FINDLAY, Ohio – Ashland University's softball team just can't stop playing – or winning – one-run games.
In the 2017 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals on Saturday (May 6) night at Marathon Diamonds, the Eagles reached their second consecutive championship round thanks to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Grand Valley State.
"It's something we've done from the very start," said Ashland head coach Sheilah Gulas, "staying in a lot of one-run games. I think it definitely made us learn to not fear it, to attack it.
"Some of those games early on we lost, but it made us stronger, and it made us where we are right now. Because this team believes. Peaking at the right moment. We're young. This team has worked its butt off from Day 1."
No. 5-seeded Ashland (30-21), 23-11 since returning from its annual Florida trip, will take on No. 3-seeded Saginaw Valley State (33-14) in the best-of-three championship round on Sunday (May 7) at 10 a.m., noon and, if necessary, 2 p.m.
Of the Eagles' 51 games in 2017, 23 have been decided by a single run (including the last six in a row), and Ashland is 15-8 in those games.
The Lakers are 32-16 after having their 20-game winning streak snapped.
After GVSU scored three runs (one unearned) in the bottom of the first inning, Ashland started its comeback with a single tally in the top of the third on a Laker error which scored junior pitcher Paige McMenemy.
The Eagles finished off their comeback with a four-spot in the top of the sixth. Ashland used the bunt and running games to take a 5-3 lead thanks to three hits and a pair of GVSU miscues.
"Our speed is definitely a strength, and putting pressure on a team," Gulas said. "Those kids, they executed outstanding. They trust each other right now."
The Lakers scored once in the bottom of the sixth, but the Eagles eventually picked up their second one-run win of the day.
McMenemy improved to 16-8 in the pitcher's circle thanks to going 5 1/3 innings and yielding six hits, four runs (three earned) and a walk and striking out one. She also was 2-for-2 with a run scored and an RBI at the plate.
Sophomore pitcher Hannah Stroe earned her third save of the season with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
Saturday night's game marked the third consecutive season Ashland has eliminated GVSU from the GLIAC Tournament.
Gulas, who is retiring at the end of this season, now has won at least 30 games in 12 of 21 seasons at the Ashland helm. Is the team playing to keep her in the dugout as long as possible?
"I think there's a lot in that," said Gulas. "When I announced to the team that I was retiring way back in February, I talked to them about the reasons. I asked them if anyone had anything they wanted to say, and (injured senior second baseman) Kalene's (Freshour) hand shot way up.
"She said, 'Coach, you gave us our 'why.'' Look at what we did today. This team played without fear, and look at what happened."