GVSU softball falls in College World Series

The underdog Lakers see their unlikely postseason run come to an end

By Alex Eisen | 5/19/16 7:18pm

A mile high in altitude and in enthusiasm, the Grand Valley State softball team traveled to Denver, Colorado with a dream of bringing home the program’s first national championship.

The dream was short-lived, but the memories of reaching the NCAA Division II College World Series will last a lifetime.

“A majority of us had never been to Colorado before,” said senior McKenze Supernaw. “So, it was a little like ‘Wow, we’re actually here. We’re playing softball, we don’t have school to worry about right now and we’re going to have fun and go out there and do our best.’

“Yeah, it was a bummer we lost, but there is definitely a good season to be proud of.”

GVSU (43-13) was shutout on May 17 by No. 1 West Texas A&M, 4-0, in the opening game of the eight-team, double elimination national tournament. Then, the following day, the Lakers’ memorable season came to an abrupt end as No. 16 Armstrong State powered past GVSU, 7-4.

“This team deserved to be here,” said GVSU head coach Dana Callihan. “As far as the level of play here, we could hang with them. We just missed some opportunities in both games.”

Lefty Ellie Balbach took to the circle in game one against West Texas A&M and deservedly so after stifling No. 10 Wayne State’s potent offense to zero runs in the Midwest Super Regional clinching victory.

Balbach, looking for an encore performance, relied heavily on her off-speed pitches and worked out of a few stress situations to keep the Lady Buffs off the scoreboard through the first three innings.

GVSU’s offense couldn’t capitalize either. The Lakers left the bases loaded in the first inning and stranded runners on third and first base in both the second and third innings.

The daunting West Texas A&M offense, leading the nation in team batting average (.363), runs per game (8.64) and team home runs (86), unleashed its dominance in the fourth inning.

“Every team here was a great hitting team,” Balbach said. “We held each team to a few hits then usually they just had one inning where they strung a couple hits together and that’s what really hurt us.”

The Lady Buffs plated all four of their runs in the game during the frame by scoring on a throwing error made on bunt laid down to freshman third basemen Shannon Flaherty and a pair of run scoring doubles.

Balbach was charged with just two earned runs because of the error, but was replaced by senior Sara Andrasik during the outburst. Andrasik prevented West Texas A&M from striking again, and racked up five strikeout in 3.1 innings of work.

The Lakers and Lady Buffs both notched seven hits in the contest, but GVSU left 12 runners on base – second-most this season – and six Lakers trotted back to dugout while standing in scoring position.

“We just couldn’t catch a lucky break,” Supernaw said. “Throughout the postseason we were able to get those lucky breaks, but we just couldn’t push through. It was kind of disheartening, but we still fought.”

Supernaw led the offense with two hits, Flaherty had GVSU’s only extra base hit with a sharp double into the gap in left center field in the second inning and sophomore leadoff hitter Teagan Shomin reached base a team-high three times (hit by pitch, walk and single).

It wasn’t enough. West Texas A&M pitcher Kilee Halbert tossed a complete game shutout to pick up the win (27-2) and Balbach was dealt her fourth loss of the season (8-4).

With the 4-0 defeat, GVSU dropped into the nervy do-or-die side of the bracket where they met No. 16 Armstrong State on May 18. The Pirates fell in a close 3-2 contest to No. 5 Humboldt State the day before.

Different day, same story for the Lakers – clutch offense was hard to come by. It was only fitting GVSU’s first run of the tournament would come not on a hit, but on a bases loaded walk to Supernaw in the bottom of the third inning. GVSU’s only lead wouldn’t last very long.

Armstrong State responded with a pair of runs in the next half inning on a leadoff home run and a RBI double three pitches later. After throwing three scoreless innings without giving up a hit, sophomore Courtney Reinhold – on an extremely short leash with the season on the line – was replaced by GLIAC Freshman of the Year Allison Lipovsky.

Lipovsky set the Pirates down in order in the fifth inning, but the defense didn’t come to her aid in the sixth.

Armstrong State expanded its lead to 5-1 on two RBI singles and a sacrifice fly. All of which might have been prevented had second basemen Jenna Lenza turned a double play on a caught line drive or Shomin hadn’t committed a throwing error early in the inning.

Facing an uphill battle down four, the Lakers clawed a run back in the bottom half of the inning on their first extra base hit of the evening. Junior Kelsey Dominguez doubled off the wall and came around to touch home plate on a two-out RBI single from classmate Janae Langs.

Armstrong State’s slugging first basemen Hannah Reppert didn’t take kindly to GVSU cutting into the Pirates lead and belted one of the longest home runs of the tournament to left center field off of Andrasik, who stepped in to pitch the seventh. The two-run blast was Reppert’s team-leading 20th of the season and her second of the game.

Supernaw countered with a two-run home run of her own in the bottom of seventh, but it would turn out to be a bitter sweet last collegiate at-bat for the senior as the Lakers last ditch rally to save their season came three runs short, 7-4.

“That (home run) is a great, great memory that I will always for the rest of my life,” Supernaw said. “But, playing that last game with the team that I had is going to be most memorable.”

Supernaw and Lenza led the team with two hits each in the contest. While Armstrong State narrowly outhit the Lakers (8-7), the Pirates only left one runner on base compared to GVSU’s eight.

Missed chances on the biggest stage put a damper on an otherwise impressive run by the Lakers in making the College World Series. GVSU hadn’t been ranked in the NFCA Top 25 all season and were predicted to finish fourth in the conference in the GLIAC preseason coaches’ poll.

The Lakers topped No. 2 Indianapolis in the Midwest Regional and swept rival No. 10 Wayne State in the Super Regional to finish as one of the best eight teams in the country.

“Nobody expected us to be here, except maybe the Grand Valley personnel,” Callihan said. “Our region was a very tough region and we are very proud that we came out on top.”

Alongside redshirt junior Marianne Deppe, seniors Supernaw, Andrasik and outfielder Chelsea Horvath walk away from the program as the only GVSU players to reach the College World Series twice in their careers (2013 and 2016).

“I came into Grand Valley going to the World Series with an amazing team and I went out going to the World Series with an amazing team as well,” Supernaw said.

With a majority of the roster returning next year, Callihan is hopeful the experience gained this season will carry over for another successful campaign in 2017.

“They got a taste of what it’s like. I hope that taste stays there coming in next fall. It’s been a really cool experience and I want them to have that hunger to come back again.”

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