GVSU softball NCAA Tournament preview
Five keys for the Lakers to make a run in postseason play
The cards have been shuffled and now dealt. The Grand Valley State softball team found out Monday morning who was going to be sitting next to them at the poker table.
With tension in the air after the Lakers slipped up in the conference tournament over the weekend, GVSU only dropped down one seat from being the third-best team in the regional rankings last week to earning the fourth seed in the Midwest region of the national bracket.
The Lakers (37-10) began the NCAA Division II Tournament in Indianapolis on May 5 at 2 p.m. with revenge on their minds against fifth-seeded Southern Indiana (35-19). GVSU met Southern Indiana in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago and lost 4-2. But, the Lakers did defeat the Screaming Eagles earlier this season on March 8 in 10 innings, 3-2.
The double-elimination regional also consists of host and top-seeded University of Indianapolis (50-3), who face the G-MAC conference champions, eighth-seeded Trevecca Nazarene (43-15) in the opening round.
Here are five keys to success for the Lakers as they look to go all-in and make their sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament a memorable one.
1. Setting the table
The Lakers’ offense is most efficient when the 1-2 punch of junior Janae Langs and sophomore Kaylie Rhynard are reaching base with regularity at the top of the lineup.
The sheer speed the tandem possess allows GVSU head coach Dana Callihan to be aggressive on the bases, which in return puts added pressure on opposing teams.
Rhynard leads the team in runs scored (31) and stolen bases (19), while Langs has scored 17 runs in 24 games since returning to the grassy center field after helping lead the GVSU basketball team to the Final Four as the starting point guard.
Lurking in the third spot, if junior Jenna Lenza can keep the runners moving along like she has recently – reaching base in her last 15 games, leading the team in on-base percentage (.436) and walks (25) – then the Lakers are in a strong position when having those chips on the table.
2. Strike early and bet often
Going hand-in-hand with the first key, senior McKenze Supernaw and junior Ellie Balbach have taken full advantage when their teammates get on in front of them. They led the way with 10 multi-RBI games each and both have slugging percentages over .500, as does Lenza.
GVSU, as a result, has cashed in more runs in the first inning than in any other inning. The Lakers have outscored their opponents 49-8 in the opening frame, are 22-1 when they score in the first inning and 32-1 when they light up the scoreboard first.
Once the pot gets big enough, then it's game over. The Lakers haven’t lost this season when knocking in six or more runs (17-0). So, make the initial bet and keep on raising.
3. Full house beats aces
In GVSU’s 10 losses this season, the winning opposing pitcher has tossed a complete game seven times, and held the Lakers to 3.9 hits and 1.1 earned runs on average in the defeats.
The Lakers have lost to two pitchers twice: GLIAC Player of the Year for the third consecutive season, Wayne State’s Lyndsay Butler (27-4, 0.68 ERA) and Ashland senior Sarah Alley (17-8, 2.38 ERA).
Combined, the eight pitchers to nab a victory against GVSU are 114-59 with six of them bolstering an ERA below 2.55. When the Lakers loss, it’s usually to a hand holding an ace.
Against Southern Indiana, GVSU’s team orientated station-to-station offense will likely see either Sarah Owens (15-6, 3.46 ERA) or Haylee Smith (11-8, 2.90 ERA). So, closer to being kings or, more fitting since this is softball, queens of the deck.
Never get caught looking too far ahead, but it’s hard not to notice No. 1 Indianapolis casually flashing their ace of spades, senior Morgan Foley. Having pitched an even 1,000 innings in her four-year career entering the tournament, Foley is 138-25 with a 1.18 ERA and has thrown five no-hitters this season (eight in her career).
To top it off, Foley was named a Top 25 finalist for the Schutt Sports/NFCA Division II National Player of the Year for a second straight year. A seamless transition to the next key…
4. Bluff responsibly
Nine current Lakers were in the starting lineup against Southern Indiana last season, including the starting pitcher, now-sophomore Courtney Reinhold. While the Lakers have another year of experience under their belt, they are still a fairly young team.
Southern Indiana, like GVSU, only has three seniors.
So, the winner between these two youthful squads will likely get to test its luck against the upperclassmen-driven Indianapolis team, given that the Greyhounds’ seven seniors and five juniors can take care of Trevecca Nazarene.
The Lakers' early exit in the GLIAC Tournament indicated that teams aren’t afraid of them or the reputation that comes with the GVSU logo. The College World Series appearances in 2002 and 2013, and winning the GLIAC regular season title five times since 2000 is in the distant past.
These young, but slightly more experienced Lakers can build off what happened last year, but opposing teams aren’t going to buy into the bluff that this team is as good as they were three years ago.
The Lakers are by no means the favorites. But, to be fair, they aren’t the underdogs either.
5. Ride on the river
When the last card hits the table, the Lakers are going to need some luck. A bounce here, a bounce there, just something that will flip the odds in their favor.
But, to get to that point, GVSU has to keep games in reach. The Lakers have been finding ways to win close games all season by going 10-3 in one-run games and 5-2 in contests decided by two runs.
Waiting on the river is risky, but they are Lakers after all. If GVSU plays its cards right and avoids frequently paddling upstream, then keep tabs on the Lakers because they could surprise the table.
And maybe, just maybe, for the third time in program history, a royal flush will surface on the river and the Lakers can book their tickets to Denver for the main event – the College World Series.