GVSU pitching staff bolstered by five transfers
The Lakers are relying on several new faces after ace Kyle Lawson went down with an injury
After the 2016 season, the Grand Valley State baseball team returned only one starting pitcher that exceeded 40 innings pitched, Kyle Lawson. The GLIAC All-Second Team selection led the team in innings pitched the previous season.
In the first game of the 2017 season, Lawson took the mound and cruised through the first three innings, allowing only one run and two hits with six strikeouts. He started the fourth inning with two more strikeouts.
On pace for a dominating start, he left the game in the fourth inning with an apparent arm injury. In the next couple weeks, Lawson received Tommy-John surgery, officially ending his season and leaving a large hole to fill in GVSU’s rotation.
Filling that hole has been a collective effort by Ryan Arnold, Jake Mason, Grant Peters, Tate Brawley and Noah Lamboley, the five transfer pitchers GVSU brought in during the offseason.
All five pitchers spent two years at their respective junior colleges due to high school injuries or to gain two years of collegiate baseball experience that would not be available at the Division I or II level.
“One, it’s a cheaper route for classes and stuff like that, and also being able to play for two years instead of sitting on a bench and redshirting,” Mason said. “I think you get more out of it playing for two years.”
Mason, a transfer from Sinclair Community College, has pitched 44 innings this season, recording a 3-3 record with a 5.32 ERA and 38 strikeouts.
In baseball, spending one or two seasons at junior college after high school is not uncommon. GVSU currently has 16 players on the roster that transferred from JUCO.
“I think JUCO is a stepping stone,” Brawley said. “You know what you have to work on and you have two years to improve yourself to get to this level. We didn’t take it for granted.”
After spending two years at Kellogg Community College, Brawley transferred to GVSU and currently sports a 2.48 ERA with a 4-0 record in 29 innings pitched.
All five of the transfers came from successful junior college programs. That experience gave GVSU coaches the confidence to call on them early in the season.
“When we’re going out and looking for transfer pitchers, we like guys who have competed for good programs who have already had success,” said GVSU coach Jamie Detillion. “Knowing that they went there, they competed, they’ve done well, that gives us all the confidence in the world that they have the ability to come here and succeed.”
From the first day of fall practice, the five pitchers connected based on their similar backgrounds.
“I can definitely relate to the things that they went through because we have the same background,” Peters said.
Peters, a transfer from Owens Community College, has six appearances this season with one start and 11 strikeouts.
“There’s definitely a bond with the JUCO kids,” Brawley said. “We’ve been through it. It’s a whole different life being JUCO.”
“JUCO is very laid back,” Arnold said. “It’s not that we didn’t work hard, but you got your stuff done and you did your thing.”
Arnold spent two seasons at Lincoln Land Community College before relocating to Allendale to suit up for the Lakers. He holds a 4.27 ERA with a 3-2 record and 43 strikeouts.
Advancing to a Division II program had its challenges with a change in atmosphere. JUCO baseball is its own subculture with players that know they will only be on the team for a maximum of two years.
“You go from practicing in a basketball gym and then you go to the Kelly building, all turf,” Brawley said. “There’s way more opportunities in Division II than in JUCO.”
Although it took time to adjust, the five transfers benefitted in the offseason learning from pitchers like Lawson who have been in the program for a season.
“He’s the ace so you looked forward to him having a great year his senior year,” Arnold said. “Him getting hurt was a big surprise.”
After the injury, the five pitchers were forced to figure out Division II baseball without the experienced ace helping them along the way.
“When he went down, the one strong senior in our starting rotation, it almost felt like we lost some of the leadership,” Mason said. “Observing how he goes about his work and how he dominates batters, I feel like we had to figure that out for ourselves instead of getting a chance to watch it which was tough.”
With only two other returning starting pitchers on the staff, the transfer pitchers were thrust to the forefront to receive more starting opportunities.
“I think we were all hyped about the opportunity though,” Lamboley said. “We were excited to move up and take those roles. I think we all really wanted to be starters and got that chance.”
As a transfer from Parkland College, Lamboley is 4-1 on the season with one save in 30.1 innings pitched.
With more experience, the five transfers are improving with each start. Last week in two doubleheaders against Ashland and Lake Erie, Arnold, Mason, Brawley and Lamboley all won their starts giving up no more than four runs in each start.
“It starts and stops with pitching,” Detillion said. “If you can keep runs off the board, you have a chance to win. Historically, we’ve always hit a little bit better as the year goes along.
“A lot of our success from here on out is going to be solely dependent on our pitching.”
The Lakers currently sit tied for fourth place in the GLIAC with 12 games remaining. With little room for error, every game is vital if the Lakers want a chance at the GLIAC title.
“We still have to do what we’ve been trying to do all year, just give the team a chance to win,” Arnold said. “If we do that, then that’s a job well done.”
At the center of the success the rest of the season will be the five JUCO-transfer pitchers, all coming from similar backgrounds and arriving at GVSU to achieve the same goal: to win ball games.
Regardless of results, the five pitchers will always have the bond of experiencing JUCO baseball before suiting up in a Lakers’ uniform.
“You can take the boy out of the JUCO, you can’t take the JUCO out of the boy,” Lamboley said.