GVSU pitchers stifle Hillsdale, Wayne State

GVL / Hannah Mico
Taylor Banks (senior) swings at a pitch and gets a strike during the Lakers game on Saturday against Wayne State University; the Lakers defeated the Warriors 3-0.

GVL / Hannah Mico Taylor Banks (senior) swings at a pitch and gets a strike during the Lakers’ game on Saturday against Wayne State University; the Lakers defeated the Warriors 3-0.

Jay Bushen

The top four arms belonging to the Grand Valley State University baseball team combined for just 18 career starts coming into the 2014 season, but, 18 games later, those arms are 4-0 in conference play with a 0.00 ERA.

After a 4-0 victory at Hillsdale College on Thursday, GVSU pitched its way to three straight wins against Wayne State University at “home” over the weekend without surrendering a single earned run.

“That’s what you dream of from your staff,” senior first baseman Giancarlo Brugnoni said. “You put up three or four runs and they get the win with no worries — nobody on base to worry about.”

GVSU (13-5) outscored the pair of GLIAC foes 14-1 in the three-day span. WSU was able to score a run on Saturday, but it was unearned.

The Laker rotation may be inexperienced at the NCAA Division II level, but, coupled with an infield capable of flashing the leather, it certainly appears to have the “stuff” to compete for a fourth straight conference title in 2014.

“They’re all building off each other; each one is trying to beat the other one out,” Brugnoni said of the pitching staff. “Competition never hurts a team.”

Junior transfers Evan Nietfeldt (4-0, 1.37 ERA) and Aaron Jensen (3-2, 2.45) have teamed up with sophomore Patrick Kelly (2-2, 3.89) to create a formidable 1-2-3 punch so far, but a fourth member seemingly emerged as a capable starter on Thursday in the team’s first GLIAC contest.

Senior right-hander Sean Clancy (2-0, 3.45) twirled eight scoreless at Hillsdale and allowed just two hits and three walks to set up senior closer Chris Ripple as the Lakers claimed a 4-0 win.

Jensen and Nietfeldt kept the momentum going on Friday in a doubleheader against WSU, as the duo combined to yield only five hits and no earned runs in 12.2 innings of work.

Ripple picked up his fourth and fifth saves of the season, and the Lakers protected their “home” turf at the Farmer’s Athletic Complex at Davenport University (due to weather) with 3-0 and 4-1 seven-inning victories.

“It’s a great facility, so if we can get out games in and not cancel them, it’s a big plus,” GVSU head coach Jamie Detillion said. “The biggest thing was getting out there, throwing strikes and letting our good stuff work — and I really trust that our guys have good stuff.”

Kelly, not to be outdone by the other starters, found a way to pitch a nine-inning gem on Saturday for his 21st birthday.

The 2013 GLIAC Freshman of the Year worked through the WSU lineup efficiently by giving up just four hits and zero walks as GVSU earned a three-game sweep of the Warriors with a 3-0 win.

“I just tried to throw strikes and make the defense do the work,” Kelly said. “I wasn’t trying to overpower them or anything like that.”

Brugnoni’s RBI double in the bottom of the first scored what proved to be the game-winning run.

The all-time Laker home run king has come up big so far this season; he leads the GLIAC in home runs (5), RBIs (25), slugging percentage (.764), total bases (42) and walks (15).

The offense wasn’t exactly prolific as a unit in the four-game stretch due to brisk weather conditions, but its ability to manufacture runs gave GVSU the edge.

“The cold weather made for a tough hitter’s weekend,” Detillion said. “Our hitters grinded it out, put up a few runs here and there and executed some timely hits, so I was happy with that.”

GVSU will return to action in a doubleheader against Hillsdale on Wednesday at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. at Davenport.