GVSU softball splits doubleheader with Lewis

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Kaylie Rhynard

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Kaylie Rhynard

Alex Eisen

Driven to dead center field and crash-landing next to the American flag blowing in the wind, junior Ellie Balbach’s second home run of the season set the tone early. But, late heroics by the Lewis Flyers on the last hit of the series brought the Lakers back down to Earth.

The Grand Valley State softball team (15-3) split a doubleheader against in-region GLVC opponent Lewis (13-14) on March 22. Balbach gave the Lakers’ offense liftoff in the first game with all four RBIs in a 4-0 shutout, but the performance was eventually eclipsed in the second game by a Flyers’ walk-off winner to defeat GVSU, 3-2.

Timely hitting stood out as the difference-maker in both games. The Lakers, averaging 5.75 runs per game coming into the doubleheader, only managed to plate six runs over the two games.

“We didn’t play terrible by any stretch,” said GVSU head coach Dana Callihan. “In the first game we got key hits when we needed them. Second game we just hit some right at them and couldn’t manage to find the gaps.”

Starting with a strong pitching display in the first game, sophomore Courtney Reinhold hurled a complete game two-hitter to improve her record to 4-0 on the season.

The defense behind Reinhold deserved the bulk of the credit by recording 19 of the 21 outs, which included a diving catch from senior right fielder Chelsea Horvath to end the sixth inning.

“I definitely pitch more to get grounders and pop ups,” Reinhold said. “So, just knowing they are behind me 100 percent, and as long as I do my job they will do theirs, it’s an awesome feeling to have that backup.”

Following Balbach’s three-run blast in the top of the first inning, she looped a gapper to left-center for an RBI double in her second, and last at-bat in the third inning before getting pulled for pinch runner Ali Vander Meer.

Senior McKenze Supernaw was the only other Laker to collect two hits, and crossed home plate on both occasions while Balbach effectively executed her role as the clean-up hitter.

“First inning you bounced a pitcher around a bit and you get the momentum,” Callihan said. “That’s huge. That gives confidence to our pitcher and defense and we have done that a few times (this season) in getting early run support. That didn’t happen in the second game.”

Freshman Allison Lipovsky took the ball for the Lakers in the rematch roughly 30 minutes later. Sporting a 6-0 record and 0.82 ERA coming into the contest, Lipovsky uncharacteristically had to work out of trouble early in the first inning.

First, she gave up a leadoff home run that looked eerily similar to Balbach’s deep shot in the first game. That was then followed by two Laker fielding errors on grounders up the middle.

But, Lipovsky limited the damage to only one run after consecutive strikeouts stranded the runners on second and third base to end the opening frame.

The Flyers, however, doubled their lead to 2-0 in the next inning. Yet, it could have been much worse, as Lipovsky got out of another jam with runners on second and third base again.

GVSU played small ball in the top of the fifth to pull a run back. Sophomore Teagan Shomin singled up the middle and was moved over to second base on a sacrifice bunt by classmate AJ Castle. Horvath then brought Shomin home on another single just out of the reach of the Lewis pitcher.

In the bottom half of the fifth frame, senior Sara Andrasik replaced Lipovsky in the circle and tossed a pair of 1-2-3 innings to keep the Lakers within a run.

One of the worst breaks for GVSU came in the top of the sixth. A line drive heading to right field off the bat of freshman Shannon Flaherty was caught and turned into a double play as junior Jenna Lenza took off on contact from first base.

“We had some hard shots, just right at people,” Callihan said. “We battled, but I don’t think we hit as well as we can hit.”

The ill-timed double play didn’t discourage the Lakers from completing the comeback.

Leading off the seventh inning and down to GVSU’s final three outs, the right-handed Shomin unleashed on a 1-1 pitch and showed some opposite field power on a solo home run to left to tie the game at two apiece.

Castle then singled to right in the next at-bat and the Lakers played small ball again on a sacrifice bunt to move pinch runner Tanner Kiessel over to second base. But, another costly fly-out double play prevented GVSU from scoring the go-ahead run.

That run was desperately needed in the bottom half of the frame. The Flyers got their first hit off Andrasik with one out, and then with two outs Carley Maupin delivered a walk-off single. The ball dropped in over the head and just out of reach of the left fielder Kelsey Dominguez.

It was an admirable rally, but Shomin wasn’t going to take that as a consolation prize.

“Losing sucks all around. So, it doesn’t matter that we came back at all,” she said. “I mean, a loss is a loss. All wins feel great the same and all losses hurt just as bad. It is what it is.

“I have complete faith that we will come back from this, better than before. This definitely is a learning experience.”

The Lakers begin conference play this weekend in Ohio with back-to-back doubleheaders against Ashland (9-10) starting at noon on March 25 and Lake Erie (8-8) at 1 p.m. on March 26.