The NCAA Playoffs – May 9-10-11, 2014, Detroit, Mich.
The Eagles (27-18) are making their sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA postseason. AU is one of eight teams in the Midwest Regional Tournament. There are two sub-regionals taking place this weekend. AU is in Detroit along with Indianapolis, Grand Valley State and host Wayne State. WSU is the second seed in the region, Indianapolis is third, GVSU is sixth and Ashland is seventh.
The other sub-regional is being hosted by top-seeded Missouri-St. Louis. The teams in that side of the bracket are UMSL, Truman State, Bellarmine and Ohio Dominican.
The winners of the two sub-regionals will meet next weekend in a best two-out-of-three Super Regional series on the home field of the highest remaining seed. The eight regional champions will move on to Salem, Va., for the College World Series. That will be played May 22-26.
The weekend schedule in Detroit can be found below.
1:30 p.m. Game #1 – Ashland vs. Wayne State
4 p.m. Game #2 – Grand Valley State vs. Indianapolis
11 a.m. Game 3 – Winner Game #1 vs. Winner Game #2
1:30 p.m. Game 4 – Loser Game #1 vs. Loser Game #2
4 p.m. Game 5 – Winner #4 vs. Loser Game #3
12 p.m. Game 6 – Winner Game #3 vs. Winner Game #5
2:30 p.m. Game 7 – Winner Game #6 vs. Loser Game #6 (if necessary)
Ashland and the NCAA Tournament
This is the 11th time the Eagles have reached the NCAA playoffs with Sheilah Gulas as the head coach. AU also advanced to the postseason once with Karen Linder as the head coach. The program's first trip to the NCAA playoffs came in 1996. AU has never reached the College World Series. Under this current format, Ashland's lone trip to the Super Regional was in 2010 and the Eagles lost to Wayne State. Before the advent of the Super Regional, Gulas led AU to the regional championship game three times.
"There are so many things that can make or break a season," said Gulas, in recapping the season. "It certainly isn't something as a coach that you can take for granted. Going into next season, I can't be like, 'Oh, shoot, we've made a name for ourselves, we're in.' You've got to get it done on the field and that's definitely what this team did."
A year ago, the Eagles went 2-2 at the sub-regional in Indianapolis. The Eagles lost to Lewis, 5-0 and then bounced back to defeat Wayne State, 9-1 and Lewis, 7-0. The win against WSU was the 800th of Gulas' career. AU was eliminated from the tournament with a 10-0 loss to Indianapolis.
AU last met Grand Valley State in the NCAA playoffs in 2012. The teams played at GVSU and the Eagles, behind pitcher Emlyn Knerem, defeated the 19th-ranked Lakers, 3-0. Knerem pitched a three-hitter.
"These seniors have had the opportunity for four years to say that they've taken the team to this level and hopefully at the end of the weekend we're saying that this group of seniors has taken them to an area that we went one other time with this program, to the super regional."
"We did lose some key players from last year, so it was really important for girls who didn't necessarily have a role last year to step up and fill a role this year and they've done a tremendous job doing that," Seidler said. "It's never been an issue of 'Man, we can't hit the ball.' It's been, 'We're just not hitting the ball at the right time.' It's always been there, we just had to find it again."
AU's all-time record in NCAA postseason play is 19-22.
About the Eagles
Ashland finished seventh (16-10) in the GLIAC in 2014. The Eagles are 6-4 in their last 10 games. The longest winning streak this season is six games. The Eagles haven't lost more than two consecutive games all season. They are second in the GLIAC in batting average (.320) and on-base percentage (.389) and fourth in runs (228) and slugging percentage (.430). Ashland is third in the league in ERA (3.48) and fifth in fielding percentage (.965).
Gulas has a career record of 828-431. At Ashland she is 625-307 and this is her 18th season.
Ashland Against the Tournament Field
AU is 0-3 against Wayne State and 1-1 against Grand Valley State this season. The Eagles have not played Indianapolis this year. On the other side of the Midwest bracket, the Eagles have gone 2-0 against Bellarmine and 1-2 against Ohio Dominican.
The Eagles were swept by Wayne State in Ashland, 5-0 and 3-0 on Apr. 19. The last time the teams collided was in the GLIAC Tournament and the Warriors won, 4-3.
Ashland split a doubleheader at Grand Valley State on Apr. 16. AU won the opener, 19-6 and the lost the second game, 5-3. That run total in the first game is a school record.
"It's definitely a tough (regional) field," Gulas said. "We've gotta be the best that we can be. We're going to have to have all cylinders clicking, but it's a lot different going into a four-team tournament as opposed to an eight-team tournament. You can win it in three (and) you can get out there and you can play one game at a time. That's the way to get it."
Center of Attention
Throughout her career, center fielder Taylor Menhart has been one of the GLIAC's best hitters. This year, for the first time, she's a first team All-GLIAC selection. A year ago she was an honorable mention choice.
Menhart is first in the conference in doubles per game (0.39), second in batting average (.426) and fifth in on-base percentage (0.484). She has 11 multi-hit games and earlier this year, put together a 12-game hitting streak. She's hit safely in 34 of 44 games.
Menhart has hit second for the majority of this season. Seidler has been AU's leadoff hitter all season and Sarah Alley has hit third all year. That trio is as productive as any three players in the conference. Seidler is hitting .376 with three homers and 31 RBI and Alley is hitting .381 with 13 doubles and 38 RBI. Alley is fourth in the conference in RBI, sixth in doubles per game (0.31) and 10th in batting average.
When Alley arrived on campus, she was heralded as a pitcher. The lefty has gone 12-8 in the circle this season. At the plate, she's supplied extra-base power and been a perfect fit as Ashland's No. 3 hitter. Alley was named first team All-GLIAC as the designated player.
"(Alley) has been so clutch for us the entire year," said Gulas. "Even in Florida we were still trying to see where she would fit, but whenever she came up in the batting order, she'd hit a ground ball to the right side, she'd hit a sac fly, she'd hit a gap shot. She was getting RBIs, doing the right thing."
First Rate at Second Base
Seidler was named second team All-GLIAC this season. This is the third time in her career she's earned postseason all-conference laurels. She was named to the honorable mention list twice.
The senior is fourth in the GLIAC in doubles per game (0.31) and sixth in runs per game (0.98). She's driven in two or more runs in a game nine times this season.
In the doubleheader at Grand Valley State this season, Seidler went 7-for-9 with six runs scored and two RBI. In the opener of that twinbill, Seidler was 5-for-5 with five runs scored, two RBI and a double and a triple. In that game she tied the school, single-game record for hits, becoming the fourth player in AU history to have five hits in a game.
At Lake Erie on Apr. 10, Seidler drove in six runs in a game against the Storm. The school, single game RBI record is eight, owned by Jill Allerding against Hillsdale in 2006.
After their first eight GLIAC games, the Eagles were 4-4. AU split its first four doubleheaders – twinbills against Lake Superior State, Northwood, Hillsdale and Walsh. The first game of the LSSU doubleheader was an 11-inning, 12-11 loss that took three hours to play. At that point in the year, the postseason looked to be as far away as the moon. But after that split against Walsh, the Eagles went 7-2 in their next nine conference games.
"It's exciting because I know at one point in our season we were saying, 'If we don't start winning games and stop splitting, we're not even going to make it to the conference tournament," said Alley. "To make it to the conference tournament, knock out two teams that were below us in the region (rankings) and then get into the regionals was just a huge accomplishment."
"I think this year our team chemistry has been good, just because we stayed positive and in games the whole time," added Menhart. "There haven't been (times where people are saying), 'Guys, we need to refocus.' Our issue hasn't been staying in the game, it's just been physical mistakes."
This half of the Midwest Region bracket has some coaches who have lived a lifetime in the dugout.
Gulas has a career record of 828-431. Wayne State's Gary Bryce is in his 33rd year at the school and has won 1,118 games. Grand Valley State's Doug Woods is in his 24th year with the Lakers. He's retiring at the end of this season. He has 888 career victories.
Shortstop Jamie Weber and third baseman-catcher Bri Buckley were named honorable mention All-GLIAC. Weber is hitting .301 and has started all 44 games. A year ago she hit .298…Jen Moore has a team-leading five homers. She led last year's club with seven round-trippers…pitching is the name of the game in softball and the Midwest Region appears to have plenty of arms. WSU is second in the country in ERA. UMSL is fourth, Bellarmine is fifth, Truman State is sixth and Indianapolis is eighth...the Eagles have scored 11 or more runs four times this season and are 2-2 in those games…Ashland is 1-1 in extra innings…of AU's last 23 games, only two have been one-run decisions. One of those was the 4-3 loss to Wayne State last weekend at the GLIAC Tournament…AU is 3-0 against the GLVC this season. In addition to the two wins against Bellarmine, the Eagles also knocked off Quincy.
Scouting Wayne State
The Warriors are 41-9 and have won three consecutive GLIAC championships. This is the fifth time in school history WSU has won 40 or more games and the Warriors have reached that level three times in the last six years. Wayne State carries a 16-game winning streak into Friday's game with the Eagles. The last time WSU lost was at Grand Valley State on Apr. 11.
The Warriors are second in the country in team ERA (1.00). Lyndsay Butler is the GLIAC pitcher of the year. She's 21-4 with a 0.89 ERA and 12 shutouts and 20 complete games. Butler is fifth in the nation in ERA and seventh in hits allowed per seven innings (3.93) and strikeouts per seven innings (10.3). She's whiffed 255 batters. Butler is 2-0 against Ashland this season.
Briana Lee is 19-2 with a 0.91 ERA. She's sixth in the country in ERA and ninth in hits allowed per seven innings (4.06). She pitched a one-hitter to beat the Eagles, 3-0 in April.
Outfielder Logan White is hitting .387. She's a second team all-conference choice as is designated player Emily Cava, who is hitting .342. Butler knows what to do with a bat in her hands, she's hitting .361 with three homers and 27 RBI.
Scouting Grand Valley State
A year ago, the Lakers won the Midwest Region championship (they defeated Indianapolis in the regional championship series) and advanced to the World Series for the second time in school history. This year's team is 29-12 and is 6-4 in its last 10 games. GVSU is in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive year. This is the 12th appearance in program history. GVSU is 35-23 in the NCAA postseason.
The Lakers' have one of the most prolific one-two tandems in the country in third baseman Miranda Cleary and shortstop Briauna Taylor. Cleary is hitting .432 with 11 homers and 55 RBI. She owns a .735 slugging percentage. Taylor is hitting .425 with 11 homers and a GLIAC-high 56 RBI. Cleary and Taylor are tied for the conference lead in homers. Both were named to the All-GLIAC First Team.
Lauren Gevaart is 12-2 and has 118 strikeouts in 114 innings. She's third in the conference in ERA (1.54).
The Greyhounds are ranked 13th in the nation. Indianapolis is making its seventh straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Greyhounds won 26 of their final 28 regular season games but failed to win the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament title. Indianapolis placed eight players on the GLVC East Division First Team.
Morgan Foley is 31-6 with a 1.52 ERA and 371 strikeouts in 231.1 innings. Batters are hitting .151 against Foley. She leads the country in strikeouts, is second in victories, third in strikeouts per seven innings (11.2), fifth in hits per seven innings (3.69) and sixth in shutouts (10).
Outfielder Casey Williamson is hitting .391 with seven homers and 28 RBI. She's a first team all-conference pick. Designated player Taylor Russell is hitting at a .304 clip with 13 homers and 49 RBI. She's also a first team All-GLVC performer. Williamson and Russell have 10 doubles apiece.
Head coach Melissa Frost received her third consecutive GLVC coach of the year award. She's won the award in four of the last five years.