After five games in Illinois, 12 games in Florida and two more at Notre Dame College, Ashland University's softball team is ready to start playing 2016 games at Brookside Park.
The Eagles (9-10) will begin home and Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play on Friday (March 25) at noon with a doubleheader against Grand Valley State. AU then will play host to Ferris State for a noon twinbill on Saturday (March 26).
Those four games are the start of eight home contests in a row.
Ashland comes into the weekend having won three of its last four games. On Tuesday (March 22), the Eagles split a doubleheader at Notre Dame, losing 3-1 and winning 7-2.
"It was great to get back on a field," said Ashland head coach Sheilah Gulas of her team's first games in 10 days. "That was great. Definitely could tell it had been a few days since we had really had an opportunity to compete. I felt we got better as they day went on."
The Lakers are 15-3, and are 3-2 in their last five games after a 12-1 start. The Bulldogs are 15-9, and are 5-7 in their last 12 following a 10-2 beginning.
AU vs. GVSU/FSU
The Eagles took two of three from the Lakers in 2015, including a 3-1 decision in the GLIAC Tournament consolation bracket. Ashland topped Ferris State twice last spring on the road, 9-3 and 5-1.
"Right now, Grand Valley is the Grand Valley of past. They're playing very well," said Gulas. "We've always had good, strong games against them. We're looking forward to that opportunity.
"Ferris State is a team that has had a lot more success this year. They're playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Moore Picking Up Where She Left Off
As a junior in 2015, first baseman Jen Moore earned region and conference honors after setting career highs in batting average (.390), runs scored (32), doubles (11), home runs (10), RBIs (43) and stolen bases (five).
In 19 games as a senior in 2016, Moore has carried her success over, hitting .339 with 11 runs scored, four doubles, four home runs and 20 RBIs. She also has gone errorless in 161 total chances on defense.
"Jen's been playing great for us," Gulas said, "and she definitely is a leader in the infield. She's coming up a lot with runners in scoring position. It almost seems like every time she's coming up to the plate, there's someone that she can hit in.
"She's seeing the ball well right now, and definitely is a threat when she comes up to the plate."
Pitchers Still Settling Into Roles
Ashland has used all four of its pitchers so far this season, and three – seniors Brittany Flanigan (4-2 record, one save, 3.03 earned-run average) and Sarah Alley (3-3, 3.29), and freshman Hannah Stroe (2-5, 3.57) – have logged at least 33 1/3 innings.
"When we start playing doubleheaders, consecutive days, we're going to be using all four of them," Gulas said. "Our seniors…their experience right now is a big bonus for them. And Hannah's done well, too, in the opportunities we have given her."
Gulas is 21 wins away (879) from joining the 900-win club…Sophomore third baseman Marissa Caraballo is second on the team with 13 RBIs and first in doubles with five in her first season as a starter. "Marissa's seeing the ball well right now, too. She's really got some good pop on her bat," said Gulas…Ashland has played just three games decided by a single run (1-2), but eight games decided by one or two runs (4-4).