GVSU softball looking to build off 2016 College World Series appearance

GVL / Luke Holmes - The team celebrates after a home run is hit. Grand Valley Womens Softball won 9-5 in their first game against Lake Superior State.

GVL / Luke Holmes – The team celebrates after a home run is hit. Grand Valley Women’s Softball won 9-5 in their first game against Lake Superior State.

Beau Troutman

It’s unseasonably warm for February in Michigan.

The sun is out, the grass is green and the infield sand is dry. Somebody grab the sunflower seeds and bubble gum. It’s softball season.

“We’re just so ready to get out there and play against people we don’t know,” said junior shortstop Teagan Shomin. “It’s good hanging out and playing against each other, but at the end of the day, you want to beat up on someone you don’t know and get the ‘W.’”

The Grand Valley State softball team won’t have to wait much longer, as the 2017 season kicks off this weekend. Fresh off the program’s third-ever College World Series appearance, the 2017 GVSU softball team features most of the players from the 2016 squad and a wealth of experience.

The Lakers finished last season with a 43-13 record, finishing with the improbable World Series run. The Lakers were bounced from the GLIAC Tournament, won the Midwest Regional Championship and then clinched a World Series berth with two upset victories over nemesis Wayne State in the Midwest Super Regionals.

Though the Lakers would end up being eliminated in the CWS in the eight team, double elimination tournament in Denver, they solidified themselves as one of the top eight teams in the country. With eight total returning starters and 14 letter winners coming back, time will tell if another CWS appearance is in store this season.

“Last year was so incredible,” said senior infielder Jenna Lenza. “We fought until the end of every game. We had such a mentality that we were not going to lose. We had Denver set in our minds, that’s what we wanted in our minds. I think coming into this year, we want to do the same.

“Yes, it is a very high goal, but I think it’s something we definitely have the talent to do.”

The Lakers lost three talented seniors from last year: Infielder McKenze Supernaw (.317 batting average, .522 slugging percentage, started all 56 games), pitcher Sara Andrasik (14-3 record, 2.11 earned run average) and outfielder Chelsea Horvath (.225 average, 46 starts).

The Lakers believe they have the firepower and combined leadership to replace the three seniors, namely Supernaw and Andrasik—two key leaders in GVSU’s CWS run.

GVSU figures to have one of the best pitching units in not just the GLIAC, but maybe the country. Led by last year’s GLIAC Freshman of the Year Allison Lipovsky (11-1, eighth-best nationally .95 ERA), all three returners posted an ERA under three. Senior Ellie Balbach, who can hold her own at the plate as well as the mound, went 8-4 with a 2.91 ERA. Junior Courtney Reinhold went 10-5 with a 2.81 ERA.

In addition, the pitching will be aided by junior transfer Allie Grys from Lansing Community College. Grys had a stellar 92-22 record at LCC, had 940 career strikeouts and once had a Justin Verlander-like 18 strikeout game.

“It’s great having that much depth, especially in the pitching staff,” said GVSU coach Dana Callihan. “We have four pitchers that I have no problem throwing out there at any given time. With all of our players, I’ve got all the confidence in the world, it’s just a matter of who’s going to execute. Some days it might be one person, other days it might be another. We just don’t have that one person that we’re going to count on all the time.

“That’s the part that’s so cool, because every day is a new hero.”

The batting order will be deep this year as well. The Lakers are led by the multitalented Balbach (.353 average, team-high 16 doubles, five home runs), Lenza (.345 average, 15 doubles, team-high 29 walks) and junior catcher Kaylie Rhynard (.333 average). Those three started all 56 games last season.

In addition, the Lakers are awaiting the arrival of dual-sport phenom and senior Janae Langs, who is currently fulfilling her duties as a starting guard on the GVSU women’s basketball team. In 33 starts last year, Langs hit .330 with 19 runs.

The Lakers were ranked first in the GLIAC preseason poll—one point ahead of Wayne State—and sixth nationally in the NFCA preseason poll. The Lakers are anticipating a battle with the rival Warriors, who are ranked 10th nationally, especially after GVSU’s upset wins in the Super Regionals last year.

“Wayne State has always been a very strong program,” Callihan said. “It always seems like they’re the ones we’re duking it out with. Even back when I played, to me they were the rival.”

GVSU’s first game against the Warriors is Sunday, April 2 in Detroit. The Lakers’ kick off the season this weekend in the Lewis Dome Tournament in Rosemont, Illinois Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25. The Lakers will then head to Clermont, Florida March 5-11 for their annual spring trip.