The softball teams from Ashland and Grand Valley State are attempting to do what former NFL great Jerry Rice did on a weekly basis – gain separation.
Rice was as difficult to cover as any wide receiver in NFL history. The Eagles and Lakers are trying to separate themselves from each other and lock down what appears to be the second spot in the regional rankings. Right now that spot belongs to AU and GVSU is third. The team that gets that position will host in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Region Tournament. The teams are also fighting for the top seed in the GLIAC regular season.
It's hard to say what was decided in Allendale, Mich., on Saturday (Apr. 14) where the teams met in a doubleheader. The Eagles won the first game, 6-1. The second game went to GVSU, 1-0 in nine innings.
AU is 32-12, 16-8 in conference play. Grand Valley State is 34-10, 17-7 within the league. As they say in politics, this race is still too close to call.
In Saturday's first game, AU wiped out a 1-0 deficit by scoring four times in the top of the second inning. All four runs came with two outs. The rally started when junior shortstop Bri Woody (Cleveland, Ohio/Magnificat) and sophomore outfielder Carly West (Ashland, Ohio/Hillsdale) drew walks. Sophomore second baseman Cayla Seidler (Massillon, Ohio/Massillon Washington) doubled to right field to drive in both runners and Seidler came around to score on a double by red-hot freshman Jerrica Young (Loudonville, Ohio). Young found her way to home plate moments later when third baseman Alyssa Kelley singled. Kelley was 3-for-4 in the game.
The inning featured some extra tense moments for GVSU. Starting pitcher Andrea Nicholson (14-8), who ended up taking the loss, had to leave the game when she was hit by a line drive off the bat of junior outfielder Kaely Stucin (Dover, Ohio). She was replace by Kayla Hurd.
The Lakers got one run back in the bottom half of the second when Tonya Calkins homered, but the Eagles answered with a run in the third when junior catcher Tawna Garver (Mansfield, Ohio/Hillsdale) cracked her sixth homer of the season. That ended the scoring for both teams. Ashland starter and winner Emlyn Knerem (Brunswick, Ohio) went the distance for the 18th time this year. She allowed a run on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts. The Lakers didn't get a hit over the last three innings. Knerem is 22-2 with a 1.22 ERA. Her batting average against is .194.
Knerem started the second game and pitched three scoreless innings. At that point, the Eagles turned the game over to freshman Amber McDermott (Creston, Ohio/Norwayne). McDermott didn't yield a run until the ninth inning when Katie Martin belted her sixth homer of the season. McDermott dodged danger most of the afternoon, GVSU left 12 runners on base. In the seventh with two outs, the Lakers had Martin on first with a single when Emily Jones hit a long drive to center. The only reason that shot didn't fall for a hit was a sensational catch by center fielder Taylor Menhart (Twinsburg, Ohio).
Woody was the only AU player in the second game with two hits. Ashland was limited to five hits – four singles and a Kelley double – by Hannah Santora (17-2). Santora didn't walk anyone and struck out two.
Ashland will play a doubleheader at Ferris State on Sunday (Apr. 15).