GVSU softball opens conference play with 1-3 start

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Shannon Flaherty (19) makes contact with the ball and runs to first base. Grand Valley takes the victory over Walsh in both games held in Allendale on Saturday, April 23, 2016.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Shannon Flaherty (19) makes contact with the ball and runs to first base. Grand Valley takes the victory over Walsh in both games held in Allendale on Saturday, April 23, 2016.

Beau Troutman

The Grand Valley State softball team kicked off conference play with a trip to Ohio for a pair of doubleheaders Friday, March 24,  and Saturday, March 25.

The Lakers dropped both games Friday by just one run each to the Ohio Dominican Panthers, 5-4 and 3-2. On Saturday, the Lakers split with the Ashland Eagles, taking the first game 5-1 but dropping the second 10-2.

The Lakers moved to 9-13 (1-3 GLIAC) on the season after being picked to win the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll. Their 13 losses ties the mark set by the team all of last year—the Lakers finished 2016 with a 43-13 record and a College World Series appearance.

“I still have confidence in this team,” said GVSU coach Dana Callihan. “We are beat up. We’ve got some injuries that we’ve been dealing with. That never helps. There is a little panic in the players. We’re trying to keep that out of them, but at the same time, I’m not panicked about the season per se.

“We just need to get back to playing Grand Valley softball and we’re not doing that yet.”

In the first game of the doubleheader versus the Panthers, the Lakers started with an early 3-0 lead.

The game appeared all but over in the bottom of the seventh with sophomore ace Allison Lipovsky (3-2, 2.15 ERA) protecting a 4-2 Laker lead. Lipovsky got the first batter out to start the half inning, but then gave up a base-hit. The Panthers’ Kelly Wallace stepped up to bat with the runner on first and just one out.

Wallace smacked a home run, tying the game at 4-4.

“Nobody is really making that big play at the times that we need it,” said senior Jenna Lenza, who batted 3-for-4 in the first game versus ODU. “The other teams that we’re playing are, and that’s why we’re losing a lot of games by one or two runs.”

Lipovsky was able to get out of the seventh inning without any more damage from the ODU bats, but the momentum generated from Wallace’s moonshot carried into the eighth in what would be the first extra innings game of the season for GVSU.

After the Lakers left two runners on base in the top half, the Panthers managed to get runners on second and third with Lipovsky still on the mound.

ODU’s Taylor Kline singled through left field, ending the game in a walk-off.

Sophomore Shannon Flaherty led GVSU in batting, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Senior Ellie Balbach and freshman Kayla Plastiak each had an RBI and a triple. Lipovsky recorded her fourth complete game, but allowed eight hits, five runs (four earned), five walks and two strikeouts.

In game two of the Friday doubleheader, the Lakers trailed 3-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh after Balbach, who started the game on the mound, managed to keep it a one-run game in the top half of the inning.

The Lakers were able to get Flaherty in scoring position on second base with two outs, but freshman Kelcie LaTour grounded out, ending the game.

Balbach (1-6, 2.60 ERA) got the loss despite not allowing a single earned run (the three given up were unearned). She allowed nine hits, two walks and had four strikeouts. Junior catcher Kaylie Rhynard recorded an RBI on a sacrifice fly while Flaherty was the only Laker to have two hits, going 2-for-3 with a double.

“We just need to come together and perform, help each other out and stay positive,” Flaherty said. “We need to be able to depend on each other.”

The team took Flaherty’s advice for the first game of the Saturday doubleheader, coming away with their first and only win of the weekend over Ashland, 5-1. The Lakers got one RBI each from Lenza, Balbach, Plastiak and junior catcher Jessica Ramos. Senior pinch runner Ali Vander Meer scored on a fielding error in the fourth.

Lipovsky got redemption, taking the win after allowing just four hits and three walks in her fifth complete game of the year. She had five strikeouts and just one earned run.

The high from that game did not last long, though, as the Lakers ended the weekend with a 10-2 loss. The Eagles out-hit GVSU 11-7 and had three players with multiple RBIs.

Balbach took the loss after giving up six runs (five earned) and five walks in 5.1 innings. Lipovsky came in for relief and finished the game. She gave up four earned runs, three hits and two walks. In total, GVSU pitchers combined for 17 walks over the weekend. GVSU got its two runs on a Lenza RBI double and a Flaherty score off of a passed ball.

Up next, the Lakers will host the Lewis Flyers in their home-opener this Tuesday, March 28 in a doubleheader starting at 3 p.m.

Callihan said this team can “absolutely” turn the season’s misfortune around.

“I still have confidence in them,” Callihan said. “The season is not over yet. We’ve got a long way to go.”