It's difficult to maintain any consistency – or find out how good a young team can be – when the schedule keeps changing due to weather.
Such is life in the Midwest in the spring, and such is life for Ashland University's softball team in 2018.
After playing four games in two days in Rosemont, Ill., to open the season, then 10 games in six days in Florida, the Eagles (11-11 overall, 1-3 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) played just eight more contests in the last three-plus weeks of March.
Following the postponement of a GLIAC twinbill scheduled for Tuesday (April 3) at Ferris State, Ashland is looking to get back between the lines on Saturday (April 7) at Saginaw Valley State (16-12, 7-3) and Sunday (April 8) at Northwood (14-13, 2-8). Those are a small sampling of what could be as many as 28 games the Eagles will play in April.
"A lot of it is just consistency," head coach Emlyn Knerem said of the lack of a consistent schedule. "We aren't seeing live pitching regularly, we're not out on the dirt regularly, we're not in that competitive environment regularly. That can really mess with the grooves that kids get in.
"The one thing that it's helped is we've had a little extra time for some injuries to heal, so that's been a little bit of an advantage for us."
Playing that many games in a constricted period puts an added onus on pitchers Paige McMenemy and Hannah Stroe, who have seen the bulk of the time in the circle so far this spring. McMenemy is 6-4 with a 2.89 earned-run average, while Stroe is 3-5, 2.56. In her last four outings, Stroe is 2-1 with a 0.86 ERA.
"Hannah did a great job on Saturday," Knerem said of Stroe's seven-hit, one-run complete game in Game 2 vs. Purdue Northwest on Saturday (March 31). "She kept batters off-balance, which is really, really good. We're looking for her to continue that trend, and continue getting better.
"We're going to be looking at all four of our pitchers to take the ball and take control of games. We can't rely on one person to do it. It's going to take our whole staff."
Offensively, in the home doubleheader vs. the Pride, Ashland collected 10 extra-base hits (seven doubles and three home runs) – the Eagles' most in back-to-back games since March 30-31, 2015.
Manahan enters the weekend as Ashland's No. 2 player in RBIs with 13 – despite having had just 27 at-bats this season. After producing in run-scoring situations coming off the bench earlier this spring, Manahan is 6-for-17 with seven RBIs, two doubles and a home run in five consecutive starts.
"She's really settled in well as our DP," Knerem said. "She's seeing the ball well. All we ask of her is to have quality at-bats and hit the ball hard and put the ball in play, and that's what she's been doing. She's had a great streak in the last couple weeks."
Gill, a middle infielder by trade, played in right field in the two games against the Pride, and was 4-for-7 with two doubles. She is hitting .314 with a team-high six doubles in 2018.
"Something that we talk a lot about with recruits and with our current team is know your role and play your role," Knerem said. "She said, 'I'll try it.' She's a true competitor, and she just wants to play. She did a good job out there for us. She's hitting the ball hard now."
With so many games left to play in the regular season, the current GLIAC standings most likely will look different by the time the 2018 GLIAC Tournament is played on May 4-6 at Sports Force Parks in Sandusky, Ohio. Eight of the nine conference schools qualify for the tournament.
"We really haven't talked much about conference standings or anything like that," said Knerem. "It's been really difficult to look far ahead in our schedule. Hopefully, now that we're going to get more games in…we'll settle in as a team, get that consistency back and start focusing on conference tournament."