The Mount Union softball team plays in the 2012 Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament this weekend at Ohio Northern University in Ada. The Purple Raiders will play top-seeded regular season champion Ohio Northern at 1 pm in their opening game of the double-elimination tournament.
Mount Union (20-18, 10-18 OAC) makes its 21st appearance in the OAC Tournament, which is second only to the 26 trips made by Muskingum. The Raiders have a 28-37 record in the OAC Tournament with a title in 2008 and a record 10 second-place finishes.
A year ago, the Raiders defeated the top-seeded Polar Bears in their opener before falling to Baldwin-Wallace in eight innings and then being eliminated by the Polar Bears. They hold a 7-4 advantage all-time in OAC Tournament games against Ohio Northern.
The Purple Raiders are the No. 4 seed but enter the tournament as the conference's hottest team, winning six consecutive games and eight out of nine overall. Their last loss came at Ohio Northern, 9-5, on April 15.
Mount Union's Sandy Douglas is in her 27th season as head coach and enters the tournament with a career record of 618-379 (.620). She became only the second coach in OAC history to win 600 games when the Raiders defeated Emmanuel (Mass.), 8-3, on March 6. Douglas guided Mount Union to its only OAC Tournament Championship in 2008 and has a 27-36 record in the tournament.
Mount Union uses a two-pitcher rotation and has a team ERA of 3.16 on the season and 3.33 in OAC games. The Raiders rank third in the conference in strikeouts (194) and fourth in ERA.
Senior Bre Willis (Navarre/Fairless) found her rhythm over the final month of the season. Willis (10-8) is 6-1 with a 0.93 ERA and 49 strikeouts in her last seven appearances and 6-3 with a 1.62 ERA and 55 strikeouts in OAC games. One of her conference-best five shutouts came in a 5-0 win at Ohio Northern last month. In that game, Willis had nine strikeouts and surrendered just four hits to the Polar Bears.
Willis is the lone member of just the second senior class in program history to qualify for the OAC Tournament all four years. Last year's seniors were the first class to accomplish that feat. A two-time All-OAC honoree, she ranks second with 14 career shutouts and is tied for fourth with 40 wins.
Junior Rachel McAninch (West Jefferson/West Jefferson) leads the team in strikeouts (93), complete games (16), and innings pitched (129). McAninch is 8-10 with a 3.69 ERA on the season, but has won her last three starts while allowing just six earned runs. Her last loss came last month at Ohio Northern. The Polar Bears exploded for 16 hits and 9 runs (3 unearned) off McAninch, who recorded eight strikeouts. She went 2-1 in three starts with a pair of shutouts against Ohio Northern last season.
Mount Union's bats have come to life in recent weeks. The Raiders rank ninth in the conference in runs (161) and last in batting average (.266). Over the final 12 games of the season, however, the Raiders hit .333 with 10 home runs and averaged 5.5 runs per game. That stretch began with a sweep of Case Western Reserve in which the Raiders had 18 runs, 26 hits, eight doubles and three home runs.
Junior outfielder Kristen Gromes (Navarre/Fairless) sets the table for the Raider offense from the leadoff spot in the lineup. Gromes is second on the team with a .336 batting average and is tied for the conference lead with six triples. She leads the Raiders in eight other offensive categories, including runs (33), hits (37), doubles (6), walks (19), and on-base percentage (.455). Her trio of three-hit games lead the team and her nine multi-hit games are tied for third.
Junior outfielder Marissa Earl (Massillon/Washington) has a team-best 28 RBI, is tied for the lead with five home runs, and is hitting .324 on the season. Earl's emergence over the last 12 games has been vital to the Raiders' run to claim the final spot in the OAC Tournament. She hit .442 with three doubles, one triple, three home runs, and 14 RBI during that time and has hit safely in six consecutive games. Earl leads the Raiders with nine multi-RBI games and is second with 10 multi-hit games.
First baseman Leigh Siedlak (Westerville/Westerville South) is among the top freshmen in the OAC. Siedlak leads the Raiders with a .364 batting average, is tied for first in doubles (6) and home runs (5), and is second in RBI (24). She leads the team with 11 multi-hit games and is second with six multi-RBI games.
Sophomore second baseman Shelby Carmichael (Dalton/Dalton) has a .286 batting average, is tied for the team lead with six doubles, and is tied for third on the team with 18 RBI. Carmichael, who had her 10-game hitting streak ended over the weekend, enters the OAC Tournament as one of the Raiders' hottest hitters. She is hitting .447 with four doubles, a home run, and eight RBI over the last 12 games.
Sophomore catcher Brittany Papp (Uniontown/Green) is hitting .291 with 18 RBI and is tied for the team lead with six doubles. Papp hit .389 with four RBI and her only home run of the season in six games against the other three participants in Ada this weekend.
Sophomore designated player Brenna Longo (Moon, Pa./Moon) was inserted into the pitcher's spot in batting lineup 12 games ago and Mount Union has lost just twice since. During that span, Longo is hitting .333 with five doubles.
Scouting Ohio Northern
The Polar Bears (24-9, 14-3 OAC) won their fourth consecutive regular season title and are ranked 24th in the final NFCA Division III Coaches Poll. Ohio Northern lost just twice at home this season, but one of those losses was to Mount Union. They swept John Carroll and Otterbein by a combined score of 34-7.
Ohio Northern's lineup hits .357, which is 13th in the nation, and is led by senior catcher Kimi Blewett. Blewett leads the OAC with 10 home runs to go with two doubles, 34 RBI, and a .371 batting average. Freshman outfielder Kelly Sheridan has a team-best 37 RBI to go with five home runs and a .364 batting average while sophomore outfielder Christin Miller is hitting a conference-best .473 from the plate. Senior second baseman Jackie Mangola, a two-time Gayle Lauth OAC Player-of-the-Year selection, is batting .304 with 19 RBI.
Junior Abbey Bensing has been the top pitcher for the Polar Bears. Bensing is 11-4 with 81 strikeouts and a 2.14 ERA, which is the second-lowest in the OAC. She allowed five earned runs on 13 hits in a loss to Mount Union earlier this season, but has a 4-0 record since.
Scouting John Carroll
The Blue Streaks (27-13, 12-6 OAC) clinched the No. 2 seed by winning eight of its final nine OAC games, including a sweep of first round opponent Otterbein. Runner-up last year, John Carroll won its first OAC Tournament in 2010. They split their six games against the other participants this weekend.
Senior Brittany Danilov followed last season's John Wells OAC Pitcher-of-the-Year selection with a 19-5 record and 2.33 ERA. Danilov leads the OAC in wins, innings pitched (159.1), strikeouts (177), saves (3), and is tied for the lead in shutouts (5). She threw a no-hitter against Otterbein on April 15th.
At the plate, the Blue Streaks hit .306 and have scored 219 runs to rank second in the OAC. Sophomore shortstop Samantha Becker hits a team-best .353 at leadoff and has five home runs and 24 RBI. Senior third baseman Erin Riccardi leads the Streaks with 27 RBI and is hitting .323 from the plate.
The Cardinals (26-14, 11-7 OAC) have won three straight games, but are just 6-4 in their last 10 games. Otterbein is making its fifth OAC Tournament appearance and first since 2006. They swept Mount Union and were swept by Ohio Northern and John Carroll.
Outfielders Laura Basford and Casey Clarridge lead a Cardinal lineup with the second-best batting average in the OAC at .321. A sophomore, Basford hits .461 while leading the conference in runs (45), hits (65), stolen bases (31), and triples (6). She also has 18 extra-base hits and 22 RBI. A senior, Clarridge is hitting .406 and is second in the OAC in runs (42) and stolen bases (29) to go with 17 extra-base hits and 32 RBI. Junior catcher Erin Carpenter is hitting .320 and ranks second in the conference with 39 RBI.
Sophomore Kelsey Long leads a pitching staff with a 2.53 ERA. Long is 10-4 with a 3.27 ERA and has recorded 46 strikeouts. Sophomore Maggie McMahan (7-5) has an OAC-best 1.96 ERA and leads the Cardinals with 66 strikeouts and two saves.
Mount Union vs. the Field
The Purple Raiders went 2-4 against the other three teams in the OAC Tournament this season. They split road series with John Carroll and Ohio Northern while being swept at home by Otterbein.
OAC Tournament History vs. the Field
Mount Union is 7-4 in OAC Tournament games against Ohio Northern. The two teams met twice last year. The Raiders won their first round matchup, 1-0, and lost in the semifinals, 14-7.
Mount Union is 1-2 in OAC Tournament games against John Carroll. After splitting in 2009, the Blue Streaks defeated the Raiders, 5-3, in the opening round in 2010.
Mount Union defeated Otterbein in their only meeting, 11-5, at the first OAC Tournament in 1985.
2012 OAC Softball Tournament
Ohio Northern University – Ada, Ohio
Friday, May 4
Finals - Saturday, May 5