CARY, N.C. —- Pitching has been a strength for Grand Valley State all season. The Lakers have thrived on stellar play on the mound en route to rising to the No. 1 ranking and catapulting themselves into contention for their first national title in school history.
But on a sweltering May afternoon at the USA Baseball National Training Complex, the Lakers couldn’t count on their pitching to slow down Southern Connecticut and stave off elimination. The Lakers had a revolving door on the mound, going through four pitchers in an 8-6 loss to the Owls Tuesday.
“To be honest, we didn’t pitch well,” GVSU head coach Steve Lyon said. “We gave up 25 hits and 15 runs in two games, and you can’t win that way at this level.”
The Lakers boasted five pitchers with five or more wins and owned an ERA well under three (2.53). But what the Lakers couldn’t do against the Owls, or against Sonoma State two days earlier for that matter, was have someone on the staff stifle the opposing offense.
In the extra-inning setback to the Seawolves on Sunday, the Lakers utilized five pitchers, with Cory Rademacher taking the loss in 1/3 inning of work. He gave up a game-winning hit to Alex Todd and GVSU’s impressive 32-game win streak hit a wall.
Yet, the Lakers still had a chance to stay alive in this tournament. They started Kyle Schepel on Tuesday and it seemed like a great choice. Shchepel was 11-0 with a 2.22 ERA and had recorded 66 strikeouts.
He said he felt confident and ready to perform his best. But ultimately, his stat line told a different story. Schepel gave up four runs on eight hits and did not strike anyone out. He issued three walks.
“The heat took a little toll, but I just didn’t have my best stuff,” Schepel said. “I wasn’t able to get into a rhythm and it seemed like I was just throwing the ball instead of making pitches.”
The Lakers and Owls were tied at 4-4 heading into the fifth but the normally reliable staff of the Lakers was unable to keep things under control. Perhaps the biggest blow was a two-run hit by A.J. Roleau in the sixth that pushed Southern Connecticut in front 7-4.
Bill Maple absorbed the loss. The freshman sensation was 7-0 coming into the game and had struck out 37. His ERA stood at 2.50. Maple lasted 1 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on two hits. He also walked three batters, and like Schepel, could not get any of the Owls to strike out against him.
“We left 12 guys on base, so we had other opportunities to score runs,” SCSU head coach Tim Shea said. “I felt like our guys did a great job of getting to their pitchers and we battled the entire way against them.”
If there is a bright spot, and that certainly isn’t easy to find with the sting of a loss still fresh, it is that Joe Jablonski is the only pitcher the Lakers will lose. Jablonski is 7-1 with a 2.78 ERA and has 58 strikeouts.
With the rest of the staff returning, a staff that combined for four complete games and gave up only 154 runs, it will surprise no one if the Lakers are right back where they were this past season.
“We are losing six extremely talented seniors from our team, but we have a good group of players coming back, especially with pitching, and we’ll have a lot to look forward to next season,” Lyon said. “This experience of being here was very helpful and after we take some time to get over losing in the tournament, we’ll start thinking about next year.”