GVSU wins three of four GLIAC contests
Lakers play tight games against Ashland, Lake Erie
Grand Valley State softball is not for the faint of heart. The Lakers opened conference play over the weekend on the road with four one-run games and squeaked away with three victories.
GVSU (18-4, 3-1 GLIAC) split a doubleheader against Ashland on March 25, and then held off Lake Erie twice on March 26 by scores of 5-4 (10 innings) and 3-2.
Entering Friday’s GLIAC opener against Ashland (10-13, 1-3 GLIAC), the Lakers were 9-0 when scoring in the first inning. So, when GVSU uncorked four runs in the opening frame on a three-run triple from freshman Shannon Flaherty and an RBI single from junior Kelsey Dominguez, it looked like smooth sailing would ensue.
But, an ongoing problem throughout the weekend helped sink the ship: errors.
“We need to shore up our defense in key situations,” said GVSU head coach Dana Callihan. “For the most part it’s good, but when we get into those tight spots, that’s when something bad happens.”
While GVSU massively hurt itself by committing 10 errors over the four games, it’s still hard to overlook the fact that the Lakers scored in the first inning of every game — outscoring their opponents 10-1 in the opening frame.
“We got some pretty aggressive hitters at the top of our lineup,” Callihan said. “The thing that’s frustrating is we are getting ahead and then letting the other teams fight their way back into it.”
Starting pitcher Courtney Reinhold and the Lakers held Ashland to one run through four innings in the first game, but the Eagles’ attack eventually cashed in to score five runs across the fifth and sixth innings.
With GVSU trailing 6-4 in the top of seventh, consecutive one-out doubles by senior Chelsea Horvath and sophomore Teagan Shomin pulled the Lakers within one run. Shomin even moved up to within 60 feet away from tying the game, but that’s as far as she would get.
Senior McKenze Supernaw lined out to the hot corner and the Lakers lost their fourth game of the season in heartbreaking fashion, 6-5.
“It sucks that it didn’t go our way,” said junior Jenna Lenza. “Hopefully it doesn’t hurt us too much (conference-wise) as the season goes on.”
After getting knocked around and allowing a season-high 12 hits in the first game, the senior and freshman pitching tandem of Sara Andrasik and Allison Lipovsky cut that hit total in half in the nightcap.
Ashland starting pitcher Brittany Flanigan, on the other hand, was pulled after facing three batters and failing to record an out. The damage was dealt by a leadoff Shomin single and a ground-rule double for classmate Kaylie Rhynard that set the stage for Lenza’s first home run of the season.
A Horvath RBI single in the bottom of the fourth inning had GVSU leading Ashland 4-0 for the second time in the doubleheader. Similar to the first game, the Eagles mounted their comeback in the fifth and sixth innings. Ashland scored three runs off four hits and an error.
The Lakers remained confident and calm when faced with the familiar flashback.
“We weren’t going to let that happen again,” Lenza said.
Lipovsky stepped in to relieve Andrasik with two outs in the sixth inning with runners on second and third. She pitched out of the tough spot and then preserved the one-run lead in the final frame to earn her first collegiate save, 4-3.
In Saturday’s doubleheader against Lake Erie (8-12, 0-4 GLIAC) a few more nervous moments were had.
But, before getting into that, junior Ellie Balbach continued the theme of lighting up the scoreboard early by hitting her second home run of the season to left-center field in the first inning to give the Lakers a 2-0 lead.
GVSU and Lake Erie traded runs in the third inning. The Storm came within a run in the bottom of the fourth on a passed ball, but a Balbach double stretched the Lakers' lead back out to 4-2 in the next half inning.
Returning to the drama, Lipovsky found herself back in trouble after 6.1 innings of work. This time, however, she wasn’t able to wiggle out of it. The tying runs reached base on an error and single, were moved over on a sacrifice bunt and eventually scored on a two-out double.
Contrary to what happened the day before against Ashland, Lipovsky went out, and Andrasik came in.
Andrasik stranded the winning run on third base to force extra innings, and then did the same thing again in the bottom of eight inning after hitting the leadoff batter. She weathered the Storm for long enough for Lenza to come to her aid and deliver an RBI double in the top of the 10th inning to nudge the Lakers to victory, 5-4.
“It’s a good feeling to get the win for your team,” Lenza said. “We needed that win to help our confidence and help us start off well in the second game.”
Customary to GLIAC rules, the teams flipped who batted first in the second game. Lake Erie, leading off, went up 1-0 early on another Laker miscue.
Unfazed and accustomed to quick starts, the Lakers evened the score in their half of the opening frame on a sacrifice fly by Lenza.
Supernaw doubled in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fourth inning only to have the Storm scrape together a run off a bunt single, a stolen base and a passed ball to tie the game at two apiece in the top of the sixth.
Then, in the seventh, another GVSU fielding error caused problems. The Lake Erie go-ahead run reached second base, but Balbach used her arm to get out of the inning and present the Lakers with a chance to end the weekend on a winning note.
Balbach pitched a complete game, gave up four hits and two runs (zero earned).
Avoiding more extra innings, freshman Rachel Terwilliger coaxed a walk to lead off the bottom of the seventh, stole second base and then was sacrificed over to third base. Rhynard then played the hero bring Terwilliger home on a walk-off single.
But, Rhynard was quick to redirect all the praise to Terwilliger.
“It wasn’t a great hit, but Rachel made a really good read on the ball and forced the play at home,” Rhynard said. “Really, it was her effort and not so much the hit, but I’m still excited that it all worked out.”
The Lakers will travel to Detroit next for a doubleheader against GLIAC rival and nationally ranked No. 18 Wayne State (25-4, 4-0 GLIAC) on March 29 at 3:30 p.m.