As the story goes with college baseball teams that inhabit the northern portion of the United States, outside practice and game experience comes at a premium for the better part of the first two months of the season.
Such is the case for the Grand Valley State University baseball team year-in and year-out, as they traveled down to Tennessee to face off against the Ohio Dominican Panthers with only indoor practice experience on turf to prepare them for their first competition of the season.
“It was our first day outside this year,” said GVSU coach Jamie Detillion after the conclusion of the series. “We hadn’t had one day, one flyball, one groundball, one pitch outdoors until (our games) Saturday.”
Making such a transition early on may give minds who have been around the game a reason to pause in their analysis of teams like GVSU. After all, it is much different fielding grounders and taking pop flies in an indoor practice facility as opposed to doing the same under the blue skies and sunshine of an outdoor diamond.
Even with the need to adjust on the fly, Detillion still felt his players excelled given the difficulty of becoming reacquainted to the outdoors for the first time on the year.
“All things considered, saying this weekend was productive would probably be an understatement,” Detillion said. “In those circumstances, there’s going to be swings and misses, there’s going to be flies in the outfield that are different because they’re up in the high blue sky, but I think our coaching staff — especially coach Riggleman — have done a phenomenal job of preparing our guys for the season. We’re off to a great start.”
Here is the game-by-game breakdown of the Lakers’ three-game series against ODU.
Game 1 (L, 10-5 – 9 inn.)
The Lakers jumped out to an early lead as senior first baseman Nate Bonter singled to drive in junior center fielder Spencer Nelson right off the bat in the first inning. Ohio Dominican would respond in the bottom half of the third, taking advantage of a wild pitch and passed-ball to score two runs and take a 2-1 lead. The Panthers added two more runs in the fourth on a two-run double to increase the lead to 4-1.
GVSU trailed 5-2 entering the eighth inning before junior utility infielder Christian Faust and Nelson laced a pair of RBI singles to trim the deficit to 5-4. However, ODU scored five runs in the bottom half of the eighth to put the game out of reach.
Redshirt junior Nick Shaw was tagged with the loss, tossing 3.2 innings and allowing four runs (one earned) and striking out two. Junior Ben Thomas and senior Keaghan Sutliff combined to throw the final 4.1 innings in relief.
Nelson and Bonter each had a team-high three hits for the Lakers.
Game 2 (W, 9-2 – 7 inn.)
GVSU bounced back in game two, once again jumping out in front early at the plate, but this time without relinquishing their lead. The Lakers scored four runs in the first inning followed by three runs in the second to build an early 7-0 lead.
Junior third baseman Jordan Chandler connected on an RBI single to left field, Senior designated hitter Ryan Blake-Jones ripped an RBI double to right center and senior Stephen Pim recorded a two-run single up the middle in the first inning before Chandler cleared the bases with a three-run double in the second. The Lakers further cushioned their lead to 9-0 via a pair of runs in the third inning, courtesy of a sacrifice bunt from senior shortstop Parker Murdie and a one-RBI double laced down the left field line by Nelson.
Sophomore Rylan Peets earned the win by throwing four innings and allowing three hits, two runs, and struck out two, while junior Nathan Wargolet and freshman Austin Brown tossed three combined innings of scoreless ball in relief.
Nelson, Chandler, and Pim each recorded two hits on the day. Chandler knocked in a team-high four runs for GVSU.
Game 3 (W, 7-3 – 9 inn.)
Ohio Dominican opened up the scoring this time around in the bottom of the third, thanks to an RBI single to left field. With the score standing at 1-0 in favor of the Panthers, the Lakers answered in the top half of the fourth on a RBI double by senior Anthony Cocco that drove in Bonter to knot the score at one a piece. ODU quickly responded with another run in the bottom half of the fourth and held a 2-1 lead until the eighth.
With the teeth of their lineup set to step to the plate in the eighth, the middle of GVSU’s lineup came through late. A single by Chandler to lead off the inning followed by an RBI double by Blake-Jones tied the game at 2-2.
Next, an RBI single from Cocco and a two-run single by Nelson gave the Lakers a 5-2 lead at the end of the eighth inning. GVSU added a pair of insurance runs in the top of the ninth, highlighted by Murdie’s RBI single scoring junior designated hitter Blake Vershum.
Junior Mark Scannell received a no-decision, tossing 5.1 innings and allowing four hits, two runs (one earned), three walks, and striking out three. Senior Luke Hargis earned the win, pitching 1.2 innings of scoreless relief, while junior Michael Barno earned the six-out save, recording three strikeouts.
Nelson finished the series with a team-high seven hits in 14 at-bats, which also tied him with Blake-Jones for the team lead in batting average at the end of the weekend with each of the two sporting a .500 clip in the batter’s box. Freshman Nathan Logan, Blake-Jones, senior Connor Grice, and Cocco each finished with two hits and Vershum and Bonter scored two runs apiece in the rubber match against ODU for the Lakers.
Up next, GVSU will prepare for the Russmatt Invitational that begins over spring break Sunday, Mar 1 in Auburndale, Florida against the University of Findlay.