GVSU softball advances to the NCAA Super Regional after win
GVL / Robert Mathews
The Grand Valley State University softball team (42-6) combated two familiar opponents in Sunday’s Midwest Regional Softball Tournament final: the No. 3 tournament seeded Missouri-St. Louis Tritons (40-13), who the Lakers defeated 4-0 Saturday, and the weather.
“We’ve played in 32-degree weather in March and this is a little warmer than that (it hovered around 40 degrees), but not a whole lot,” said GVSU head coach Doc Woods. “I think we’ve gotten mentally tough. You just have to make the adjustment and I think our team knows you that can’t do much about it (the weather). You know you come in today and the wind’s blowing in your face at 20 mph. With our team that hits a lot of home runs, that’s not what you want to see, but you have to deal with it and do the best you can.”
After five scoreless innings on the blistery Michigan May Mother’s day, the chilled Lakers, who had patiently waited to thaw through the offensive freeze, broke the ice in the top of the sixth – it all started with a walk.
Senior slugger Katie Martin, who blasted a two-run homer in Saturday’s victory, the 57th of her career (tied for fifth most in Division II history), contributed more subtly Sunday and reached base on balls for the 32nd time this season.
“We had (senior) Emily Jones (who smoked a solo home run Saturday) coming up and you know do we bunt?,” Woods said. “What do you do on that? And I asked her and she says ‘Well, I’ll do what you want me to do’. And I say ‘What do you want to do?’ and she says ‘I want to hit’. She hit a single and got Katie to third. She came through.”
A hard and low bouncer angled just to the right of second, the ball bounded through the crack Martin had created and slipped halfway into centerfield.
“Well Doc, on that timeout, he asked me if I wanted to bunt or hit – obviously I said swing,” Jones said. “So I was just going up there saying ‘I can’t let him down now’. Tried to drive one and she gave me a good one to hit.”
The seniors had setup the Tritons, leaving junior Miranda Cleary to take care of the weather. A powerful shot sent high into center and wiffle balled into a drop zone in right did the trick, allowing the Lakers to get on the board and secure a 2-1 victory.
“I was just hoping it was going to fall,” Cleary said. “I saw the wind take it and I was like ‘Whoo! It went center to right.’ It felt good off the bat, but it also was up and there was a lot of wind so I was just praying that it got through.”
The tension palpable senior ace Hannah Santora was relieved by flame-throwing freshman Sara Andrasik in the sixth with no outs on the board and a championship on the line. With icy hands and ice in her veins, Andrasik delivered her second save of the season.
“I mean I was definitely nervous, but had to keep cool and focused and know that everybody’s got my back,” Andrasik said. “It was very tense because everybody’s loud and getting really into it, but I just tried to stay calm and do my thing. Growing up I was always put into pressure situations and now that I’ve done this in a VERY high pressure situation, in regionals that I know I can do it now and it’ll be a little easier going forward.”
Seven of GVSU’s eight runs in Friday’s 8-4 victory over tournament No. 7 seed Ferris State (29-15), including all five runs in the sixth inning punctuated by junior Brittany Taylor’s two-run homer that still hasn’t landed, and 12 of GVSU’s 14 total runs in three games this weekend came with two outs. Neither Santora, who pitched a three-hit gem on Saturday or Andrasik, both backed by a stingy GVSU defense, allowed a single extra base hit on the weekend. Save for last weeks GLIAC championship loss to Wayne State University, the Lakers have played their best (and most clutch) ball when it matters most. Although even that slip to the Warriors might have been to their benefit.
“I think (back-to-back defeats to Wayne State in last weeks GLIAC Championship finale) it played a lot into today’s game because the mentality of there could be two games and we really don’t want two games again,” Cleary said. “I think sometimes it helps you to get knocked down a little bit to build yourself back up. It makes you a little bit more humble going into the game.”
Beginning this Friday, the Lakers will travel to Baumgartner field in Indianapolis to take on the No. 1 ranked team in the NFCA poll and the top tournament seed University of Indianapolis Greyhounds (53-6, a school record), a team that had a Division II-high seven NFCA All-Region First Team representatives, and won their regional final against Ashland Sunday decisively 10-0, in a best of three gauntlet. After one, possibly two games Saturday, the winner will advance as one of eight teams represented in the NCAA Division II softball college world series.
The Greyhounds and Lakers share qualities distinctive of quality teams. Both squads have broken records this season, and have produced arguably the most historic seasons in their respective program’s histories (GVSU – 10 seasons of 40-plus wins in their history, three of which have come in the last three years, Indianpolis – No. 1 in the NFCA poll for seven straight weeks). Both teams boast quality pitching staffs bolstered by freshman slingshots (Morgan Foley, who allowed only two hits and had 10 K’s Sunday against Ashland, become Indianpolis’ first player in program history to record 300 strikeouts in a season, Andrasik has pitched two no-hitters). Both teams are senior laden (Indianpolis- 4, GVSU – 8, who likely played the last real home game of their careers Sunday), came up short in last year’s Midwest Regional and are hungry to accomplish more.
Prepared to take on their next challenge, if GVSU is to advance from the field of 16 remaining Division II softball programs still playing, they’ll have to continue to play loose and focused.
“We’ve had a lot of close games this year,” Woods said. “Luckily, most of those we’ve won and then we’ve talked about just finding a way to get it done. Find some way to get it done, hang in there and hopefully something good will happen. They’re (Indianapolis) a real good team with good pitching, but if we can get our pitching and our defense going, throw in a little bit of hitting I think hopefully we’ll match up. If you get some pitching, you get some defense, you’ve got a chance.”