ALLENDALE, Mich. – The St. Joseph Pumas have sponsored softball for 28 years and this is their first trip to the NCAA Division II playoffs. That being the case, no one would have been surprised if the butterflies in the stomachs of the Pumas were as big as pheasants.
Instead, on Sunday (May 6) at Grand Valley State the Pumas (37-19) were as cool as the ice in the dugout coolers. The Pumas, seeded seventh in the region, proved that they were stone cold killers, extinguishing third-seeded Ashland's dream of a trip deeper into the tournament.
SJC defeated the Eagles, 5-1 Sunday in the NCAA Division II sub-regional. This was SJC's second win over AU in this tournament, on Saturday the Pumas prevailed, 1-0. In three games in this tournament the Pumas gave up two runs and committed one error. Next weekend, SJC will play Northern Kentucky in the best-of-three Super Regional finals.
The Pumas were not the least bit tentative on the big stage. They attacked AU ace Emlyn Knerem (Brunswick, Ohio) with gusto. In the top of the first inning, the Pumas scored twice and just about every ball was hit hard. Amy Varner led off with a double to left field and after a sacrifice bunt moved her to third, second baseman Stephanie Winter doubled into the left field corner to score Varner.
Third baseman Shawn Hoskins followed that double with a single to right field to plate Winter and give SJC a 2-0 lead. The next batter, Brittnie Boerema lined out hard to left field and Knerem struck out Kristin Paris to escape the inning.
The SJC lead grew to 3-0 in the fifth inning when Winter scored from first on a single by Hoskins combined with a fielding error by center fielder Taylor Menhart (Twinsburg, Ohio).
In the sixth inning, the spread grew to 5-0 on a two-run homer by first baseman Rachel Weaver. That was Weaver's team-leading fifth homer of the year. On Sunday, SJC had 10 hits and five went for extra bases.
Knerem (29-7) exited in the sixth inning in favor of freshman Amber McDermott (Creston, Ohio/Norwayne). Knerem struck out five and left with 1,106 career strikeouts, second in AU history behind Josie Nelson (1,109). Knerem is AU's career leader in victories (95).
The Eagles (42-17), after breaking out offensively on Saturday against Grand Valley State, struggled against SJC pitching. The Pumas started Megan Ramey and she pitched into the third inning before leaving in favor of Sarah Franklin (16-8). Franklin allowed a run on four hits in 4.2 innings.
Hoskins was 3-for-4 with an RBI and designated player Audra Rains was 2-for-3 with two doubles. For AU, right fielder Kourtney Yarnall (Canton, Ohio/Perry) was 2-for-3 and
left fielder Carly West (Ashland, Ohio/Hillsdale) was 2-for-2.
This was AU's fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA playoffs.