GVSU baseball 2017 preview

GVL / Emily Frye    
Junior Matt Williams against Northwood University on Wednesday April 13, 2016.

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye Junior Matt Williams against Northwood University on Wednesday April 13, 2016.

Josh Peick

After a quick exit in the NCAA Regional Tournament in Quincy, Illinois, the Grand Valley State baseball team is looking to take the experience gained last season and convert it to a successful 2017 season.

Last year, the Lakers started the season 9-7-1 in three trips south before returning home to start GLIAC play. GVSU picked it up after the slow start, finishing the season with a 36-18-1 record.

“We started off slow last year and we built off of it,” said GVSU coach Jamie Detillion. “We got better as the season went along. We made some adjustments, changed some things around and we started played a little better and had a little bit more success.”

The Lakers finished conference play with a 22-8 record and won the GLIAC tournament.

Although the Lakers lost only four seniors to graduation, the four players that did graduate were integral parts of the team. GVSU lost three inning-eating pitchers in Tim Tarter, Josh Griffith and Zach Anderson. All three pitchers were in the top-four in innings pitched last season for the Lakers.

“Our job is to continue to replace and get better with guys that we have coming back,” Detillion said. “I think we recruited well. Pitching was one area that we needed to identify with Tarter, Griffith and Anderson all being senior pitchers last year. As long as we stay healthy, I’m really happy with the depth that we have right now with pitching.”

The Lakers are returning pitcher Kyle Lawson for his senior season. Lawson logged the most innings for GVSU last season with 73.2 innings.

Lawson will head the rotation this season, but the coaching staff looked to outside options to help fill the rest of the spots.

“We have five junior college transfer arms that we expect to contribute,” Detillion said. “We’ve got some returners and some young guys that hopefully step into a role.”

The final senior to graduate last season was Jason Ribecky, an All-GLIAC Honorable Mention and team-leader with 19 extra-base hits.

Along with Lawson, key returners for the Lakers include Matt Williams, Alex Young and Connor Glick.

Williams, a finalist for the Brett Tomko Award for best Division II pitcher, will man the closer duties for the Lakers again. Young, the team’s leading base-stealer last season with 28 steals, will be captain of the outfield while Glick will start behind the plate.

Of the nine players that amassed a batting average of .300 or more last season, eight will return to the lineup after the graduation of Ribecky.

“I think we’re pretty well balanced,” Detillion said. “We should compete at the plate. We’re pretty athletic. Defensively, I would say that we’re solid. With the depth of pitching, I think we’re in good shape to have a solid season assuming that we stay healthy.”

Staying healthy will be the key to the Lakers success, especially for the pitching staff. GVSU boasts strong depth at the position, but if the Lakers are plagued with a few arm injuries, the team could be scrambling to find capable arms. But after a productive offseason of working out, the Lakers are primed for a strong season.

“I thought we had a really good fall, a really good offseason,” Detillion said. “I think the guys have worked hard, and I think that work ethic is something that is a strong characteristic of this team.”

The team will travel to Nashville to open the season with a pair of doubleheaders in a four-game weekend series. The Lakers will face Trevecca Nazarene in a doubleheader Friday, Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. followed by Alderson Broaddus Saturday, Feb. 25 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.