Brugnoni, Lakers win title in historic fashion
With one swing of the bat, the Grand Valley State University baseball team made a resounding statement that led to an outright conference championship.
Top-seeded GVSU began the 2014 GLIAC Tournament in Xenia, Ohio by racking up 29 runs in a pair of victories over Ashland University and Tiffin University, but found itself clinging to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning on Saturday against Lake Erie College — a team that went 3-0 against GVSU in the regular season.
Senior first baseman Giancarlo Brugnoni — who entered the game needing just one home run to break the GLIAC career record set by GVSU coach Jamie Detillion, who hit 47 at Ashland from 1997-2000 — stepped to the batter’s box with two on, two outs, a 2-0 count and too much experience to let a fastball over the outer part of the plate zoom by him.
“It was a big moment, and big-time players do big-time things in big moments,” Detillion said. “He got a good pitch to hit — and he stepped up. Not only was it a record-breaking home run, but it was also a big moment in the game and it really helped our pitchers out.”
It was certainly a big moment for Brugnoni.
Not because the team-oriented slugger inked his name into the GLIAC record book, but because it helped the Lakers push their winning streak to 12 games, a streak that began in mid-April after the team was swept by Lake Erie in Painesville, Ohio.
The three-run blast to right field simultaneously gave Brugnoni the record, Detillion a reason to rest senior starter Sean Clancy — who moved to 8-0 on the year after giving up just six hits — and sophomore pitcher Patrick Kelly more than enough breathing room to secure the win with a pair of shutout innings.
“I was extremely excited — one of the most emotional home runs of my career,” said Brugnoni, the 2014 GLIAC Player of the Year. “Not because of the record, but because Lake Erie swept us earlier this season. That might have been one of the only times we’ve been swept in my career — it was a bad trip for our team — but when I was rounding second I realized it was a record-breaking home run, too.
“It was an emotional moment. It was awesome, (Detillion) met me outside the dugout and gave me a big hug. He’s been my coach and he’s trained me well enough to come here and beat his record in the years that I have. It was a good moment, especially from coach to player.”
The coaches and players weren’t done yet, however, as the double-elimination format gave Lake Erie a chance to storm Saginaw Valley State University 13-3 in the nightcap — meaning the Lakers would have to weather the Storm once again in order to obtain the conference title on Sunday.
The Lakers, who had 11 different players garner All-GLIAC honors on Wednesday, showed they are much more than a one-man show offensively — and a group of juniors proved it early on.
After starter Kevin Hallberg pitched a scoreless first inning, center fielder Mike Nadratowski provided a lead-off single which seemingly sparked the Laker bats. Right fielder Jamie Potts followed it up with a four-pitch walk, then second baseman Kevin Zak hit an RBI single to left before Brugnoni notched an RBI single of his own to make it a 3-0 game.
The offense was just getting started.
Zak blasted a three-run roundtripper over the left-field wall in the bottom of the second inning to make it a 6-0 contest, then Brugnoni deposited another solo shot to center as GVSU took a 7-2 lead.
“Anyone in our lineup is able to step up and have a huge day on any given day,” said Zak, who went 3-for-4 with four RBIs to go with three runs. “That’s one of our best strengths. If a guy struggles, someone else behind them steps up and gets a big hit.”
Seven Lakers provided at least one hit in the 10-2 victory while four different pitchers — Hallberg, senior Dan Saier (W, 3-1), junior Evan Nietfeldt and senior closer Chris Ripple — combined to give up just four hits and one earned run.
Brugnoni finished with 10 RBIs, eight hits and three homers in the four-game stretch on his way to being tabbed as the tournament MVP. He, Zak, Nadratowski, senior shortstop Stuart Eisler and junior starter Aaron Jensen were named to the GLIAC All-Tournament Team.
“Hopefully we’re in the midst of rolling,” Detillion said. “When we recruit players to Grand Valley we show them trophies in the lobby and it’s something that we strive for. The time is now for the regional, and it’s something we’ve set our sights on. Every team can get hot for a weekend, and we have been playing well, but we want to peak right now.”
No. 17 GVSU, the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Tournament, will square off against a familiar foe — fifth-seeded Lake Erie — at noon on Thursday at the University of Southern Indiana Baseball Field in Evansville, Ind.