UNIVERSITY CENTER, Mich. - First, Jennifer DeMotte took the bats out of the hands of the Ashland University Eagles.
Then, she took the words out of their mouths.
DeMotte, the ace of the pitching staff for the Indianapolis Greyhounds softball team, silenced the Eagles with a two-hit shutout Friday (May 13) in the first round of the NCAA playoffs at Saginaw Valley State. The Greyhounds defeated the Eagles, 1-0 and that loss left the Eagles searching for words and answers afterwards.
"She threw very well," said AU head coach Sheilah Gulas of DeMotte. "There were some balls we hit hard, but they went right at them and they made plays. You have to do something and create something. We saw some things but didn't adjust."
"She got us off balance and out of rhythm," said junior third baseman Alyssa Kelley. "She used her off-speed pitch and I thought we were anxious."
That anxious feeling might stay with the Eagles (32-18). They are one loss away from seeing their season end. On Saturday (May 14) at 1:30 p.m., they play Northern Kentucky. The Norse lost on Friday to host Saginaw Valley State, 1-0. This is a double-elimination tournament, meaning the loser of the AU-NKU game is done for the weekend.
Kelley and sophomore catcher Tawna Garver (Mansfield, Ohio/Hillsdale) had a single apiece off of DeMotte (21-5). The Indy pitcher walked one, hit a batter and struck out five. She retired the last eight batters she faced.
AU's best threat to score came in the second inning. With one out, Garver slapped a 1-2 pitch into center field and first baseman Frankie Gironda (Akron, Ohio/Hoban) drew a walk. DeMotte got right fielder Erica Miller (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) out on a fly ball to left and Gulas sent freshman Carly Clark (Strasburg, Ohio) to the plate to pinch hit for another freshman, Carly West (Ashland, Ohio/Hillsdale). Clark made DeMotte work through the at bat, but eventually went down on strikes.
"She had been swinging well in practice," said Gulas of Clark. "You have to go by what you see. You don't have a crystal ball that tells you who's going to go up there and get a hit."
Ashland would not get another hit after the second inning. But the Eagles stayed in the game thanks to pitcher Emyln Knerem (Brunswick, Ohio). The junior deserved better on this day, for most of the afternoon she had her way with the 'Hounds (35-12-1). Knerem (25-8) struck out seven of the first 11 batters she faced. She went the distance allowing five hits without a walk. Knerem struck out 11. Her control was fine and she threw harder than she had over the last several weeks.
The only run the Greyhounds got came in the fourth inning. Catcher Cori Eckerle doubled off the wall in right-center field to bring in designated player Dakota Malayer, who had reached on a fielder's choice after trying to put down a sacrifice bunt. Eckerle's shot came with one out and Malayer was able to score from first because when the ball hit the wall, it came off with a strange bounce that eluded AU center fielder Lyndsey Brandt (Painesville, Ohio/Riverside), one of the region's best defensive outfielders.
"It hit a pole and got re-directed," said Gulas. "But give them credit, they did what they had to do. They made something happen."
Eckerle's double was really the only hard-hit ball of the day. Friday's first game ended when Saginaw Valley used a squeeze bunt to bring in a runner from third base in the bottom of the seventh inning. Both of Friday's first-round games were dominated by pitching. That's no surprise at this point of the season where who makes the big mistake is just as important as who gets the big hit.
"It's two hits and two errors," said Gulas in recapping her team's day.
Ashland is 0-2 against Northern Kentucky this season. At NKU on Mar. 22, Ashland lost 4-1 and 5-4.
"I'm comfortable playing Northern Kentucky, but I would be comfortable playing anyone," said Kelley. "I think we just have to execute better."