Lakers head south to start season

By Greg Monahan | 2/16/11 9:11pm

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GVL Archive / Andrew Mills
Grand Valley State University third baseman Dan Ponegalek throws the ball to first during a past game


As pitchers and catchers begin to report to spring training, the Grand Valley State University baseball team got a head start on the MLB and the rest of the baseball world last weekend as the team got its earliest start to the regular season in program history.

The Lakers took a 14-hour bus ride to Greenwood, S.C., last weekend to compete in the Lander Baseball Invitational and went 2-1 in the tournament, including a 13-5 victory to close out the weekend against 2009 National Champion Lynn University.

“It was competitive for us, especially coming out for our first three games,” said GVSU head coach Steve Lyon. “We’re pleased. We came out 2-1 against good teams. I’m a little disappointed in the loss on Saturday, but certainly we did what we thought we could do, which is find out more about this team and see how guys fit. So all-in-all it was a good trip.”

The temperatures in South Carolina were warmer than in Allendale but could hardly be considered ideal baseball weather. With the temperature mainly in the high 40s and low 50s, the Lakers were simply happy to get the chance to play outdoors.

“It was interesting going from here, where we have a foot of snow on our field, to down there,” said senior infielder Dan Ponegalek. “It wasn’t quite as warm as we had hoped, but it was warm enough to get some ball games in. It felt good to be out there and kick off the season a little earlier, and I think it turned out pretty well.”

Ponegalek got GVSU off to a hot start in the 13-5 win against Lynn as the third baseman belted a two-out first inning grand slam to put the Lakers up 4-0. The grand slam was the 170-pound infielder’s first home run since hitting two in high school.

“I was just looking for a good pitch to drive to the outfield and get our team on top early,” he said. “I was rounding first and saw it went over the fence. It was my first home run as a Laker, so it felt really surreal. I got all of it, and it happened to go over the fence, so I got a couple more RBIs than I would’ve imagined.”

As the Lakers kick off the season, there is a notable absence in the middle of the order. With Kyle Gendron (.381 avg, 7 HR, 50 RBIs last season) and Corey McGuire (.328, 9 HR, 39 RBI) graduated, the team has two huge spots to fill in the lineup.

Junior Cody Grice, who hit .455 last year and set a GVSU school record with 100 hits, has been moved from leadoff to Gendron’s old spot in the three-hole.

Grice said he is already getting used to being in the middle of the lineup.

“You definitely take a different approach,” he said. “It’s different – you see a whole lot of off-speed pitches and guys trying to pitch around me. So it’s a little bit tougher, but I think even just playing those three games I’m starting to see the ball a little better. I think I’ll settle in just fine, and hopefully I can fulfill that role.”

The Lakers are now off until March 3 when they play the University of Mary in Winter Haven, Fla. The team will be back to practicing in the Laker Turf Building until they leave during spring break.

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