Lenza, GVSU softball sweep Lewis in home-opening doubleheader

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Jessica Ramos (16) pulls in a pitch during the game vs. Lewis on Tuesday, March 28, 2017.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff – Jessica Ramos (16) pulls in a pitch during the game vs. Lewis on Tuesday, March 28, 2017.

Beau Troutman

The sun was out, the bats were hot and the Grand Valley State softball team was all smiles—and in this season, smiles have been few and far between.

The Lakers (11-13, 1-3 GLIAC) turned a corner in their home-opening doubleheader sweep over the Lewis Flyers Tuesday, March 28. The Lakers outdueled the Flyers 1-0 in game one, and then forced mercy rule in game two with an 8-0 victory.

It was the first time the Lakers won back-to-back games since Friday, Feb. 24.

“The talk yesterday in practice and today as well was very good,” said GVSU coach Dana Callihan. “The energy, you could feel it. That’s one thing we just kept saying: we’re going to keep being aggressive and keep getting after it. Really, that’s all we can do. That’s all we can control.

“We can’t control umpires, we can’t control anything else; we control our attitude and our effort.”

The first game was scoreless in the bottom of the sixth inning when senior Jenna Lenza walked up to the plate with two outs and a runner on second.

The last time the Lakers faced the Flyers, Lenza blasted a walk-off home run to give her team a 3-2 win during their spring break trip at the beginning of the month.

The senior did it again. Lenza ripped the ball into centerfield on a 2-2 count and scored Janae Langs from second, who advanced there after stealing in the previous at-bat. The base-hit put the first run of the game on the board.

“It’s kind of the same mindset I have every time when the team needs me,” Lenza said. “I realize my job and what I have to do, so I’m not killing it for the fence like I did the last time, I just know that I need to make solid contact. That’s what happened and we came out victorious. That’s all I can ask for.”

Lenza is fourth in the GLIAC with a .462 batting average and second in the conference with 12 doubles this season.

After senior Ellie Balbach flew out to end the sixth, it was up to sophomore ace Allison Lipovsky (4-2, 1.90 ERA) to close out the game in the seventh. Lipovsky had been money through the first six, outdueling Flyers’ ace Dara Sanders (13-2, 1.18 ERA) thanks to Lenza’s RBI.

The inning started off with a leadoff walk on a full count, but Lipovsky rebounded, forcing a strikeout and a fielder’s choice in the next two at-bats.

There was some controversy with the first out. Lewis’ Kendyl Strack initially grounded out and advanced the runner on first to second base. However, the home plate umpire called Strack back to the batter’s box and the out was erased due to a missed call of a hit-by-pitch. The call drew a long appeal from the Lewis coaches, but to no avail. In the replay of the at-bat, Strack eventually struck out, keeping the runner out of scoring position.

“He saw what he saw, and that was really his only way to go. The umpires are the umpires and they make the calls the best they can,” Callihan said.

Lewis’ Alise Perna stepped up to the plate with two outs, and hit a pitch to deep left field toward freshman outfielder Kayla Plastiak.

Earlier in the game, Plastiak committed a fielding error in almost the exact same spot after dropping a would-be out. With the game-ending out hanging in the balance, Plastiak didn’t make the same mistake twice and ended the game with a clutch catch near the outfield fence.

“I knew for sure I didn’t want to do the same thing,” Plastiak said. “I wanted to be better than what I did last time. It felt good to be the last out and get that.”

Lipovsky ended with a complete game, four hits allowed, one walk and four strikeouts.

The second game was nowhere near as dramatic. Senior Ellie Balbach (2-6, 2.33 ERA) started on the mound, and made short work of the Lewis batters. The game ended 8-0 in the fifth inning due to mercy rule, thanks in part to Lenza hitting a base-clearing, three-RBI double in the fourth.

Balbach pitched five innings, allowing just three hits, one walk and four strikeouts. Balbach was happy to get the win after a rocky start to the season.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Balbach said. “I owe a lot of it to my team. I gave up hits, but they were making the big plays. I didn’t have a perfect game—I really rely on my defense a lot. Not only my defense but the hits. Scoring eight runs, it’s kind of easy to pitch against that.”

Lenza batted 2-for-2 with three RBIs. Sophomore Shannon Flaherty went 2-for-2 with two RBIs, while Langs and sophomore Teagan Shomin each added an RBI.

Up next, the Lakers will travel to Hillsdale this Saturday, April 1, for a doubleheader against the Chargers and then to Wayne State Sunday, April 2 for another two games. The Lakers will play the Warriors for the first time since upsetting them in the Midwest Super Regionals in last year’s playoffs, which advanced GVSU to the 2016 College World Series.