GVSU fails to protect regional championship
Junior outfielder Mike Nadratowski bats against Wayne State on Friday. The Lakers finished with a 39-13 record after their 2-2 run in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Tournament.
A conference championship, a conference tournament title and a top-three finish at the regional tournament would be considered a terrific season for most college baseball programs.
Not this one.
The Grand Valley State University baseball team came up short in the Midwest Regional at the University of Southern Indiana Baseball Field over the weekend after being limited offensively in a pair of 5-2 losses against USI and Drury University.
GVSU, one of only two NCAA Division II schools to qualify for a regional tournament in each of the last 13 seasons, was unable to live up to its expectations after finishing as the No. 3 team in the nation a year ago.
“It’s tough right now,” coach Jamie Detillion said. “Any time you end your season it’s tough to digest right away, but 39-13 is still a pretty good year. We won the conference and the conference tournament and were just a couple breaks away from still playing.
“Looking back, it was still a successful season, we just didn’t play well in a few games that we probably could have won -- but we’re right there, there’s nothing to hang our heads about. We’ve got good players and a good nucleus of returning players coming back next year.”
The team, which won the GLIAC Tournament Championship after beating Lake Erie College in back-to-back games, picked up where it left off in the regional on Thursday with a third straight victory against the Storm. Eight different Lakers supplied at least one hit in the 9-4 triumph as junior starter Aaron Jensen moved to 7-3 on the year.
GVSU carried the momentum into its second game against another familiar foe, Wayne State University, and led 3-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning when senior first baseman Giancarlo Brugnoni stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one more chance to make GLIAC history.
Brugnoni blasted one over the left-field wall, pushed his GLIAC record of career home runs to 49 and broke another one of his coach’s career records as the grand slam increased his career RBI total to 205, eclipsing the conference record of 203 set by Detillion (at Ashland University from 1997-2000) and Jacob Petkac (AU, 2007-2010).
“He was one of the most productive players in Grand Valley history,” Detillion said. “He was great this year, he was as steady as he’s ever been. He cut his strikeouts down and worked hard every single day. He did the little things to become a good player and he’s going to be sorely missed not only because of his production but also because he was a good teammate and a good person.”
The Lakers held on for a 7-2 victory -- their 15th in a row -- and were the only unbeaten team left in the tournament. The team certainly seemed primed for another College World Series run until things started to go awry against host USI on Saturday.
After turning a double play in the top of the fifth inning, GVSU went haywire. The fifth-inning box score had “blooper reel” written all over it, as the Lakers committed four errors -- three of which came on the same play. The Screaming Eagles capitalized by scoring three runs after the sudden spell of erraticism, and held on for a 5-2 win.
“Those were the three go ahead runs and we couldn’t dig ourselves out of that hole,” Detillion said. “We beat ourselves up and put a little too much pressure on ourselves for no reason. We shot ourselves in the foot a few times, left a lot of guys on base and couldn’t seem to get a big hit.”
GVSU still had hope in the double-elimination tournament, but struggled against Drury pitching in the Sunday matinee with just six hits.
Brugnoni, who was named the regional player of the year by two associations last week, was walked twice in the game and closed out his career with an 0-for-2 afternoon. Drury refused to let him be the hero.
“They were working around me a lot,” he said. “Most of the times when there were runners in scoring position they weren’t giving me anything, and at the end of the at-bat they weren’t going to give me a chance to hit.”
The 5-2 loss may have been his last game in a Laker uniform, but the slugger figures to have more baseball to play in the coming years.
The Grosse Pointe, Mich. native finished his five-year career with the most home runs, RBIs, total bases (424), walks (121) and putouts (1,693) in the school record book. This season, his home-run total (17), RBIs (70) and on-base percentage (.528) ranked as the second-highest marks in GVSU single-season history.
He will certainly be remembered as one of the most feared Laker hitters -- but he won’t remember his time in Allendale by accolades, records or numbers.
“Going to the World Series is the biggest accomplishment out of all of them,” he said. “You never forget those teammates you celebrate with or going to Cary. That’s the top of your career, that was definitely the most memorable time with these guys. There’s nothing that beats that.”
In 2015, the team will have to find a new first baseman, shortstop, catcher and closer as Brugnoni, Stuart Eisler, Taylor Banks and Chris Ripple will no longer be in the starting lineup. However, the new senior class appears to be more than capable.
Right fielder Jamie Potts, who hit .412 this season, will be one of four Daktronics First Team All-Region players coming back. He, Jensen, second baseman Kevin Zak, third baseman Aaron Overbeck, utility man Jesse Abel, center fielder Mike Nadratowski and junior starter Evan Nietfeldt figure to give GVSU another shot at advancing to the national tournament.
“This group of seniors did a great job leading this year,” Potts said. “We couldn’t ask for a better group in terms of leadership and skill, and they will be remembered for a long time. We are losing these seniors, but we have a lot of guys who are going to have to step up -- and we have a talented junior class. We’ll have quite a few seniors on this team next year and that will be really important when we move into the postseason.”