Lehto shutout leads CMU softball to series opener win versus Ohio

Junior pitcher Grace Lehto pitches during a game against Kent State Tuesday, March 28 at Margo Jonker Stadium. Lehto was the winning pitcher of the first game.

Junior Grace Lehto went into the circle for Central Michigan softball looking to knock off the hottest team in the Mid-American Conference. Lehto delivered with a one-hit shutout to lead the Chippewas to a 6-0 opening series win over the Ohio Bobcats on Friday.

Lehto got the win on the mound to move to 6-8 on the season, pitching seven innings and allowing no runs on one hit with five strikeouts and one walk.

“I'm just really, really happy with her consistent confidence,” head coach McCall Salmon said. “We noted in the dugout that after she gave up that hit, she started throwing harder. So (I) just thought she moved the ball well and kept them off balance. And, you know, she deserved that win today.”

CMU moves to 15-17 overall and 5-4 in conference play. 

“I think it was a great carryover from our Sunday doubleheader sweep at NIU,” Salmon said. “Just seeing all the pieces come together offensively, defensively and on the mound. So, Grace (Lehto) pitched a heck of a game. I thought defense backed her up very well. And, you know, offensively, we put the pressure on every single inning.” 

With the win, the Chippewas ended the Bobcats’ 10 game win streak as Ohio sits at the top of the MAC with an overall record of 20-15 and 10-3 in the conference. 

“You got to beat the teams at the top of the MAC in order to get to the top of the MAC,” Salmon said. “There's a lot of games to be played, but every single game is important, and we knew, you know, coming off of Ball State, we had to continue to stay gritty and work to win every series.”

Coming out of the nine spot, redshirt senior Samantha Mills went 3-for-3 at the plate with two singles and a double, scoring one run for CMU. 

“One thing we've always talked about earlier in the season is consistency in the bottom of our order in order to flip over to the top,” Salmon said. “So, you know ... being consistent there, I thought it was huge for (Mills) and great day for her plate.” 

CMU was unable to capitalize on good starts at the plate, leaving five runners on base in the first two innings. However, the Chippewas struck first in the bottom of the third when senior Kelsey Alexander and junior Lucy Cronin crossed home plate off of two throwing errors from the Bobcats to make it 2-0. 

Back-to-back base hits from junior Abbey Tolmie and Mills opened the bottom of the fourth for the Chippewas. On the next at bat, CMU took advantage of another error from the Ohio defense as freshman pinch runner Cierra Laska scored to extend the lead to three. 

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth, sophomore Allyssa Hollo delivered with an RBI single to score Mills and put the Chippewas up 4-0. Redshirt junior Skylar Coberley continued the momentum on the next at bat with a single to center field to add two more runs to CMU’s tally, 6-0. 

The Chippewa defense secured three-straight outs in the bottom of the seventh to secure the win. 

CMU continues the season series against Ohio on Saturday with a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m.