GVSU baseball hopes to carry momentum into National Finals

GVL / Archive / Robert Mathews

Kevin Zak at bat during a game last season.

Robert Mathews

GVL / Archive / Robert Mathews Kevin Zak at bat during a game last season.

Bryce Derouin

Two years ago, Grand Valley State University’s baseball team entered the NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals riding a 32-game winning streak and sported the No. 1 ranking in the country.

That team went on to lose its first two games of the Finals – 7-6 to Sonoma State University and 8-6 to Southern Connecticut State University – making for an early exit for the favored Lakers.

This year’s edition of the GVSU baseball team has gone on a different path to reach the Finals, and the team is confident that dealing with adversity on their way to the Finals will pay off in the upcoming days.

The No. 14 (NCBWA) 2013 Lakers (35-17) have seen it all this season. With stretches of dominance interrupted with periods of inconsistent play – including a slow 6-7 start – GVSU put the negatives behind them to play their best ball of the season when it mattered most.

“I think that’s what makes us a different team from two years ago,” said junior Giancarlo Brugnoni. “We’re battle tested this year. We came out slow and we had to figure stuff out as a team before we could really step it up and become the best team that we are. We’ve been through the tough times. We know what it takes to play to the best of our abilities.”

GVSU will open up play at 5 p.m. today against No. 21 (NCWBA) Minnesota State University in their opening game of the National Finals in Coleman Field in Cary, N.C. It’s GVSU’s third trip to the Finals in five years – the first under first-year head coach Jamie Detillion, who was also named GLIAC Coach of the Year.

“It’s exciting, but the most important thing for me is doing my job to give student-athletes the best opportunity to have the best experience they can,” Detillion said. “For me personally, it’s more about the student athletes. It’s not so much about me.”

GVSU and Minnesota State have already met once this season. The Lakers won 12-0 on March 11th during their annual spring break trip behind senior pitcher Anthony Campanella (GLIAC Second Team) throwing a four-hit shutout and seven strikeouts, and senior Chris Rudenga (GLIAC First Team), who went 5-for-5 with a school-record four doubles.

“It’s kind of nice to have somewhat of a confidence booster that we beat them,” Detillion said. “They’re a very good team, and when we played them about two months ago in Florida – we got the best of them then. I could tell they’re a very good team. They’re very well coached and have very good pitching.”

If the Lakers win, they’ll play the winner between Franklin Peirce University and Shippensburg University. If they lose their opening round game, they’ll end up playing the loser of the same matchup.

No. 2 Tampa University, Coker University, Grand Canyon University, and St. Edward’s University round out the rest of the tournament field.

“When you get to this point, everybody is good,” Detillion said. “You’re facing the top teams in Division II, so we obviously have to play very well.

To win down here, we’ll have to execute in all phases of the game. Hopefully, our guys come prepared ready to do that. So offensively, defensively and on the mound- we’re gonna have to get solid performances from our guys. I don’t think it’s anything we’re not capable of. It’s just a matter of coming out and executing and getting it done.”

GVSU will look to Brugnoni (GLIAC Second Team) to continue fueling the offense in the middle of the GVSU lineup. On the season, he hit .317 and led the team with 13 homeruns and 53 RBI.

The Lakers will also look towards sophomores Kevin Zak (GLIAC First Team) and Jamie Potts to manufacture hits and maintain their team-high batting averages of .389.

On the mound, the Lakers hope to continue to get strong performances out of seniors Campanella (9-4), GLIAC First Team pitcher Kyle Teague (7-2) and GLIAC Freshman of the Year, Patrick Kelly (7-3). All three boast impressive ERA’s with Campanella leading the team with a 1.74 ERA, followed by Teague (1.99 ERA) and Kelly (2.04 ERA).

GVSU also has the NCAA Division II all-time saves leader at their disposal, senior closer Brad Zambron (GLIAC First Team), who has tallied 39 saves in his career.

While the season has seen its ups and downs, the Lakers have been able to play their best when their backs were against the wall and in the games that mattered the most. If this season has proved anything, it’s that they aren’t afraid of the big stages.

“I think this team really likes the concept of a big game,” Potts said. “We try to approach every game the same way. I think there are a lot of guys on this team that really live for those big moments, and I think we focus a little more with higher stakes. It’s fun paying in these big games and I think everyone really enjoys it.

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