Easter weekend usually means pastel colors and maybe, a new bonnet.
The softball teams from Ashland and Wayne State altered that setting on Saturday (Apr. 23) at Brookside Park. On the day before Easter, this was all about seeing red and donning some hard hats.
AU and WSU opposed each other in last year's super regional championship series. The Warriors won that series, 2-0 and advanced to the NCAA Division II World Series. Entering Saturday's play, Ashland was first in the GLIAC South Division and had the best record in the conference. WSU is third in the GLIAC South. Both teams are fighting to reach the NCAA postseason.
Those factors can generate tension, excitement and a postseason atmosphere. That's what came about Saturday. The teams started the day by finishing a suspended game from Friday. That went to the Warriors, 1-0. In the second game of the day, the Eagles needed just five innings to post a 10-2 win.
Ashland is 23-11, 15-3 in the GLIAC. WSU is 24-19-1, 12-9-1 in the conference. This is the last time the teams will play during the regular season.
The suspended game resumed with the teams locked in a scoreless tie in the top of the fourth inning. It didn't take the Warriors long to break that deadlock. The first batter AU pitcher Emlyn Knerem (Brunswick, Ohio) faced, first baseman Becca Ryan, singled down the left-field line. Third baseman Rebecca Stanley followed with a double to left field to score Brittany Omelanchuk, who was at second base due to a walk and a wild pitch.
Knerem was able to minimize the damage in the inning by striking out the next two hitters. The junior escaped a major catastrophe in the fifth inning thanks to a pair of exceptional defensive plays. After Makelle Barski singled, center fielder Logan White doubled to the gap in left-center field. Left fielder Erica Miller (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) tracked down the ball near the fence and fired a perfect strike to shortstop Bri Woody (Cleveland, Ohio/Magnificat). Woody turned and threw a laser to catcher Tawna Garver (Mansfield, Ohio/Hillsdale) who applied the tag to a sliding Barski. That became the first out of the inning.
With two outs and White on second base, right fielder Alison Allen, one of the GLIAC's most accomplished hitters, belted a Knerem offering deep to dead center field. Center fielder Lyndsey Brandt (Painesville, Ohio/Riverside), one of three AU seniors to be honored between games, caught the ball at a dead sprint and crashed into the fence. That grab deprived WSU of two runs.
The problem for the Eagles was that they could do nothing with WSU starter and winner Sam Cain (11-11). She needed just 77 pitches to silence the Eagles on a tidy three-hitter. Cain walked one and struck out three. This marked the first time AU was blanked since Mar. 8 against IUP (7-0) in the fourth game of the season.
Those Ashland hitting woes did not carry over to the second game. The Eagles pounded Lauren McLaughlin (13-8) for 11 hits in 4.1 innings. AU scored six runs in the first inning. Senior designated player Logan Hursey (Zanesville, Ohio/John Glenn) drove home the first two runs with a single. All the rest of the runs came on one swing, that from Garver, who hit a grand slam to left field. That shot came on a 3-2 pitch with two outs. Five of the six runs in inning were unearned, thanks to Wayne State's inability to handle a sacrifice bunt.
That would matter little to the Eagles, who scored a run in each of the next four innings. The game ended on the run rule when Woody doubled to center field to score Brandt with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Brandt was 3-for-4, scored twice and made a spectacular diving catch.
Knerem was the beneficiary of this outburst. She raised her record to 17-4, holding WSU to a pair of runs on seven hits. The runs came on a two-run homer by second baseman Nikki Fulton. Knerem did not walk a batter and she struck out four. The AU ace has 18 complete games this season.
The Eagles will take Easter Sunday off, then travel to Lake Erie on Monday (Apr. 25) for a doubleheader. On Tuesday (Apr. 26), AU will host Lake Erie for two games.