By BRIAN LESTER
Tears streamed from the eyes of the seniors on the University of Findlay softball team as the reality of the moment sank in late Saturday morning at the Marathon Diamonds Complex.
Their careers were over, their final season at UF ended in swift fashion by rival Ashland, which topped the Oilers 9-1 in a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament elimination game.
The contest was called in the fifth as the run rule kicked in after the Eagles went up eight runs.
The Oilers were hoping for a longer run despite being the eighth seed. But they failed to produce offensively against the seventh-seeded Eagles, managing only two hits.
Still, despite the way it ended, the Oilers (23-19) are happy they were able to make it to this tournament for the second consecutive season.
Senior shortstop Emily Reynolds, a former standout at Elmwood, said she hopes the younger players will learn from the experience and use it as motivation for next season.
“We hope they got a good taste of it,” Reynolds said. “We made it to the second day of the tournament again, and we’re happy about that. I hope the players coming back can build on this and be even better next year.”
The Oilers scored a season-high in runs in a 16-11 win over top-seeded Ohio Dominican in the opener on Friday, racking up 17 hits in the victory, but they tallied just eight hits in their final two tourney games.
UF couldn’t get a break against the Eagles, who played solid defense and got a strong effort from Amber McDermott, who struck out three in her five innings of work and never allowed the Oilers any hope of a rally.
“It was the same thing last night (against Grand Valley). They were getting all of the hits,” Reynolds said. “Maybe we used up all of our hits in the first game. We didn’t get the key hits when we really needed them.”
But a glimmer of hope did exist at the start of the game. Jackie Messersmith, one of six seniors and a Mohawk graduate, crushed a home run in the first for a 1-0 lead. UF never scored again. Courtney Dwyer’s double in the fifth was the Oilers’ only other hit.
“After the home run, their pitcher really settled in,” UF head coach Ron Ammons said. “She did a great job of painting the outside corner and we took a lot of emergency swings to try and stay alive. She was right on today.”
Ashland (27-17), ranked sixth in the Midwest Region, gave McDermott plenty of offensive support as it took advantage of the Oilers not being able to go with its top pitcher, Tawna Whited.
Whited injured herself on Friday in the 8-4 loss to GVSU. Ammons didn’t go into details about the injury, but the second-team All-GLIAC pitcher was in obvious pain as a trainer checked on her in the dugout after the loss to the Lakers.
Bonnie Zappitelli started for the Oilers and took the loss. She gave up four runs on four hits in 1 2/3 innings of work.
“Tawna was hurt, so we had to go with our younger pitchers,” Ammons said. “It might have made a difference if Tawna had been able to go, but I don’t know. Ashland was just hot today.”
The Eagles tied the score in the bottom of the first as Sarah Alley drove in a run with a double to left. AU tacked on four runs in the second, including two on a double down the left-field line by Cayla Seidler.
The Eagles led 4-1 at the end of two innings and rolled from there as they cranked out 13 hits. Seidler and Alley paved the way, tallying two hits and three RBI apiece.
For the Oilers, just making the tournament was an accomplishment in a tightly contested league. The competitiveness of the GLIAC was evident in the tourney as the third seed (Saginaw Valley) and the fifth seed (Northwood) went winless in the tournament. Both teams were ranked in the Midwest Region.
“There are so many good teams in this league, and we had to play very hard just to get to the tournament,” Ammons said. “We have a good group of players coming back next year and we expect to be a good team again.”
Reynolds is thankful her career ended with two straight winning seasons and two appearances in the GLIAC tourney.
“Everyone wants to get to Sunday and play for a championship, but this was still a good experience,” Reynolds said. “We tried to set an example the way the seniors did for us last year, and I hope we did that.”
Findlay 100 00 — 1 2 0
Ashland 141 219 — 9 13 1
WP — McDermott (8-2). LP — Zappitelli (4-2). top hitters: (UF) Messersmith HR; Dwyer 2B. (AU) Seidler 2B, 1B, 3 RBI; Menhart 2-2B, RBI; Alley 2B, 1B, 3 RBI; Weber 2-1B; Buckley 2-1B; Prokopakis 2B, RBI.
records: Ashland 27-17, Findlay 23-19.
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