Ashland University's baseball team knows there aren't too many more chances to accomplish some of the goals it set prior to the 2015 season.
The Eagles earned goal No. 1 – winning the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's first-ever South Division title. Now, the next step is not only to get set for next week's GLIAC Tournament, but to impress Midwest Region voters when they play host to Wayne State in a four-game conference set on Saturday (May 2) and Sunday (May 3).
Ashland is 30-14 overall, 19-9 in the conference and 15-5 in the South Division. The Warriors are 21-20-1 overall, 15-12-1 in the GLIAC and 12-7-1 in the North. Both teams have secured spots in the league tournament, May 7-10 at the Athletes in Action Sports Complex in Xenia, Ohio.
The Eagles snapped a stretch in which it won five of 12 games with a doubleheader sweep at Lake Erie on Tuesday (April 28), while the Warriors are 6-3 in their last nine games.
"It's an important weekend for conference tournament seeding," said Ashland head coach John Schaly, "and also for us to continue to momentum from Tuesday's wins over Lake Erie."
Eagles vs. Warriors
In 2014, Ashland lost all three meetings with Wayne State – 12-5 and 8-5 in nine innings in a doubleheader in Chillicothe, Ohio, and a 9-4 decision to knock the Eagles out the GLIAC Tournament.
That was the polar opposite of the 2013 version of the series, when the Eagles won all three matchups.
All time, Ashland leads the series against WSU, 51-34-1.
"Ryan Kelley runs a good program," Schaly said. "They've clinched a spot in the conference tournament as well. We're looking forward to a good challenge, and we know we have to play well to win."
AU's GLIAC Ranks
The Eagles are the conference pacesetters in hits (449), home runs (23), stolen bases (51, tied with Wayne State) and strikeouts for the pitching staff (324).
Senior second baseman Stephen James continues to sit at or near the top of several GLIAC batting categories, leading the league in runs scored (53), hits (66, tied), doubles (17), home runs (nine), RBIs (44) and slugging percentage (.728), and ranking second in average (.407). Junior first baseman Mackenzie Hampshire is second in the conference in on-base percentage (.477).
Junior pitcher Jake Baldwin is tied for second in the GLIAC in wins (seven) and is second in strikeouts (58) to sophomore teammate Brandyn Sittinger (72). Sittinger also paces the conference in strikeouts per nine innings with 11.44.
Making conference history
In the first season of GLIAC divisional play, the Eagles won the South Division by three games over both Malone and Ohio Dominican.
In doing so, Ashland has clinched a spot in the GLIAC Tournament for the 11th time (12 if the 2006 tourney, which was rained out, is counted).
Smith's variety of roles
Junior pitcher Alex Smith is tied for second in the GLIAC in saves with seven. He leads Ashland in appearances with 15, and is 2-1 with a 2.81 earned run average on the season.
Each of Smith's saves have come in outings ranging from one out to two innings, but he also went 8 2/3 innings on April 25 at Malone in the longest game in program history, a 6-2, 18-inning victory in Canton, Ohio.
"Alex is a bulldog," said Schaly. "After every inning, he told us, 'I'm not coming out.' Alex wants the ball, and he's the ultimate competitor."
Youth Day, Senior Day On Tap
AU's annual Baseball Youth Day will be Saturday, with activities including free t-shirts and pizza, a chance to yell "play ball" after the national anthem, a chance to be the public address announcer for the bottom of the fourth inning and an opportunity to participate in on-field contests to win prizes.
"Youth Day's a fun day for the kids, and our guys enjoy having them there," Schaly said. "Sunday, we're going to honor four great players in our program. All four guys have been a major part of our successes over the last four years, and will be greatly missed next year."