GVSU softball wins six of eight

GVL / Luke Holmes - Kaylie Rhynard (6) slides into third base. Grand Valley State University defeated Northwood University in both games at the Grand Valley softball field Thursday, Apr. 7, 2016.

GVL / Luke Holmes – Kaylie Rhynard (6) slides into third base. Grand Valley State University defeated Northwood University in both games at the Grand Valley softball field Thursday, Apr. 7, 2016.

Alex Eisen

The Grand Valley State softball team engaged in five conference doubleheaders prior to last week. Since weather forced games to be rescheduled, the Lakers had to cram the remaining eight GLIAC softball-playing schools into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Evenly divided with four doubleheaders each week, GVSU (28-8, 13-5 GLIAC) began its penultimate week with a road split at Saginaw Valley State (scores of 0-7, 2-0) on April 13 before returning home the next day to split a twinbill against Findlay (1-2, 5-3).

The Lakers then traveled to Ohio over the weekend and got vital sweeps over middle-of-the-road conference opponents Ohio Dominican (5-0, 2-1) and Tiffin (2-0, 2-0) on April 16 and 17.

“We have had one element of the game go really well and another one not so well,” said GVSU head coach Dana Callihan. “I’m still looking for that day when we put it all together. But, you know what, we are getting the wins and that’s all the matters.”

The eight-game stretch didn’t get off to a positive start. SVSU (24-12, 10-8 GLIAC) scored in every inning except the first frame, and the Lakers couldn’t figure out Cardinals’ starting pitcher Sarah Appold until it was too late.

Appold threw a complete game two-hitter to give GVSU its worst shutout loss of the season, 7-0.

As good as Appold was in game one, Laker freshman pitcher Allison Lipovsky one-upped her in the rematch a half hour later, tossing a complete game one-hitter.

Senior McKenze Supernaw came up clutch in the bottom of the fifth inning by belting a two-run homer to left-center that just cleared the fence.

“(Supernaw) is being more aggressive and a little more disciplined on the pitches that are out of the zone that she can’t handle,” Callihan said. “The ones that are there (in the zone), man, she has been getting after them.”

Supernaw’s homer was the only firepower Lipovsky needed as GVSU won 2-0.

Findlay (27-15, 13-7 GLIAC) met the Lakers back in Allendale on April 14 to makeup a previously postponed doubleheader, and more solid pitching ensued. Both teams only allowed four hits in the first contest.

Lipovsky, as expected after her previous outing, held her own in the pitching duel, but was tagged with her first loss of the season—though both runs she gave up were unearned.

The Lakers got within a run on an RBI single from sophomore catcher Kaylie Rhynard in the third inning, but then Chelsea McManaway took over the circle for Findlay.

McManaway, GLIAC leader in strikeouts per game, was nearly unhittable as she struck out four batters and pitched three 1-2-3 innings to help the Oilers hold on for a 2-1 win.

“Every loss is no fun to go through,” Callihan said. “I like the character they are showing by coming back, but we need to make the adjustments a little bit sooner.”

GVSU, surprisingly, didn’t see McManaway in the second game and promptly unloaded its first-game frustrations by scoring three runs in the opening frame of the nightcap.

Findlay responded with a three-run home run to tie the game in the bottom of the third, but the Lakers quickly struck back in the top of the fourth on a Supernaw go-ahead RBI single. Junior Janae Langs beat out the throw to the plate on a gritty head-first slide.

Junior designated player and occasional pitcher Ellie Balbach notched her third win of the season in the 5-3 victory. Balbach received needed assistance from senior Sara Andrasik, who threw three scoreless innings and only gave up a single to nab her fifth career save.

Following a rest day on Friday, Lipovsky threw another gem, shutting out Ohio Dominican (18-26, 5-13 GLIAC) in game one on April 16. Junior Jenna Lenza and Balbach provided the offense with a pair of RBIs each as the Lakers cruised to a 5-0 victory.

“I’ve been able to use my defense more,” Lipovsky said. “I have so much trust in them. If the ball gets hit they are going to field the ball. If I do give up a hit, then I’m going to come back and strike the rest of them out. Our goal is to not let them string hits together.”

The nightcap was more stressful. With GVSU down to its final three outs in the home half of the seventh, Lenza led off and pulled the first pitch she saw over the fence and just around the foul pole in left field to tie the score at one apiece.

“That was huge,” said sophomore Kaylie Rhynard. “That was a game-changer in a game we honestly weren’t getting any breaks. The balls just didn’t seem to fall our way, couple calls didn’t go our way, but we really responded and fought through that.”

ODU keep the pressure on in extra innings by stationing runners on second and third base with one out in the top of the eighth, but Andrasik replaced the starter Balbach in the circle and escaped the threat with a strikeout and a pop out.

In the bottom half of the eighth, the Lakers ended it with Rhynard delivering a walk-off infield single that scored Langs from second base, 2-1.

“Their shortstop dove for the ball and Janae (Langs) moved up on the hit, but then the ball kind of got away from her,” Rhynard said. “She couldn’t figure out where the ball was and Janae made a really good read. (Langs) crossed home plate before they could even throw the ball.”

Andrasik picked up where she left off the day before by throwing a shutout against Tiffin on April 17. Keeping the Dragons off the scoreboard was paramount, since the Lakers only collected three hits and didn’t break the scoreless tie until the sixth inning.

A two-out single by Lenza scored the winning run and the Lakers doubled their lead off an error in the next inning to take the opening game, 2-0.

The second game finished with the same score line. This time, Balbach pitched a shutout.

The Lakers’ final runs of the weekend came in two unusual ways, with freshman Shannon Flaherty putting down an RBI sacrifice bunt and Lenza drawing a walk with the bases loaded.

While the Lakers now have to grind out another eight-game slate this week, they conclude the regular season by playing all their games at home and have a relatively favorable schedule.

GVSU hosts doubleheaders against GLIAC bottom-feeders Lake Superior State (5-29, 1-17 GLIAC) on April 19 and Malone (12-21, 3-16 GLIAC) on April 22, both starting at 3 p.m. Then, later in the weekend, Walsh and Hillsdale come to Allendale before the conference tournament seedings are finalized.