Photo by Spencer Hawk
It’s the 1980s, and the Ohio softball team takes the field against Eastern Michigan. Rona Huber stands at first base, ready for the next play. The batter squares up for a bunt and the ball pops into the air. Huber sprints toward the plate; the catcher goes up for the catch. The ball spins off the catcher’s mitt. Huber dives for the ball, snagging it before it hits the ground. Batter’s out.
“I couldn’t tell you the score of that game, but it is moments like that I remember,” Rona Dorsey says, recalling one of the most memorable moments of her collegiate career. Huber took on the name Dorsey after marrying Steve Dorsey in 1991.
On Saturday, March 18, Rona’s daughter, Savannah Dorsey, recorded her own memorable moment for the Bobcats during game one of a doubleheader. In the sixth inning with the score tied 1-1, Savannah was called in as a relief pitcher against Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Savannah put up three straight strikeouts to end the seventh inning and send the game into extras.
However, it wasn’t an extra-innings win that once again put the redshirt junior in the Ohio record books, it was the final strikeout of the seventh. With that last pitch in the books, Savannah became the first Bobcat to reach 600 career strikeouts.
“It was nice coming here and having that legacy ahead of me,” Savannah says of her mother’s time at Ohio. “She’s still in the record books for pitching [and] I’m a pitcher so it meant a lot to me.”
Savannah isn’t the only Dorsey legacy taking the field for the Bobcats this year. As of April 5, her younger sister, redshirt freshman Michaela, has started all 35 games of the 2016 season. Although, their older sister, Skye Dorsey, was involved in softball throughout high school, she did not go on to play for the Bobcats.
“Michaela was just a no-brainer, she just basically said her and Savannah made a deal that wherever Sav went, that was where she was going,” Rona says.
The Dorsey sisters are playing together as part of one of the most successful teams in program history, while their mother played on one of the more successful teams of the ’80s.
Rona was a pitcher and infielder on the Ohio softball team from 1981 to 1984, less than 10 years after the program started competing in the fast-pitch format in 1975. As of the end of the 2014 season, she holds the title of ninth all-time career wins with 30 and third all-time career earned run average (ERA) with a 1.65.
The game has evolved tremendously since the ’80s. As more young women took up softball, there was an increasing need for individualized coaching to help players get stronger and better.
“Kids nowadays have personal hitting coaches and pitching coaches and different things like that,” Rona says. “We didn’t play year-round back when I played. … You put the ball down halfway through the summer [and] you had the summer and the fall that you could rest and recuperate.”
Two players who have benefitted from the evolution of softball are Rona’s own daughters. Growing up, the two played travel ball throughout the summer and under their mother’s instruction during the school year at Central Crossing High School in Grove City, Ohio.
“It was difficult in the fact that you’re like coaching your own kids. And you have to always be aware of that — you’re a coach first, not a parent in those moments when you want to be a parent and you can’t be,” Rona says.
Although some players would consider having a parent as a coach an annoyance, Savannah and Michaela attribute their strong work ethics and resilience to their mother’s coaching.
“She would always ask me, ‘How great do you want to be?’ … So when I realized that I was in control of how good I wanted to be, and how good I could be, then she would always push me like, ‘How good do you want to be? Do you want to be better? Then work harder,’ ” Savannah says.
Savannah now leads the Bobcats in single-season pitching records for wins, with 25 in the 2014 season, and strikeouts, with 298 in the 2014 season. As of April 5, she also leads the team in wins for the 2016 season with 16 and ERA with 1.78 in 28 total appearances.
“Growing up, I would say … I was always blessed with kind of not working as hard and just having it naturally,” Michaela says. “And Savannah would be out there every day working, and would be better than me … and I [wouldn’t get it.] And my mom would always be like, ‘Work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ ”
Although Michaela now plays as an outfielder for the Bobcats, she was a catcher for her sister Savannah in high school, who is now one of the best pitchers in the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
“I’d say way younger I could always catch her, but I could never hit against her cause I would cry if I had to get in the box,” Michaela says with a laugh. “But then growing up into high school, I would catch and she would pitch and honestly that was probably one of the best times in my life.”
During Michaela’s freshman year at Ohio, the team looked to build on one of the most successful seasons in the softball program’s history. The previous year, the ’Cats went to the NCAA regional tournament after winning the 2014 MAC Tournament, where Savannah was named MVP.
The 2015 season left the Bobcats without either Dorsey sister, as both redshirted due to injury; Michaela had a broken arm and Savannah had two herniated discs.
“It’s a tough situation to redshirt, but it was really nice — even though I don’t like seeing her go through it — it was nice to have her there so we could get through [it] together,” Savannah says.
“It was funny, a lot of times you can’t say that redshirting was fun,” Michaela says. “I mean we both wanted to be out there. … So when we redshirted together, we made the best [of] the worst situation.”
Now entering the 2016 season, both Dorsey sisters have a clean bill of health and are looking to help their team bring home a championship. The MAC preseason poll placed Ohio softball as the predicted regular season champions, but the Dorsey sisters are striving for much more than that.
“I think we have higher expectations than that poll said, because that lists us as first in the season [and] second in the tournament,” Savannah says. “But I think that we will be first in the tournament, and first in the season and first in the [MAC] East. … So, MAC champs, that’s a good goal, but that’s not our end goal.”
While Ohio softball strives to make its third NCAA tournament appearance, Rona will be cheering on her daughters from the sidelines. Her transition from coach to mother has been smooth and she’s focused on enjoying her new role.
“Right now it’s just a joy to watch them participate. … Now you have somebody else making decisions and they’re becoming involved or engrossed in that team, and they’re on their own,” Rona says.
In the annual Ohio softball alumni game during Savannah’s freshman year, one moment exemplified the family’s love for each other and the game.
During the game, Rona went up to bat presumably against another pitcher. But when she stepped up to the plate, her own daughter, Savannah, stared back at her from 43 feet away.
“I wasn’t even pitching that inning and they pulled the other girl off the mound real quick and was like, ‘Go pitch against your mom!’ ” Savannah says.
A fastball and two change-ups later, Rona found herself walking back to the dugout after striking out to her daughter.
“She got lucky,” Rona says with a laugh. “She struck me out with the changeup, hook-line-and-sinker. I actually followed it to the ground and I was pretty ticked about it.”
“I threw her an easy fastball and she let it go by. And then I threw her two change-ups in a row and she swung at both,” Savannah says with a grin on her face. “And she’s the one to … smack-talk, so it was fun.”
No matter what level the Dorsey sisters have played on, whether it’s in the NCAA Regional tournament or travel softball, Rona has supported them all the way. She taught her daughters lessons they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.