Timely hitting leads to split for GV baseball

Courtesy / GVSU Lakers 
Junior INF Kevin Zak making a throw during the Lakers playoff run.

Courtesy / GVSU Lakers Junior INF Kevin Zak making a throw during the Lakers playoff run.

Pete Barrows

In the game of baseball, a sport where every step along the base path counts the same — walk or jog, as long as the trip ends up back at home in a run — it’s not always where a team puts its hits, but where it doesn’t.

For instance, with no outs and none on in the bottom of the second inning of the first game of a double-header hosted in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday afternoon, senior slugger Giancarlo Brugnoni stepped to the plate for the No. 11 ranked Grand Valley State University baseball team.

Five pitches later, Brugnoni found his way to first with a walk.

“The whole season so far, we’ve done a very good job of scoring early,” he said. “Through the first five innings, we’re destroying things and did so in both games Saturday, but we tapered off toward the end. When we get on a roll as a team, we’re very efficient, but if we can create or sustain those rolls more frequently, we’d be even more dangerous.”

Senior Taylor Banks followed with a single to center to push Brugnoni to second, before junior Aaron Overbeck fired a three-run shot over the left-field gate to break the 0-0 tie. Banks, Brugoni and Overbeck all reached base differently, although each scored a run apiece in the sequence.

Senior Ariel Aracena-Sanchez continued the second-inning stretch by reaching base on balls, as Brugnoni had before him, and then swiped second on a steal. Freshman Joel Schipper and Aracena-Sanchez then both advanced on a wild pitch, and Schipper, following Aracena-Sanchez’s lead, stole a base of his own to set the stage.

With runners on second and third, junior Mike Nadratowski singled through a right-field gap to score Aracena-Sanchez, and the cycle began again. Junior leadoff hitter Jesse Abel walked, Nadratowski advanced to second, Brugnoni singled to right center to score two more runs, and junior Jamie Potts singled to right center to score another run and advance Brugnoni, who scored an unearned run a batter later off another errant throw.

The Lakers ran cyclically, from walk-to-hit to steal-to-score, to produce eight runs along an assembly line of production and finished as it had begun. With Brugnoni. With a glance of the bigger overarching picture in mind. With the right hits in the right places by the right people at the right time.

“I don’t know if it’s a mindset that we have to go out there to score early, but we need to change that mindset from ‘we put up eight runs, that’s a good start and lead to play with’ to ‘we put up eight runs, now lets try to put up eight more runs,‘” he said. “We’ve been doing a good job of scoring, have won our close games and haven’t gotten comfortable or complacent late in games, but we just need to keep scoring often.

“The ball got hung up in the air a bit in the bigger park, but we hit well the entire trip despite; the trick was the timing. In the first game, we got our hits with men in scoring position. In the second game, we missed hits with guys on and got hits when it really didn’t matter.”

Mercyhurst University (8-4) compiled a run of its own and rallied with four runs in the sixth inning, but the damage was already done. GVSU used its early eight-run second inning to take control of the game early, and a stout stable of arms late to lockdown the victory.

The Lakers took the opening matchup 9-4, and starter Patrick Kelly was awarded with his first win of the season after allowing only six hits in seven innings of work. Potts and Nadratowski each had two hits and an RBI in the game, while Schipper drew three walks of the 10 that GVSU had as a team.

“We’ve done a nice job all year of getting out on top of teams, which gives us a nice edge, and hopefully we can keep that up, but we need to be able to stretch those leads, too,” Potts said. “The second game, we swung our bats well again, but the ball just didn’t fall our way. That was tough, but that’s how baseball goes sometimes.”

Later Saturday evening, another instance of the ‘it’s not where you put your hits, it’s where you don’t’ ideology came into play, only this time the phrase took on a different embodiment for the Lakers.

GVSU again scored early, as it has for most of the early season, and outhit host Trevecca Nazarene (16-3) 11-7, but it lost the nightcap 4-3 after nine innings of closely-contested play.

Junior Kevin Zak started the scoring in the first inning with an RBI single to push Abel home, but the Laker lead didn’t last as it had a game prior. Trevecca Nazarene took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third with an RBI triple-sacrifice fly combination, and then extended the lead to a 3-1 advantage with another sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth.

Potts dug out a single in the top of the fifth, and with the assistance of a left-center single by senior Chris Ripple and a groundball fired through the left infield gap by Schipper, helped GVSU get a run back. Then with two outs gone, Brugnoni launched a towering solo home run shot, his fifth of the year, to square the game 3-3.

The tie score held until the bottom of the ninth, but this time, it was Trevecca Nazarene that took advantage of a lead-off walk. A single in to right-center field brought the winning run home and provided the Trojans with a walk-off victory.

“Baseball is a very tough sport to stay hot all season in,” coach Jamie Detillion said. “We do our best in practice to prepare our kids to have success in games, which we’ve seen some of, but sustaining that success is the challenge. Abel and Brugnoni have been very productive and steady thus far, as have been Potts, Overbeck and Kevin Zak, but stats don’t always tell the whole story.

“I feel we have a handful of other kids who will also be able to break out at some point – I really like our depth – and we’ll ride those hands as they come.”

Junior starter Aaron Jensen (2-2) used just 100 pitches to record a two-strikeout, seven-hit outing of work in eight innings, but he took the narrow loss on the mound. The offense was again fueled by Potts, who went 3-for-4 with a run scored, Brugnoni, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Abel, who also went 2-for-4 with a run scored.

The Lakers (9-5) will return north to embark on the GLIAC season with a twin-bill against Hillsdale College (2-12) scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at Davenport University’s indoor facility. GVSU will then host Wayne State University (11-4) for a three-game stand at the same venue beginning 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We have five close losses, all to good teams, at this point in the season,” Detillion said. “We’ve remained competitive, but we need to minimize mistakes as a team in order to make the strides we need to make to become a championship caliber team. It should be a pretty big week with five conference games scheduled, so hopefully we’re prepared to go out and take care of business.”