GVSU softball sweeps opening tournament

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
McKenze Supernaw

GVL/Kevin Sielaff McKenze Supernaw

Alex Eisen

The Grand Valley State softball team ushered in the new season with a bang by winning four consecutive games at the Lewis Dome Invitational in Rosemont, Illinois over the weekend.

On opening day (Feb. 26), the Lakers (4-0) survived a seventh-inning rally to defeat Missouri S&T 4-3, then orchestrated a rally of their own in the nightcap to knock off Illinois Springfield, 7-5.

GVSU’s bats remained hot on Feb. 27 as the Lakers took care of two more Great Lakes Valley Conference opponents to start the season off undefeated. The Lakers collected 11 hits in both contests to defeat Wisconsin-Parkside (7-6) and William Jewell (9-3).

“We came out swinging the bats well,” said second-year GVSU head coach Dana Callihan. “We pulled together in the couple times we got behind and we never seemed to give up on anything – we battled back. It was truly a team effort in all four games.”

The Lakers were aided by two strong pitching performances on Feb. 27.

Senior Sara Andrasik took the ball first and tossed six scoreless innings against Missouri S&T (3-10) before hanging on in a high-tension seventh inning to secure her first win of the season.

Freshman Allison Lipovsky had a memorable GVSU debut, not allowing a run in 5.1 innings of relief work against Illinois Springfield.

“Allison (Lipovsky) is a competitor, she is a gamer, she shows up when she has the ball in the circle,” Callihan said. “She did really well, and I think she learned quite a bit just getting into competition that’s different than practice.”

The Laker offense provided just enough run support for its pitchers on opening day as well.

Junior designated player Ellie Balbach singled down the right field line in the first inning of the 2016 season to bring home sophomore Teagan Shomin and senior McKenze Supernaw.

The Lakers added two more runs against Missouri S&T in the fifth when Balbach delivered again with a RBI double and senior Chelsea Horvath pushed across another run with the less exciting, but just as effective sacrifice fly.

Balbach’s tag-up score on the fly ball to center field would prove to be the difference.

The Miners scored three runs in a last-ditch rally with two outs in the seventh, but Andrasik regrouped to finish off her 45th career complete game by stranding the tying runner on first base.

Balbach and Supernaw led a balanced GVSU attack over the weekend, each notching seven hits that included five doubles, six runs and eight RBIs. The Laker starters all recorded at least two hits across the four games, and only junior catcher Marianne Deppe didn’t grab an RBI.

“We are deep one through 19 (on the roster), anyone at any position can get the job done,” Balbach said. “In general, we did a really nice job of stringing hits together and getting runs in every game.”

A few hours later against Illinois Springfield (4-10), the Lakers struck again in their first at-bats. Supernaw doubled in the first run of the game and then crossed home plate with junior Jenna Lenza after freshman Shannon Flaherty singled up the middle for her first career hit.

The Prairie Stars, however, responded with five runs on seven hits to knock sophomore Courtney Reinhold out of the game after 38 pitches and only two outs gone in the second inning.

Lipovsky, making her first career appearance, took over and commanded the circle by striking out nine batters. The Lakers scored a pair of runs in the fifth and sixth innings to provide the run support needed to get Lipsovsky her first career win.

“Actually, I was pretty nervous, but that was in the pre-warmup, and once the game got going my nerves calmed down and I just played the game,” Lipsovsky said. “My mindset was I needed to pick up the pitcher that had been pulled out. In relief, it was my job to finish the game.”

In a role reversal of the fast starts GVSU got off to on Feb. 26, Wisconsin-Parkside jumped the Lakers in the top of the first inning by putting three runs on the scoreboard.

A Kelsey Dominguez two-run triple to right center sparked a six-run third inning for the Lakers. Balbach, Flaherty and Horvath contributed in the outburst and collected RBIs. Supernaw knocked an RBI single in the fourth inning, driving in what would prove to be the game-winning run.

Balbach went five innings strong for the win, allowing four runs on four hits after the rocky start. Andrasik came in to pitch the last two innings and picked up the first save of the season even though she gave up two runs.

“With any start like that it’s a little concerning, but I wasn’t too concerned,” Balbach said. “I knew I would come back up offensively and then defensively we – well, me personally – just had to get into the game. I put my defense behind me for the rest game in the second inning.”

GVSU’s last opponent, William Jewell (6-6), hung around for as long as possible, but the Lakers weren’t going to be denied a perfect 4-0 start.

Lipovsky took over right where she left off against Illinois Springfield, tossing a complete game on 94 pitches to claim her second career win. She allowed three runs on six hits and kept her teammates busy by recording 15 fly-outs and four groundouts.

Trailing 3-2 going into the sixth inning, GVSU tied the score up on a Dominguez ground-rule double and then got some help on a Cardinals’ error to score two more runs in the frame.

The Lakers capped their undefeated weekend in style with four insurance runs in the seventh. Horvath got her second RBI of the game on a single through the right side of the diamond and sophomore Kaylie Rhynard plated three runs following another Cardinals’ error.

“It’s huge anytime you can get a momentum swing against a good team in a close game,” Callihan said. “(Those errors) were definitely something that swung the momentum and we took advantage of it.”

GVSU moves from the indoor dome in Illinois to (hopefully) the sunshine of Florida as the Lakers can begin packing their bags for the team’s annual spring break trip, in which they play a dozen games in seven days from March 6-12.

GVSU’s home-opener is a doubleheader against Aquinas on March 16 at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m