After completing an eight-game homestand to begin its 2019 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule, Ashland University's softball team now will go on the road for eight straight league games.
The Eagles, who are receiving votes in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25, will take an 18-10 overall record and a 4-4 GLIAC mark into four straight road doubleheaders – Sunday (March 31) at noon at Saginaw Valley State (8-8, 1-3), Tuesday (April 2) at 4:30 p.m. at Purdue Northwest (12-8, 3-3), April 6 at 1 p.m. at Parkside (0-22, 0-4), and April 7 at noon at Davenport (10-11, 2-2).
"It's always tough being on the road," said Ashland head coach Emlyn Knerem, "especially when we have really close back-to-back games, when we're playing on a Sunday, getting home late that Sunday night and turning around and leaving Monday night and playing on Tuesday.
"The girls know it's all part of the grind. And, thankfully, so far, we haven't cancelled any games, so we're playing a fairly normal schedule."
So far this season, Ashland has a better winning percentage away from Ashland (.700, 14-6) than at home (.500, 4-4). The Eagles' batting average is higher in road/neutral-site games (.301 to .281), and their earned-run average is better, as well (2.45 to 2.98).
Ashland will play Games No. 29 and 30 on Sunday, its most games played through the end of March since 2003 (also 30).
"It's nice, because they're actually getting some normal rest, and staying on a normal schedule. We're getting practices in between games, just to fine-tune some things," Knerem said. "So far, so good."
The veteran-laden Eagles (eight of nine regular starters are juniors or seniors, two of three pitchers are seniors) are 7-3 in games decided by a single run this season.
"Luckily, we are on that side of things," said Knerem. "I think that's a testament to our offense right now. We're scoring runs, and our pitching has been keeping us in games, as well. Our defense has been a little up-and-down throughout the season, but I thought yesterday maybe was a turning point for us."
Ashland went errorless in the doubleheader on Wednesday (March 27) at home vs. Wayne State after committing 18 errors in the previous seven games.
In the pitcher's circle, sophomore Laney Jones has earned victories in back-to-back home outings against nationally-ranked teams – on Sunday (March 24) vs. Grand Valley State and Wednesday vs. the Warriors. She was efficient with her pitches in both games – 159 pitches in 12 innings against the Lakers, and 78 pitches in seven frames vs. WSU.
"Yesterday especially against Wayne, her pitch count was phenomenal," Knerem said. "She was working ahead in counts, she was keeping her pitch count down, and they were putting the ball in play early in the count, which helped.
"She was doing a very, very good job."
The other non-junior/senior in the regular lineup is sophomore left fielder Emma Lawson, a middle infielder by trade who not only is hitting .400 during a 10-game hitting streak, but hasn't committed an error in 49 total chances this season.
"Emma, she came in as a freshman as a middle infielder. She had caught in the past," Knerem noted. "She's just one of those kids who is a pure athlete. She does whatever it takes. She always goes 150 percent, and that's one of the things I really like about her."
Also thriving in the outfield is senior center fielder Erika Farst, who is on a seven-game hitting streak, during which she is hitting .476. Farst has been hitting in the No. 9 spot, and her production makes her a second leadoff hitter of sorts.
"That's part of the reason we put her down in the nine hole," Knerem said. "I think a lot of opposing teams see her as a slapper, which she does slap and she does drag bunt, but she has done a better job of being just a straight-up hitter for us. She's getting the job done."