By ANDY WOLF
FINDLAY — It took until the final pitch of the last game.
The University of Findlay softball team is postseason bound for the fifth-straight season.
Destinie Keaton’s walkoff grand slam closed out a must-win game against Tiffin 6-2 last Friday and put the Oilers in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament as the eighth and final seed.
“I didn’t even know it was going to go over because it wasn’t that good of a swing,” Keeton said.
Findlay (20-13, 10-12 GLIAC) now turns its attention to a familiar opponent in top-seeded Grand Valley State (31-15, 17-5) in a 10 a.m. Friday matchup at Marathon Diamonds in Findlay.
The Oilers got in on the third tiebreaker over Northwood (19-25, 10-12), which was swept in its regular-season games against No. 2 seed Wayne State; UF split its head-to-head matchups with the Warriors.
Grand Valley State topped Findlay in both regular season meetings at home, 6-0 and 6-4
There is some history on UF’s side.
Both met in the No. 2-No. 7 seed matchup of last year’s tournament with the Oilers pulling the upset 5-0.
Findlay won its next game 4-2 over Saginaw Valley State before dropping the next two to Wayne State (3-0) and Ashland (4-1 in 12 innings).
Wayne State has won the last five tournaments.
“We feel good about going into the tournament,” UF coach Danielle Lowe said. “We always play well at home. We line up well with Grand Valley.
“We’re excited to play them. We’re the eight seed — there’s no pressure on us. We don’t feel like the eight seed.”
The Oilers have endured a season full of ups and downs.
After reaching 31 wins in Lowe’s first season, the most since winning a school-record 35 in 1987, they didn’t talk about wins or losses in regards to preseason goals.
“We set working goals, things we either wanted to do better at or continue to do great this year,” Lowe said.
Lowe will turn to senior Jenna Inman (6-8) in the circle for the start.
Inman and fellow starter Haley Bryan (12-11) rely on their sharp command and defense behind them as spot-contact pitchers.
Inman has the lowest strikeout rate per seven innings (1.76) of any GLIAC player with at least 10 starts.
She’s actually walked more batters (31) than she has struck out (30) but sports a 3.52 ERA.
Bryan is 33rd in Division II with 1.01 walks per seven innings and has a 3.80 ERA.
“We talk about accuracy all the time and putting the ball where we want it,” Lowe said. “Whether it’s in or out or up or down, we could care less how fast they throw it.”
The method of operation is a huge contrast in styles since strikeout ace Chelsea McManaway (0.83 era) transferred to Division I Morehead State.
In just two seasons, McManaway is UF’s career strikeout leader (396), including the single-season mark last year (219).
Offensively, the Oilers have the lowest batting average (.247) of teams left in the tournament for the second straight year.
But when they hit, they usually win.
They’ve yet to lose when scoring at least five runs but have only three wins when scoring four or less.
Junior and Elmwood grad Madison Arnold has been on a breakout of a tear all season long and leads UF in nearly every offensive category.
Her clip includes a .344 average, 34 runs, nine doubles, 10 home runs, and 12 stolen bases.
She’s one bomb away from tying the UF single-season record.
Keeton (.309) has been a strong No. 2 punch with seven homers and 27 RBIs.
Her breakout sophomore season (.357) was derailed 20 games in after breaking two fingers sliding into second base.
She has since rebroken the two fingers, getting hit directly on the stitches on a pitch in a September scrimmage, but has recovered completely and was 100 percent by opening day.
Hopewell-Loudon grad and senior Lauren Trumpler (.253) has 13 RBIs to reach exactly 100 for her career. She’s the only senior in the lineup to see 100 plate appearances.
“We talk about the mental approach and hitting good pitches,” Lowe said. “They have done a fantastic job of being selective at the plate and hitting good pitches.”
Lowe doesn’t know which of Grand Valley’s four starters will get the nod.
Allison Lipovsky (14-3) led the GLIAC in strikeouts per game (9.45) and has a 1.28 ERA in 137 innings of work.
She fired a four-hit, three-walk shutout with seven strikeouts against the Oilers this season.
Ellie Balbach (3-7) has a 3.21 ERA in 15 starts while Courtney Reinhold (6-4, 2.48) and Allie Grys (8-1, 1.88) are also options.
“Grand Valley is usually a powerhouse in the GLIAC,” Arnold said. “But sometimes it’s good to feel like an underdog because when that upset happens you feel more of an adrenaline rush and you’re ready to take on the next team.”
Softball: Oilers are host, 8th seed for GLIAC tourney
By ANDY WOLF