It didn't take Ashland University long to put up its baseball team's 2019 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship and NCAA postseason appearance on the outfield wall.
The Eagles got one win closer to adding another NCAA Division II College World Series appearance on the same wall on Friday (May 24) afternoon, defeating Illinois Springfield, 7-4, in the first game of a best-of-three Midwest Super Regional at Donges Field.
Ashland improves to 46-12, while the Prairie Stars are 40-16-1. The Eagles, who hadn't played at home in five weeks, are 17-0 at Donges Field in 2019.
"It was a good win against a very solid team," said Ashland head coach John Schaly. "We got good pitching performances from all three guys…it was just an overall good win.
"We earned the right to play here. Great crowd. We love playing here."
After junior right-hander Chance Hitchcock got out of back-to-back runner-on-second-and-one-out situations in the second and third innings, the Eagles broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the third with a four-spot. Ashland scored its first run on a UIS error, then junior designated hitter Carson Mittermaier and junior center fielder Michael Rogers added RBI singles, and junior third baseman Garett Robberts chipped in with a sacrifice fly.
The Prairie Stars scored twice in the top of the fifth to cut their deficit in half, then did the same in the top of the sixth to re-tie the game at 4. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, the Eagles re-took the lead with two two-out runs when sophomore shortstop Austin Eifrid recorded a run-scoring infield single and UIS committed its second error of the game.
Ashland added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth on a safety squeeze bunt from senior pinch-hitter Sam Hawley.
Junior lefty Josh Smith (2-0) continued his strong postseason, earning the win with two scoreless innings in relief of Hitchcock, who allowed seven hits, four runs (three earned) and one walk and struck out six. Senior closer Chris Slavik earned his eighth save by getting the last five outs, three via strikes.
"We answered right away, and Smith and Slavik were great out of the bullpen," Schaly said.
"The fans showed out today," Slavik said of the crowd, which was more than 500 strong. "We appreciate the support, and it's fun to be back. There's something about playing at home. I don't know what it is."
Mittermaier was 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, and sophomore first baseman Micah Allen was 2-for-4. Sophomore right fielder Dillan Smith (13 games) and Robberts (nine games) each extended their hitting streaks with a hit on Friday.
"It's always nice getting the first hit, and everyone just trails behind you," Mittermaier said. "It can be anyone. All the work we put in in the fall, every day, there's no better feeling."
The 46 wins for the Eagles this season are the third-most in program history, trailing only the 2002 team (48) and the 2004 and 2006 squads (47 each). With five NCAA postseason victories this season, Ashland has tied its best single-year mark there, as well, along with 2006 and 2008.