Two goals down, many more to go for Ashland University's baseball team.
The Eagles (31-18), who already have won the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division title and a share of the conference's regular-season crown this spring, will begin the quest for a GLIAC Tournament championship and an automatic NCAA Division II Midwest Regional berth on Thursday (May 12) at 10:30 a.m. against Walsh (26-24) at the Athletes in Action Sports Complex in Xenia, Ohio.
"We're excited to be in the tournament," said Ashland head coach John Schaly. "We know we're going to have to play well. I think every team there could win it. We're looking forward to the challenges."
Ashland is the tournament's No. 2 seed, Walsh No. 5. On Thursday at 2 p.m., No. 1 Grand Valley State (31-15-1) and No. 6 Hillsdale (30-20) will play. At 5:30 p.m., No. 3 Malone (26-22) takes on No. 4 Wayne State (27-22).
The GLIAC Tournament championship game(s) will be Sunday (May 15) at 11 a.m., and, if necessary, a second game to follow. The NCAA Division II tournament selection show will be Sunday at 10 p.m. on NCAA.com.
The Eagles are looking for their first GLIAC Tournament championship since 2013, when they defeated both Ohio Dominican (7-5) and the Lakers (6-4) to secure the title. They also are seeking their 15th D-II postseason appearance.
Sorma ranks second in the GLIAC with 14 home runs and fourth with 51 RBIs, and is on a 23-game hitting streak. Hampshire is the fourth-best hitter in the conference at .391, and is third in RBIs with 52. He is on a 10-game hitting streak.
"Both Mackenzie and J.P. have been swinging the bat very well of late," Schaly said. "We're confident with our entire lineup. We have swung the bats well, and we think we can put some runs on the board. Hopefully, we can continue that."
Through the regular season, the Eagles are second in the conference in batting average (.328), runs scored (369) and on-base percentage (.409), and third in slugging percentage (.464).
There are few Division II pitchers who have been better in 2016 than junior right-hander Brandyn Sittinger. Through May 8, Sittinger is tied for sixth in the country in wins (10), sixth in strikeouts (106) and third in strikeouts per nine innings (13.19).
"Brandyn's had a great year, has really improved from a year ago to make that next step," said Schaly. "Our guys are very confident when he's on the mound that we're going to win."
Ashland also boasts the reigning GLIAC South Division Pitcher of the Week in junior lefty Mike Gentile, who has been both a starter and a reliever in his first season since transferring from American International. In four starts as an Eagle, Gentile is 2-0 with a 1.93 earned-run average.
The Eagles are third in the league with a 4.69 ERA, but first in strikeouts per nine innings (8.98).
Ashland's team fielding percentage (.964) is fifth in the GLIAC.
"We've got a set lineup now, and we're fielding well over .960, which is always a goal in college baseball," Schaly said. "Our pitchers are confident that if they can get a ground ball, we'll get an out. Overall, we've played very, very sound defense this year."
EAGLES AGAINST THE FIELD
The Eagles and Cavaliers split a four-game set in Canton on April 23-24, and combined for 79 runs.
"We shut them down for two of the four games," Schaly said. "It's a brand-new season. Everybody's the same, 0-0. We're looking forward to the challenge, and it's going to be a lot of fun. We'll be ready tomorrow morning."
In 2016, Ashland is 2-2 against Grand Valley State, 3-1 vs. Hillsdale and Malone and 0-1 vs. Wayne State.