Ashland University head softball coach Emlyn Knerem has had an interesting start to her tenure guiding the Eagles.
- She lost junior right fielder Kayla Troyer to injury before the season started, then lost reigning Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, sophomore third baseman Dayna Denner, to injury in the first game of the Florida trip.
- Through April 9, Ashland had played just 22 games due to the inclement weather this spring in the Midwest. Through April 16, it was just 26 games.
- Because of that, the Eagles played 20 games in a 13-day span (April 17-29).
Now, Ashland (23-23) turns its attention to the 2018 GLIAC Tournament, which begins Friday (May 4) at 12:30 p.m. vs. Saginaw Valley State. The Eagles are the No. 6 seed in the eight-team field, and will play in their 20th conference tournament in 23 years in the GLIAC (two which they qualified for were rained out).
"Something we kind of almost adopted towards the end of the season was roll with the punches," Knerem said. "We had so many changes. We had injuries here and there, and other things we had to deal with. You have to go with the cards that are dealt, and that's what we did.
"We really played well down the stretch, and a lot of that came from playing consistently. It ended up being a huge benefit for us. It shows our girls that we can still be strong after three, four days."
Ashland's team batting average for the season is .288, but during that 20-game stretch in the last two weeks, it was .294. The Eagles' on-base percentage and fielding percentage also are higher of late than they are for all of 2018, with AU having 20 errors in the last 20 contests, after committing 43 in the first 26.
The top four in the Eagle lineup all are hitting better than .300 this season – junior center fielder Erika Farst (.301), sophomore second baseman Camille Pollutro (.370), junior first baseman Kylie Asmus (.359) and junior third baseman Paige Summers (.362). Over that most recent 20-game stretch, Summers is hitting at a .434 clip, while Farst has been a .348 hitter.
"Something we preach is to just have quality at-bats," said Knerem. "We can't change a game in one swing. We want them to put the ball in play. We're hoping that we can get some production one through nine this week, but definitely, the top of the lineup has been huge for us all season."
In the pitcher's circle, freshman Laney Jones has been the revelation of the last two weeks, going 4-3 with a 2.84 earned-run average in 12 appearances (nine starts). Jones has 43 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 56 2/3 innings in that period.
"Laney came in late to a couple games, and did a really good job of keeping hitters off-balance. She's stepped up beautifully, and thrown some really great games," Knerem said, noting the two-hit shutout against GLIAC-champion Grand Valley State on the road on April 21. "She's getting better with every start."
Helping the cause for Ashland's pitchers has been the right arm of sophomore catcher Cassie Haight, who leads the GLIAC in runners caught stealing for the second year in a row. Haight has caught 11 runners stealing, and picked off 11 more, so far in 2018.
"Cassie has come through in some clutch situations for us defensively," Knerem said. "It's stopped some rallies for some teams. It's been really big for us, because it's huge outs for our pitchers."
The 2018 GLIAC Tournament will run through Sunday (May 6), with the championship game slated for 10 a.m. Ashland has made it to the final day in each of the last two seasons.
"We are going to have to have every aspect of our game playing well," said Knerem. "We are going to need our defense to play well, we're going to need some great pitching performances, and we're going to need our hitters to come through."