GVSU softball excels on spring break trip
Pitching depth leads Lakers to 10-2 week
Rankings and resume-building wins are buzzwords when the calendar turns to March. In college softball, not so much. But, in the spirit of two-sport outfielder Janae Langs sinking game-winning shots for the Grand Valley State women’s basketball team, there is nothing wrong with getting a head start.
The GVSU softball team traveled to Clermont, Florida over spring break, bolstering a perfect record after four consecutive victories at the season-opening Lewis Dome Invitational.
While the Lakers (14-2) return to campus with a couple of blemishes on their once-flawless resume, a souvenir of dominance and prestige – a national ranking – might be following them home.
GVSU tore up the dirt diamonds in the Sunshine State during its annual spring trip by going 10-2, including wins over nationally ranked opponents and in-region NCAA tournament teams from a year ago.
The impressive string of results could catapult the Lakers into the next NFCA Top 25 poll out later this week. But, perhaps more relevant this early into the softball season, the quality victories prove they can compete with anyone.
“If we keep hitting the way we are and making key defensive plays, I think we can go all the way this year,” said sophomore pitcher Courtney Reinhold. “We are still pretty young, but everyone plays so well together and we are just going to keep getting stronger throughout the season.”
GVSU allowed one run in its first three games in Florida, with each starting pitcher going the distance.
“It’s fantastic,” said GVSU head coach Dana Callihan about the strength of her pitching staff. “If one has a rough inning or a rough game or something, then you know you got somebody to back them up. They are pulling for each other and that’s key for us right now.”
Reinhold got the ball first on March 6 and knocked off Sioux Falls (8-1). Senior Sara Andrasik followed by taking down No. 20 Winona State (3-0) and the next morning, freshman Allison Lipovsky posted a two-hitter in a 5-0 shutout over Quincy.
The pipe dream of an undefeated campaign, however, was decisively dashed later on March 7 against Minnesota Duluth. In a role reversal of the morning game, the Lakers lost 5-0.
“We didn’t make the adjustments at the plate that we needed to and then when we did, it was a little too late,” Callihan said. “But, hopefully that’s a learning lesson for us and that’s one of the things we talked about. Things like that are going to happen. We have to learn from it, move on and get the next one.”
Message received. Undeterred after its first defeat of the season, the next day GVSU fought from behind against Southern Indiana to force extra innings, and eventually celebrated a 3-2 win in the bottom of the 10th inning on an RBI single by junior catcher Marianne Deppe.
“It was amazing,” Deppe said. “It was a big, in-region game and we lost to them in regionals last year. So, it was nice to seal the deal with a win like that.”
Having pushed across only three runs in the previous two games, the Lakers’ offense surged again a few hours after the walk-off winner with 13 hits in a 9-1 thrashing of Saint Rose.
Senior McKenze Supernaw smacked her first home run of the season in the first inning and classmate Chelsea Horvath doubled in another two runs as part of a six-run third inning to help the Lakers pull away for good.
“We are playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Callihan said. “We’ve got a lot of potential. As long as we keep improving every day, we are going to be in good shape.”
After Wednesday’s rest day, GVSU’s bats cooled off again in the morning game on March 10. But, four runs on four hits were enough to fend off Trevecca Nazarene – a Midwest Region tournament team from a year ago.
Lipovsky struck out 11 batters in the 4-3 complete game win, but did make things interesting by allowing three earned runs in the seventh inning.
A more potent GVSU attack showed up in the afternoon game against Saint Joseph’s. Seven Lakers recorded a hit and freshman Shannon Flaherty led the way with three RBIs as GVSU pushed past the Pumas, 9-4, to cap its third undefeated day in Florida.
“Everyone in our lineup are great hitters,” Flaherty said. “When we all come together, that’s when we are at our best.”
Home runs by Supernaw and freshman Rachel Terwilliger sealed another 3-0 win over a ranked opponent in Friday’s first game. No. 21 West Chester was baffled in the batter’s box and couldn’t catch a break in the outfield as Reinhold hurled a complete game, two-hitter.
“I really relied on my defense. They played a heck of a game,” Reinhold said. “There isn’t one (defensive moment) that stands out to me, but everyone just played their hearts out and dove for everything. It’s awesome to have teammates that do that.”
A slip-up against Slippery Rock in Friday’s second game dealt the Lakers and junior starting pitcher Ellie Balbach their second loss of the season, 4-2.
The winning runs crossed home plate in the top of the seventh after two costly miscues on a fielding error and a wild pitch. But, the lack of offense put the Lakers in that position.
“We just didn’t look ourselves. (We were) off our game a little bit, and we faced a pitcher that was throwing to us different,” Callihan said. “She was throwing to us outside and she was really slow. So, that was something we had trouble adjusting to, chasing stuff we shouldn’t have been chasing and not being disciplined enough with our swings.”
It was also an uncharacteristically rough day for Balbach. Not only did she get tagged with another loss, she had her team-high 10-game hitting streak snapped in the game against West Chester.
Brushing off the past, Balbach delivered an RBI double in the bottom of the first inning to open the scoring on the Lakers' last day of the spring trip. From there, the runs kept coming.
GVSU coasted to a six-inning, 13-5 mercy win over Pace. Five Lakers had multiple hits. Supernaw and Balbach each drove in three RBIs, while sophomore Kaylie Rhynard went 4-for-4 and ended the spring trip as the team leader in batting average (.442), runs scored (13) and stolen bases (7).
Finishing strong with a 6-1 win over Minnesota State Moorhead, Lipovsky allowed just one run on three hits to convincingly conclude the 12-game trip. She leads the pitching staff in wins with a 6-0 record, ERA (0.82) and opposing batting average (.150).
On deck for the Lakers is the doubleheader home opener against Aquinas on March 16 at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.