By ANDY WOLF
Madison Arnold’s fifth-inning three-run home run not only tied the game, but it tied the University of Findlay softball single-season mark as well.
Grand Valley State roared back, though.
The top-seeded Lakers answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame to upend the Oilers 7-4 in the opening round of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament Saturday at Marathon Diamonds.
Friday’s inclement weather moved the tournament back a day and into a single-elimination format.
The No. 8 seed Oilers bowed out at 20-24 overall.
“We battled hard, we fought hard,” UF coach Danielle Lowe said. “They played good defense. Grand Valley is a good team, and they hit the ball.”
GVSU (32-15) fell to No. 5 seed Ashland 5-4 in the semifinals while No. 3 Saginaw Valley State defeated No. 2 Wayne State 4-0 in the other semifinal.
In Sunday’s best-of-three championship series, Saginaw Valley swept Ashland 1-0 and 11-7 to claim the GLIAC tournament title.
Findlay couldn’t recreate the magic from a year ago when the Oilers toppled No. 2 seed GVSU 5-0 in the opening round and went all the way to the consolation finals.
On Saturday the Lakers, the best hitting team in the GLIAC with a .322 average, outhit the Oilers 15-4.
Six of those 15 hits were doubles, with the last two doing the most damage as they came back-to-back off UF reliever Haley Bryan in the Lakers’ three-run fifth inning.
No. 5 hitter Ellie Balbach hit a leadoff single and went to third via a hit-and-run as Shannon Flaherty doubled in the left-center gap.
Kelsey Dominguez doubled both runners home and she scored from third when UF catcher Destinie Keeton unsuccessfully tried to catch Jenae Langs stealing second with two outs.
Bryan (12-12) allowed three earned runs and nine hits in three innings of relief after starter Jenna Inman went 21/3 innings. Inman surrendered five hits, three of them doubles, and four earned runs before getting pulled with the Oilers trailing 4-1.
“Grand Valley is an awesome hitting team,” Lowe said. “Our pitchers put the ball where we wanted it and it just didn’t fall our way today.”
GVSU starter Allison Lipovsky (15-3) had her strikeout pitch working early as she fanned 14 batters to get the win. The outing marked her sixth straight start with double-digit strikeouts.
While she allowed only four hits, the Oilers did make her her throw 133 pitches.
Lipovsky cruised through the first four innings, striking out nine of the first 11 batters she faced and only allowing a solo home run by Keeton that tied the game 1-1 in the top of the second. Keeton’s blast was her eighth of the year.
The Oilers seized their opportunity in the fifth as Amanda Delmonte drew a walk and Meredith Shepherd singled with two outs.
Arnold, an Elmwood grad, stepped up and whiffed at the first two pitches. After taking a ball, she cranked one over the left field fence for her 11th home run of the year, tying the UF record set by Samantha Bradburn in 1987.
“In my first at-bat (strikeout), I swung at the riseball and I knew I shouldn’t have,” Arnold said. “That next at bat, I swung at the riseball and I’m like ‘Good lord, stop swinging at it.’
“I got in the box and I’m thinking to myself ‘Just touch it. You don’t have to hit it hard.’ And it went over, and I had no idea it went over. It felt like it was the worst swing of my life.”
Arnold began the year with no collegiate home runs and only one prior in her senior season at Elmwood.
“Hard work pays off,” Arnold said. “You’ve got to trust in yourself and know if you put in enough work, good things will happen. It’s been insane this season. That’s the only word I can think of.”
Hopewell-Loudon grad and senior Lauren Trumpler went 1 for 3 with UF’s only other hit. She graduates from UF third all-time in RBIs (100) and first in career fielding percentage (.986), making just 14 errors in 1,280 total chances at first base.
Trumpler had 371 putouts this season and 1,185 total to set school records in both categories.
The 2017 all-GLIAC softball selections were announced during the tournament and UF’s Arnold and Keeton receive honorable mention recognition.
In addition to her 11 home runs, Arnold, led the Oilers in hitting (.344), runs scored (34), RBI (30), doubles (9) and stolen bases (12). Keeton batted .309 with seven home runs, 27 RBI and 27 runs scored.
Findlay 010 030 0 — 4 4 2
Grand Valley State 112 030 x — 7 15 2
WP — Lipovsky (15-3). LP — Bryan (12-12). TOP HITTERS: (UF) Arnold HR, 3 RBI; Keaton HR, RBI. (GVS) Langs 2B, 1B; Shomin 2B, 1B, RBI; Latour 2B, RBI; Dominguez 3-1B, 2B, 2 RBI.
RECORDS: Findlay 20-24, Grand Valley State 32-15.