GVSU baseball enters postseason as top seed

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Mike Nadratowski

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Mike Nadratowski

Jay Bushen

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The real season is about to start for the No. 18 Grand Valley State University baseball team.

GVSU (33-11, 24-6) begins its postseason quest this week with high expectations after finishing its 2014 campaign with the best record in the GLIAC and the second-highest ranking in the region.

The Lakers — who swept the bottom-three teams in the conference in succession to close out their regular season on Sunday — will begin their trek in the GLIAC Tournament on Thursday in Xenia, Ohio before making their 13th straight appearance in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional.

“It’s a great regular season but the slate is wiped clean and we start from scratch,” coach Jamie Detillion said. “The fun games — the significant games — are now, and hopefully we’ve prepared ourselves for them.”

All eyes will be on senior first baseman Giancarlo Brugnoni when the conference tournament starts.

Brugnoni needs just one home run to tie his coach’s career GLIAC record of 46 after leading the conference with 13 roundtrippers and 55 RBIs. His .382 batting average ranked third.

GVSU will also look to junior right fielder Jamie Potts for consistent production after the two-sport standout led the conference with a whopping .422 average this season.

“It’s really important for everybody in our lineup to produce, we’ve got to have all hands on deck for sure,” Potts said. “When you get into the tournament, you’re going to face a lot better pitching, so having everyone hitting well is extremely important.”

The dangerous lineup figures to strike fear into opposing pitchers once the playoffs begin, as six Lakers hit .327 or better during the regular season. However, their catalyst will need to be at his best.

Junior speedster Mike Nadratowski, a web-gem-producing wizard in center field, has seen a significant dip in his production after batting .337 in 2013. He is hitting .256 so far this year.

“He’s our spark plug,” Detillion said. “When he goes, we go. He hasn’t had the season he would have liked offensively but he’s still very talented.”

On the mound, GVSU will look much different than the team that finished third in the nation a year ago. A pair of junior transfers, Evan Nietfeldt and Aaron Jensen, will lead the way.

Nietfeldt finished the season with a GLIAC-best eight victories to go with an impressive 1.72 ERA. He gave up just 13 earned runs in 10 starts this season.

“We come in, throw strikes and do our job and I think our talent will take over,” he said. “I’m pretty confident in how we’ll do in the postseason. We’re the best team in the GLIAC. As long as we play our game, play with some swag and just be us — we should be able to win.”

Jensen came away with a 5-3 record, a 2.01 ERA, and led the team with a trio of complete games and 36 strikeouts. Like Nietfeldt, the 6-foot-6 starter will be called upon to go deep into games.

Last week, the rotation received a boost as sophomore starter Patrick Kelly returned from injury.

Kelly, the 2013 GLIAC Freshman of the Year, started just six games this season and went 2-2 with a 4.57 ERA after missing a number of games with a hand injury.

“We’ve learned how to win without him,” Detillion said. “We’ve had a good season, some guys have stepped up and thrived in their role so we’ll see what happens in the postseason.

“Hopefully he’s healthy and able to give us some quality innings, but he’s still building up his stamina.”

GVSU will likely face sixth-seeded Ashland University — which eliminated the Lakers on its way to claiming the 2013 title — on Thursday.

Wayne State University, Lake Erie College, Tiffin University, and Saginaw Valley State University also qualified for the GLIAC Tournament.