A short time after wondering how many games it would play this spring, Ashland University's softball team now knows it was play at least two more after the regular season.
Following a doubleheader sweep of Saginaw Valley State on Saturday (April 28) afternoon at Brookside Park, 4-2 and 3-2, the Eagles clinched a spot in the 2018 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament, May 4-6 at Sports Force Parks in Sandusky, Ohio.
"We really had some inconsistencies when we weren't seeing pitching, we weren't playing everyday," said Ashland head coach Emlyn Knerem. "Now that we are playing as much as we are, the girls look good. They're excited to be out here.
"We were really able to quiet their bats, and that was huge for us."
Now on a season-high five-game winning streak, Ashland has moved into a tie for third place in the conference standings at 23-21 overall and 13-13 in the GLIAC. The Cardinals also are tied for third at 23-23, 14-14.
Junior third baseman Paige Summers started the scoring for the Eagles in Game 1, following up a two-out walk to junior first baseman Kylie Asmus with a two-run home run. The round-tripper was Summers' eighth of 2018.
"Kylie had a really good at-bat to get on base," Knerem said, "and then Paige coming up and seeing a pitch that she could drive and just taking it out, it really set the tone for us."
The Cardinals tied the game in the top of the fifth when Maddy Burgess lifted a sacrifice fly to left field, then Danielle Hamilton sent an RBI single the same way.
It didn't take Ashland long to regain the advantage, scoring two runs on an RBI fielder's choice from junior designated player Katie Manahan and a bases-loaded walk drawn by sophomore shortstop Bree Gill.
That was enough for freshman pitcher Laney Jones, who improved to 6-4 thanks to the sixth win in her last eight decisions. Jones went the distance on a five-hitter, allowing two runs and three walks and striking out seven.
Sophomore second baseman Camille Pollutro was 2-for-4 in the victory.
Game 2 saw Ashland jump on top again, thanks to a two-out Cardinal error which plated Pollutro in the bottom of the first. The Eagles added to their lead in the bottom of the second on a sacrifice fly by junior left fielder Katie Mitchell.
Courtney Reeves' sacrifice fly in the top of the third cut the SVSU deficit in half to 2-1, then, in the next at-bat, Aubree Mouthaan's bloop RBI single knotted the game at 2.
Summers, however, had the answer in the bottom of the fifth, breaking the tie with a solo homer, her ninth of the spring.
Junior Hannah Stroe (9-9) finished the game off, earning her third win in a row by scattering eight hits and striking out four.
Junior center fielder Erika Farst had two of AU's eight hits in the nightcap, and has at least one hit in 11 of the last 12 contests.
"We had such a lull with not playing," Asmus said of the Eagles nearly playing as games since April 17 (18) as they did in the 7½ weeks prior (26), "so getting back into it and playing games consistently has helped us. It's exciting that we're starting to get things together."
"We've always had a great alumni base," Knerem said, "and to have them here and have them back home...is so important to us."
UP NEXT: The regular-season finale, Sunday (April 29) at 1 p.m. at Brookside vs. No. 10-ranked Grand Valley State.