightel led the OAC this season in ERA (1.29) and wins (20) and was second in the conference with 142 strikeouts. She also tied ONU's all-time wins record (66 career victories) and set the single season record for strikeouts in 2018 (142).

Lightel was also named National Fastpitch Coaches Association Second Team All-Central Region for her efforts this season. She also gained All-American status after being named Honorable Mention All-America by Fastpitch News. She is now a 4-time All-OAC honoree, a 4-time All-Region honoree and an All-American.

Guest was named First Team All-OAC and earned her first career All-OAC honor.

The sophomore was tied for second on the team with a .371 batting average and led the team with five home runs this season. Guest drove home 28 runs this season and appeared in 38 games for ONU this season.

Loughmannow a 2-time All-OAC honoree, earned her first career Second Team All-OAC honor.

The junior infielder ranked second on the team with four home runs and was third on the team with 22 RBI.

Stewart earned her first career All-OAC honor after being named Second Team All-OAC this season.

The sophomore had a spectacular season, leading the team and ranking third in the OAC with 38 RBI. She ranked second on the team with 49 hits and was tied for second on the team with a .371 batting average.

Hollar becomes a 3-time All-OAC honoree after being named Honorable Mention All-OAC this season.

The senior became ONU's all-time career steals leader this season and led the OAC with an ONU single-season record of 40 stolen bases. Her .445 batting average leads the team and is second in the OAC, while her 65 hits ranked first on the team and in the OAC this season.

Hollar is only the sixth player in school history to register 200 career hits, joining Price and Martinez on the list. Her .395 career batting average is tied for the seventh best mark in school history, while her 146 career runs scored ranks fifth all-time at ONU.

Hollar was also named National Fastpitch Coaches Association Second Team All-Central Region for her efforts this season.

Surdej earned her first All-Conference nod after being named Honorable Mention All-OAC for the Polar Bears.

The junior ranked fourth in the OAC with a 2.63 ERA and was tied for fourth in the conference with 12 victories.

Surdej ranks fourth all-time at ONU with 245 career strikeouts, while her 32 victories now ranks ninth all-time at Northern.

The Ohio Northern softball team tied a school-record as it saw seven athletes recognized on the spring Academic All-Ohio Athletic Conference list.

The seven athletes are the most Northern has had on the list in over 20 years and ties the school record mark of seven athletes on the list set in 1996.

Seniors Miranda Huddle (Versailles) and Leanna Henry (West Jefferson), juniors Laura Burden (Pleasant Hill/Newton) and Loughman, sophomores Alicia Swierz (Deerfield/Southeast), Mallory Taylor (Olmsted Falls) and Stewart all earned the honor.

Northern opened the season winning eight straight and 10 of 12 games on its spring break trip in Florida.

After returning home, ONU opened the northern portion of the schedule by closing out the month of March and winning five of its last six games in the month.

The month of April would see the Polar Bears continue to excel as it went 9-1 to begin the month before falling in back-to-back contests to Otterbein.

Northern would finish the remaining six regular season contests with a 3-3 record to claim the No. 2 seed in the OAC Tournament.