Last season, the Ashland University baseball team missed out on the GLIAC Tournament for the first time since 2005 (the team did not play the requisite number of games). Otherwise, AU had never missed the conference tournament since its inception in 2003.
This year, the Eagles have engineered a complete turnaround from 2017. Last season, Ashland finished the season with a 20-29 record. In 2018, the Eagles won their 20th game on April 10 and have rolled to a 30-18 record, earning the No. 3 seed in this week's GLIAC Tournament.
Ashland will play No. 4-seed Wayne State in the opening round of the tournament on Thursday (May 10) at 6 p.m. at the Detroit Police Athletic League. The double-elimination tournament continues until the championship game on Sunday.
The Eagles will likely enter the weekend ranked in the top eight in the region, but a strong performance in the conference tournament should cement their status in the NCAA Midwest Regional field.
One of the main reasons for the Eagles' success has been their ability to win close games. The Eagles are 11-2 in one-run games. They also have six walk-off wins and 10 wins in their last at-bat.
"It says a lot about our hitters. It says a lot abour whole team, really. We never quit," said AU head coach John Schaly. "We think eventually we'll get to their pitching. It doesn't mean we always do. I think it just says a lot about our resiliency and how we never quit."
The Eagles went 4-1 last week with all the games decided by one run. The margins between wins and losses have been razor thin. Against No. 17 Ohio Dominican last Wednesday, the Eagles rallied for five runs in the bottom of the eighth to win, 13-12.
Over the weekend, the Eagles took three of four games from Tiffin with two coming on walk-offs – one on a two-run homer by senior Connor Barleben and the other when senior Greg Ludwig scored on a wild pitch. In the series finale, the Eagles scored three in the bottom of the eighth to cut their deficit to 6-5, but the game was called after the inning due to darkness. With another inning, perhaps the ending would have been different.
So Ashland comes into the GLIAC Tournament knowing how to win tight games. The Eagles went 0-2 in the conference tournament in 2016, but won its first two games at the Midwest Regional tournament. In 2015, they advanced to the GLIAC Championship game and the Midwest Regional title game.
Despite missing last year's conference tournament, the Eagles are not far removed from postseason success. That journey begins again this week.