ALLENDALE, Mich.- Midway through the second inning Friday (May 4) of the Bellarmine-Ashland Midwest Regional sub-regional softball game at Grand Valley State, someone in the press box realized the heat was on and quickly hit the on-off switch.
Bellarmine didn't have that option. The heat that AU senior Emlyn Knerem (Brunswick, Ohio) threw kept coming all day long. Knerem (28-5) pitched a one-hitter and equaled her career high with 17 strikeouts as AU stayed in the winner's bracket of the tournament with a 2-1 victory over Bellarmine.
Ashland will play at 11 a.m. Saturday (May 5) against Saint Joseph's, which upset Grand Valley State, 4-1 on Friday. The Eagles (41-15) are the third overall seed in the Midwest Region. GVSU is the second overall seed. SJC had lost six consecutive games before knocking off Grand Valley State.
Knerem was overpowering from the first to last pitch on Friday. She whiffed eight of the first 10 batters she faced and struck out every batter in the lineup at least once. The other time in her career she had 17 strikeouts was against Adelphia on Mar. 12, 2011 in Kissimmee, Fla. This was the 11th time this season Knerem reached double digits in strikeouts. Before Friday, her season high in strikeouts was 14 at Urbana.
"I felt good," said Knerem. "I think the heat helped, between innings I didn't have to go in and put layers on. I felt good today, relaxed. The thing that helped for me was it was just another game."
"She was amazing," said AU head coach Sheilah Gulas. "She really mixed her pitches well. She had excellent movement and she went after every single hitter. She was on top of her game, it was an outstanding effort."
This was the second time this season Knerem had faced the Knights (32-28). The teams split a doubleheader on Feb. 25. In that game, she pitched six innings and got credit for a 7-3 win. She had 10 strikeouts in that game, which means in 13 innings against the Knights this season, she has 30 strikeouts.
"Honestly, Tawna (AU catcher Garver) and I didn't remember a lot about that game," admitted Knerem. "That was our first game of the season. I remembered that they swung at a lot of pitches. I just had a lot of confidence."
The only mistake Knerem made came in the fourth inning when a low curveball to shortstop Megan Murdoch caught too much of the plate. Murdoch took that 1-1 pitch and lined it over the fence in right-center field. That was her 14th homer of the season.
"She went and got it," Knerem said. "Give her her props."
At that point in the game, the Eagles could do nothing against Bellarmine's Alicia Miller (16-17). Miller pitches to contact – she entered the game with 80 strikeouts in 222.2 innings. But while Miller may lack the ability to strike out a lot of hitters, she knows how to pitch and she hit her spots. In the first inning, second baseman Cayla Seidler (Massillon, Ohio/Massillon Washington) led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. The Eagles failed to advance her after that and until the fifth inning, it appeared that would come back to haunt the Eagles.
"I was never worried that we wouldn't score," Gulas said. "I thought if we worked we could score in the fourth or fifth inning and get more after that. Then when we didn't score in the first and then didn't score in the fourth, I thought, 'Oh man, this is it."
The Eagles got to Miller for two unearned runs in the fifth. Right fielder Kourtney Yarnall (Canton, Ohio/Perry) belted a one-out double to left center to start the uprising. Shortstop Bri Woody (Cleveland, Ohio/Magnificat) reached on an error by third baseman Madi Ratliff and Yarnall stayed at second. After pinch hitter Kaely Stucin (Dover, Ohio) forced Yarnall at third, Seidler delivered a single to left to score Woody and tie the game, 1-1.
On the pitch before she singled, Miller just missed inside off the plate. Seidler didn't chase that pitch and on the next pitch, drove the ball hard to left.
"It was inside and she was pitching me inside all day," said Seidler. "I was just focused with a runner on second. She (Miller) was a little slower than what we've seen this year. She threw us second-strike changeups all day and sometimes we don't do so well with that."
Designated player Jerrica Young (Loundonville, Ohio) followed Seidler's single with a single to center field that brought Stucin home with the go-ahead run. On the play, Seidler tried to score and was out on the plate thanks to a perfect throw from center fielder Cynthia Brown.
"Cayla is a great baserunner and I would have second guessed myself if I hadn't sent her," said Gulas. "But Alyssa (Kelley) was on deck so you wonder if you should send her."
Kelley is the GLIAC's leading hitter (.444) and had a single in the sixth inning to extend her hitting streak to 16 games.
This is a double-elimination tournament that runs through Sunday. Ashland has not played Saint Joseph's this season. In the second game Saturday, Bellarmine meets GVSU. The loser of that game is eliminated from the tournament. The winner of that game will play the loser of the Ashland-SJC game late Saturday afternoon.