It is the last home series of the 2016 season for Ashland University's baseball team – and a key one, at that.
And the Eagles got that series started the right way on Friday (April 29), taking 4-3 and 4-1 decisions from Malone at Donges Field. AU improves to 27-14 overall, 18-4 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and 14-2 in the GLIAC South Division.
"Two good ball games, and Malone's a good team," said Ashland head coach John Schaly, who won his 700th game with the Eagles in Game 2. "They don't give up. Our pitchers threw well all day…against a good ball club."
Ashland is nearing a berth in the 2016 GLIAC Tournament, and can clinch one in the doubleheader with the Pioneers on Saturday (April 30) at noon. The Eagles are four games ahead of third-place Walsh with four South games to play (the top two teams in each division qualify for the tournament), and they are three games ahead of Malone (23-19/15-9/12-6) in the quest for a second straight division title.
Game 1 ended with a solo walk-off home run by junior designated hitter Lance Myers – his first as an Eagle. Ashland took a 3-0 lead into the top of the seventh, but Malone put up a three-spot, leading to Myers' two-out heroics.
"It just felt great," Myers said. "It helped the team win a game, and it just felt great. It's all a team effort. Everybody plays their parts."
Myers was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored, and senior first baseman Mackenzie Hampshire was 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Junior right-handed pitcher Brandyn Sittinger improved to 9-0 following a complete-game six-hitter. He allowed three unearned runs and three walks and struck out seven.
"He's having a great year," Schaly said. "He's got all of his pitches working for him. He's throwing strikes, and our guys are confident when he's on the mound that we're going to win the game. He's a bulldog."
Friday's nightcap saw Malone take a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth, where Ashland scored three runs to take a lead and not look back. Senior center fielder Nick Edwards' two-run single gave the Eagles the lead, and the third run came in on a double-play ball.
Edwards was 3-for-4 with three RBIs, and Hampshire was 2-for-3 and scored twice. Junior lefty Mike Gentile got his first win at Ashland after six innings of allowing just three hits, a run and three walks and striking out three.
Freshman righty Sam Rice earned his second save with three innings of shutout relief. He allowed three hits and struck out six.
Schaly reflected on yet another coaching milestone following Friday's wins.
"That speaks a lot for the players we've had through the years," he said. "The work ethic, the talent, and my assistant coaches, as well. I've been blessed. And the school has been very supportive.
"It just means I've been around a long time, too."
Saturday's twinbill is Ashland's Little League Youth Day, Wounded Warrior Day and Senior Day.