FINDLAY, Ohio – Twenty years ago, Sheilah Gulas' first game as Ashland University head softball coach was a 4-2 loss to California, Pa., at a tournament in Georgia.
On Sunday (May 7) in the 2017 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship series at Marathon Diamonds, the Eagles (30-23) lost 1-0 and 11-7, as Saginaw Valley State (35-14) earned the conference title.
In between, Gulas won 723 games guiding AU's softball program. And in those 21 seasons, she said she never had a team more improved than her last.
"The entire season, from the fall, when we had so much we needed to develop, to the winter, just the grind of getting through, to the start of the season, overcoming so many obstacles during the course of the season," said Gulas, who retires with an all-time record over 31 seasons of 929-487-1. "Just to see them play with so much grit and so much heart and never being satisfied and wanting to improve, mentally, physically.
"I'm just so proud of what they did."
In Sunday's first game, the deciding run was plated by the Cardinals in the bottom of the sixth inning on an RBI single from designated player Courtney Reeves.
That was the only blemish on the record of junior pitcher Paige McMenemy (16-9), who allowed six hits and two walks and struck out three in six innings.
Sophomore first baseman Kylie Asmus was 2-for-2 against SVSU hurler Sam Willman (19-6), who authored a complete-game five-hit shutout with eight strikeouts and four walks.
Sunday's Game 2 was a much different type of contest, featuring six different half-innings with crooked numbers worth of runs.
The Cardinals scored four runs in the top of the second, but the Eagles countered with a two-spot in the bottom when freshman third baseman Dayna Denner hit an RBI double and senior shortstop Alexis Van Horn followed two batters later with an RBI fielder's choice.
Ashland moved a run closer at 4-3 in the bottom of the third on senior center fielder Ally Farrah's RBI infield single, but SVSU got that run back in the fourth for a 5-3 advantage.
That's when sophomore right fielder Kayla Troyer stepped to the fore and launched her first collegiate home run, a two-run shot to left field, to knot the game at 5 through four innings.
"You just never knew what was coming around the corner with this group," Gulas said. "The journey that we took as a team was unbelievable. I told them every team but one is going to feel like this. You just finish in different rounds, and you've got to be proud of what you did."
Saginaw, however, scored four runs in the fifth and two in the sixth to pull away. The Eagles ended the scoring with two runs in the bottom of the seventh on RBI from senior left fielder Jenny Raguz (error) and Denner (single).