GVSU’s Williams dominating in closer role this season

GVL / Luke Holmes - Alex Young (12) watches after hitting the ball. Grand Valley Men’s Baseball lost to Walsh college 3-4 in the first game but won 15-8 in the second game.

GVL / Luke Holmes – Alex Young (12) watches after hitting the ball. Grand Valley Men’s Baseball lost to Walsh college 3-4 in the first game but won 15-8 in the second game.

A.A. Knorr

Matt Williams didn’t want to come to Grand Valley State. After deciding to transfer from Division I Northern Illinois, Williams started searching for Division II schools where he could play football and baseball without having to sit out a season. His mother got him to visit Allendale. Now, Williams is a lockdown closer and middle-of-the-lineup bat on the Laker baseball team (19-12-1, 10-5 GLIAC), and the go-to receiver for the Laker football team.

“I went through all the DII schools and sent out a bunch of emails saying, ‘This is my situation, I want to play football and baseball, is that an option?’ So I talked to a bunch of different schools and GV was honestly my last option,” Williams said. “My mom made me come here on a visit…I just fell in love. Honestly (I) think it was the best decision I ever made.”

During GVSU’s 2015 run to the NCAA Division II semifinals, Williams led the GLIAC in yards receiving per game (90.5) and touchdowns (17). He developed a lethal connection with GVSU quarterback Bart Williams, and the two went over the top on defenses all season. When the season ended, Williams traded in his plastic spikes for metal ones, and linked up with the Laker baseball team.

GVSU’s athletics rosters are littered with two-sport athletes, and often, the athletes don’t know what it’s like to do anything but play around the calendar.

“I definitely always enjoy (playing both sports). I’ve always done it. It’s just another year, just going out doing what I love,” Williams said. “I’m very fortunate to be at a place like this that allows me to play both sports I love to play. Love to compete and do anything I can to help the team, and it’s kind of just the way of life now.”

Williams, a quarterback in high school football, boasts a strong arm. The redshirt junior is a consistent closer out of GVSU’s bullpen, and has secured 11 saves this season with a minuscule 0.41 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched. His bellicose approach to pitching is a large reason why Williams has only walked six opposing batters and allowed a batting average against of .084 in that time. That, and his fastball.

“(It) topped out at 94 (mph) once, usually 90-92, somewhere in there,” Williams said.

GVSU head baseball coach Jamie Detillion has called on Williams a number of times this season to record saves with more than one inning to go. Williams hasn’t had problems with throwing up to 40 pitches in a closing outing, which is a luxury for the Laker staff.

“I think (Williams) has a lot of upside as a baseball player in general,” Detillion said. “I think he’s got a future (in it). We don’t bring guys in to prepare them for the pro level, but I do think he has pro potential as a pitcher. He’s dominating our level and his numbers right now are right in line with that statement.”

Currently, Williams’ 11 saves are good for fourth-most in GVSU single season history. The record is 16, set by Brad Zambron in 2012.

“Records are cool for when you’re graduated, but in the moment you just want to win games, go out there and help your team win,” Williams said.

When Williams isn’t toeing the rubber, he’s still digging in at the plate. An offensive outburst this season has sent him shooting up the lineup card to his current resting spot in the middle of the order. Williams often plays first base or as a DH, and is raking at a .337 clip with a team-leading 34 hits. Williams has also driven in 19 runs and parked two homers this season.

Whether it’s as a pitcher, fielder, hitter or receiver, Williams has come up key for GVSU athletics. He claims he doesn’t prefer one of his two sports over the other, but the allure of Lubbers Stadium in the fall is hard to beat.

“If I had to choose what I liked better I would probably, just for the atmosphere, (say) football,” he said. “There’s nothing like it. You can’t really replicate that feeling running out onto Lubbers on a Saturday night in front of 16,000 (people).”