Moments before she was slated to take the field on Tuesday (Mar. 20) at Brookside Park, Ashland University senior pitcher Emlyn Knerem (Brunswick, Ohio) was scratched due to an upset stomach.
For the next 90 minutes her replacement, freshman Amber McDermott (Milford, Ohio), had the Walsh Cavaliers rummaging through the medicine kit for some Tums.
McDermott twirled a complete-game five-hitter to help send the AU softball team to a 2-1 victory in the first game of the doubleheader. In the second game, Knerem got her legs back under her and the Eagles used a three-run fifth inning to subdue the Cavaliers, 5-3. The sweep gives Ashland a nine-game winning streak and a 16-4 record. This was a non-conference twinbill. Next year, Walsh joins the GLIAC.
McDermott didn't have much time to get ready when Knerem was forced back to the dugout. In the first inning, she allowed a run on two hits, a sacrifice fly by Kelsey Testa driving in Dana Brown, who had singled. The rookie wasn't exactly throwing aspirin tablets at the Cavaliers (10-10), but she was consistently around the plate and she got stronger as the game progressed. At one point, she retired 12 consecutive batters. If the Cavaliers were going to get to her, they needed to do it before she settled in. With every out she got, McDermott seemed to grow in confidence.
"She started and did a great job," gushed AU head coach Sheilah Gulas. "Other than the first inning, she did well, she let them hit it and then our defense was right there. I thought her pitch placement was very good. She worked a lot of good corners and kept her composure out there."
McDermott (3-2) came up big for two reasons. First, with Knerem ailing, AU didn't have another healthy hurler who was ready to go. She needed to provide seven innings. Her margin of error wasn't great either because Walsh starter and loser Erin Ebert (5-5) is one tough customer.
Ebert, from nearby Jeromesville, Ohio, pretty much quieted all the Eagles except senior third baseman Alyssa Kelley (Mentor, Ohio) and junior first baseman Franki Gironda (Akron, Ohio/Hoban). Both players were 2-for-3. Gironda drove in both runs and Kelley scored both times.
In the first inning with two outs, Kelley doubled to right center and Gironda followed with a two-bagger to center field. In the third with one out, Kelley singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and came home when Gironda singled sharply to right field.
"She's seeing the ball well," said Gulas of Gironda, who is hitting at a .356 clip and is tied for the team lead in RBI (16) while batting cleanup. "She has a great approach at the plate right now. She's doing everything we need in that spot."
That was all the damage Ebert allowed. She went the distance and allowed six hits. She walked two and struck out five. McDermott allowed five hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
Knerem, who Gulas estimated was pitching at about 60 percent efficiency, struggled early in the second game. The Cavaliers pushed across two runs in the second, one on a wild pitch and followed that up in the third with a single run. That last run came on a double by third baseman Kendra Gerber, who was 2-for-3. Walsh had four hits in the game.
After those first three innings Knerem rallied. Her teammates helped her raise her record to 12-0 with some timely hitting.
AU sliced the deficit to 3-1 in the fourth when freshman outfielder Taylor Menhart (Twinsburg, Ohio) hit her fifth triple of the season and came home to score on a single by catcher Tawna Garver (Mansfield, Ohio/Hillsdale).
AU went ahead to stay with three runs in the fifth. A Garver ground ball to second scored Menhart with the first run of the frame. With two outs, sophomore outfielder Kourtney Yarnall (Canton, Ohio/Perry) yanked the first pitch she saw from relief pitcher Hannah Dodson into left center for a two-run double. That gave AU a 4-3 lead.
"She's been having some quality at bats," said Gulas of Yarnall. "I think in the first game today she had an at bat where she must have seen 12 pitches. Then she hits the first pitch she sees. Boom. She knew exactly what she wanted to do."
AU added a run in the sixth. The frame started with a pinch-hit single by sophomore Carly Clark (Strasburg, Ohio). Sophomore Carly West (Ashland, Ohio/Hillsdale) pinch ran and eventually scored when Kelley bounced out to second.
Ashland had seven hits in the second game. As for Knerem, she went the distance and walked four and whiffed seven.
AU opens GLIAC play this Friday (Mar. 23, 3:30 p.m.) when it hosts Northwood at Brookside Park.