INDIANAPOLIS - The coaching profession has a burnout factor that probably exceeds that of most jobs. Multiple hours, assorted duties and hundreds of headaches make for a lot of long days – and sometimes years.
Ashland University head softball coach Sheilah Gulas has never let those drawbacks get her down. Gulas has treated those potential pitfalls the same way she's treated 800 other foes – she's gotten the better of them. Saturday (May 11) in an elimination game in the NCAA regional tournament in Indianapolis, Gulas got her 800th career victory as Ashland stayed alive with a 9-1, five-inning win over Wayne State.
The win put AU into another elimination game on Saturday afternoon against Lewis. On Friday, Lewis defeated the Eagles, 5-0. On Saturday, Lewis lost to Indianapolis, 4-1.
Gulas has won 597 games at Ashland. This is the fifth straight year she's led the Eagles into the NCAA playoffs. Before coming to AU, she was the head coach at Allegheny and Wittenberg. As her record attests, she's been a big winner at every stop.
Her team made sure she wouldn't have to sweat out this win. The Eagles (28-19) clubbed three homers and broke open the game with a six-run, fourth inning. Ashland ended the game with nine hits and five extra-base knocks.
"Before the game, I tried to take the pressure of them," said Gulas, when asked about her team's pursuit of her 800th win and trying to remain in the tournament. "I said, "Let's play for the seniors, they're missing graduation. Let's play to beat Wayne State. I don't know if that put it in the back of their mind."
Gulas had an indication that this game would be different than yesterday's against Lewis in the first inning. Ashland's first two hitters – third baseman Jerrica Young (Loudonville, Ohio) and second baseman Cayla Seidler (Massillon, Ohio/Massillon Washington) - were retired by WSU pitcher Briana Lee, but both drove the ball to the fence.
"I knew if we could keep putting up quality at-bats we could score," said Gulas. "Did I think it would be an eight-run rule? No. But we only had one quality at bat yesterday."
Nikki Fulton gave WSU (30-22) a 1-0 lead with a home run to dead center in the top of the third. Ashland retaliated with two runs in the bottom of the third. Young started the inning with a double to right-center field. She moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Seidler and scored when designated player Jen Moore (Jeromesville, Ohio/Hillsdale) homered to left field.
Moore's homer was a mammoth shot, traveling an estimated 300 feet. It cleared the left-field fence, a road behind the fence and landed in the yard of a residence across the street.
AU's six-run fourth inning included a run-scoring double by catcher Tawna Garver (Mansfield, Ohio/Hillsdale), a two-run homer by Young and a three-run homer by right fielder Kourtney Yarnall (Canton, Ohio/Perry). Young has 11 homers – she belted 10 a year ago. Moore and Yarnall have seven homers apiece.
Young ended the game 2-for-3 and first baseman Franki Gironda (Akron, Ohio/Hoban) was 2-for-2.
AU starter Amber McDermott (Creston, Ohio/Norwayne) went five innings. The only run she allowed came on Fulton's homer. McDermott was touched for five hits. She is 12-6.
Lee (12-15) took the loss, allowing six runs in 3.2 innings. Mackenzie Boehler gave up three runs (two earned) in an inning.
The win gave the Eagles some revenge. Last week, WSU ended Ashland's run in the GLIAC Tournament with a 3-2 win. The Eagles end the year with a 2-3 record against the Warriors.
This would qualify as one of the best coaching jobs Gulas has done at Ashland. She had to rebuild the pitching staff and lost two dominating players from a year ago – pitcher Emlyn Knerem and third baseman Alyssa Kelley. AU started the year slow – at one point the Eagles were 8-11. However, by midseason the Eagles were playing well in all phases of the game. They finished third in the GLIAC.
"I knew at the start of the season this team had a good chance," said Gulas. "It was a monkey on our back the last few games. The girls got it done. Now, we just have to keep moving on."