Dominant softball team comes up short in GLIAC

GVL / Robert Mathews

GVL / Robert Mathews

Pete Barrows

What does it take to win a GLIAC tournament championship? A GLIAC player of the year? A GLIAC coach of the year? Maybe a GLIAC freshman of the year for good measure?

The 36-4 regular season GLIAC champion Grand Valley State University, which won 24 conference games this season to match its 2012 school record, had three of the four, as well as five total first team (seniors Hannah Santora, Katie Martin, Nellie Kosola and juniors Miranda Cleary and Briauna Taylor), one second team (freshman Sara Andrasik) and two honorable mention (seniors Emily Holt and Kayleigh Bertram) all GLIAC honorees. The Lakers also broke several GLIAC and GVSU career records and swept multiple GLIAC player of the week votings along the way—yet not enough for a GLIAC tournament title.

After dispatching the University of Findlay, which enjoyed the luxury of playing at its home Riverside Park, 3-0 Friday morning, GVSU ousted Ohio Dominican University from the tournament by a 3-1 margin in the afternoon.

Ace Hannah Santora, who went 19-1 with a 1.86 ERA, 90 strikeouts and three shutouts during the year (before the tournament), threw a four-hitter complete game against Findlay. Santora waited patiently for slugger Katie Martin, who was the first Laker to win GLIAC player of the year honors since current assistant Jen Mackson won her third straight in 2004, had 18 multi-hit games, 18 games of two or more RBI, seven games with three or more hits, seven games with at least four RBI, led the GLIAC in seven offensive categories (home runs-16, doubles-17, RBI-66, total bases-122, extra base hits-33, on-base percentage-.540 and slugging percentage-.976) and holds six GVSU (batting average-.436, hits-283, runs-178, total bases-519, doubles-67 and home runs-55) and two GLIAC (doubles, homers) career records, to blast out a three-run round tripper.

Andrasik—who joined teammates Martin and Cleary to become GVSU’s third Freshman of the Year in a four-year span, pitched two no-hitters this season (the first of which was GVSU’s first since Lori Anderjelich on Mar. 29, 2008), had five double-digit strike out outings (averaged 7.8 per start), a 1.53 ERA, eight shutouts and a league leading .165 against batting average—took over against ODU and pitched a solid 5.2 innings before Santora came in to close.

Ashland fell 1-0 to the Lakers in game three of the tournament as Santora pitched her second consecutive four hit complete game shutout and Bertram belted in senior Emily Jones for the lone run of the game.

For the first time since 2006, the Lakers would play in the championship game and it seemed unlikely that the GVSU softball juggernaut would be denied. After dropping game one of Sunday’s championship against Wayne State University 1-0, which GVSU had beaten 17-2 last time the teams faced Mar. 13, the Lakers didn’t have quite enough left in the tank to respond in a winner-take-all finale—a finale that saw the Laker offense stifled and blanked for only the second time this season. The final score, 5-0 WSU, was the first time the Lakers (39-6, 24-2 GLIAC) had lost back-to-back games all season.

“We’re not going to hit like we do every weekend, it’s going to happen where we get in slumps – better this weekend than regionals,” Santora said. “All in all, I feel like we did good. We played great defense. We executed when we needed to, even though we didn’t get as many hits as we wanted to, that’s going to happen – we’re not going to be machines every weekend.”

So the Lakers aren’t machines, although their stats and accolades suggest otherwise, but as a team, few programs are more sound or championship ready.

One championship trait is the ability to overcome adversity. The Lakers had to deal with weather all season (more than 10 contests were either cancelled or rescheduled) and the road (GVSU went a combined 21-3 at away or neutral locations) and still found success.

The 2013 Laker softball team fields eight seniors, lays claim to the GVSU career leaders in batting average, hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs, total bases, and of course, hit by pitches (many girls in the top-10 of these lists) and has flirted with history all season. It doesn’t hurt, either, having a coach who’s won over 850 contests in 23 seasons and has earned GLIAC Coach of the Year awards in three different decades (1993, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2012, 2013) at the helm.

Next weekend, regional competition will begin as two four-team regionals (eight teams overall) will be seeded and will be split between play at the University of Indianapolis, which will host one regional, and GVSU, which will likely host the other. The two four-team region champions will then play in a best of three, winner-take-all playoff to earn a berth into the national final eight, a tournament in which GVSU has never finished better than second (runner-up in 2002).

“Every time you got out there you gotta play your best and we just did not do that today,” Woods said. “The first thing we have to do is forget about today. We’ll forget about today and just go back to the basics that got us here. Pick the hitting up again, our defense was good today and pitching overall was pretty good. So we just have to get the hitting on track—sometimes there’s peaks and valleys and today was a valley—so hopefully we’ll climb it up to the top and be a little bit better going into the regional.”
[email protected]