Grand Valley State received a terrific all-around performance from Ellie Balbach and the Lakers captured a 1-0 victory against Wayne State on Thursday, winning the NCAA Midwest Super Regional championship. The junior lefty pitched five strong innings and provided the game's only run on a solo homer, combining with senior Sara Andrasik on a two-hit shutout to win the regional title.
The best-of-three series needed to go just two games, as GVSU recorded a thrilling 5-4 comeback victory in game one on Wednesday, scoring four runs in the seventh inning after trailing 4-1. Grand Valley State needed to win just one of two possible games on Thursday to earn the regional championship and advance to the national championship in Denver, Colo. next week.
With Thursday's victory, the Lakers improve to 43-11 on the season and advance to the national championship for the third time in school history. GVSU also earned berths at the national tournament in 2002 and 2013. Wayne State sees its season end with a 50-10 overall record.
The Lakers continued to win in the NCAA postseason by the slimmest of margins. Grand Valley State has won six games in the NCAA Midwest Region Tournament, with five of those coming by just one run and the other victory being a two-run margin. With a pair of one-run victories in the Super Regional, GVSU is now 15-3 on the year in one-run games.
Thursday's victory featured three of the Lakers' four pitchers on staff, as freshman Allison Lipovsky started the game, sophomore Courtney Reinhold pitched three innings of relief, and Andrasik closed the contest with a perfect seventh inning. That group is a trio of righthanders, so Laker head coach Dana Callihan switched things up on Thursday, going with Balbach, the only lefty thrower on the team.
A back-to-back All-GLIAC First Team selection at designated player, Balbach is also a solid option on the GVSU pitching staff, as she entered the Super Regional with a 7-3 record and a 3.04 ERA in 83.0 innings in the circle.
The Lakers opened as the home team in game two despite the game being played at WSU Softball Stadium in Detroit. In the first, after Balbach retired Butler on a flyout, Wayne State put consecutive runners on base with an error and a single. Balbach retired the next two batters to escape any further trouble. Sophomore Kaylie Rhynard laid down a perfect one-out bunt single in the first inning and stole second base to improve to 21-for-21 on stolen base attempts this season. Rhynard was stranded at second base, however, keeping the game scoreless.
Balbach threw just six pitches in a quick 1-2-3 second inning, then helped out her own cause in the home half of the frame. She led off the bottom of the second with a solo home run to right center field off of Wayne State's Mackenzie Boehler, an All-GLIAC First Team pitcher this season. It was Balbach's fifth homer of the year and the Lakers took a 1-0 lead to the third inning.
In the third, Balbach kept on rolling, as she notched a strikeout and a pair of groundouts for a 1-2-3 stanza. Her streak of nine consecutive retired batters ended in the fourth inning with a one-out opposite field double from WSU's Kristen Lucas, but Balbach used just three more pitches (with a popup and flyout) to get out of the inning. Balbach again threw just six pitches in the inning, identical to her six-pitch second frame.
Still leading 1-0, Balbach notched back-to-back strikeouts, followed by a groundout for another 1-2-3 inning in the circle, her third of the afternoon. That would be her final frame of the day, as senior Sara Andrasik entered for the Lakers to start the sixth inning. Andrasik followed Balbach's lead with a 1-2-3 sixth stanza, as she retired Wayne State's 1-2-3 hitters in the lineup to keep GVSU up 1-0.
Sophomore Teagan Shomin ripped a single to left center to lead off the bottom of the sixth and was bunted to second base with one out. Unforunately, Boehler buckled down to strand Shomin on second base and keep the score at 1-0 heading to the seventh inning.
Andrasik recorded a groundout and then walked Shelby Spano with one out. She would need just two more pitches, however, as Andrasik fielded a comebacker in the circle and induced Kylee Barrett into a groundout. Shomin fired the ball across the diamond to Supernaw, clinching the Lakers' championship victory.
Balbach allowed just two base hits in five innings in the circle, giving up a single and a double. She did not walk a batter and struck out three Warriors. Her record improves to 8-3 on the year, as she threw just 53 pitches in the victory.
Andrasik notched her seventh save of the season and continued her tremendous postseason. In the six victories for GVSU in this NCAA Tournament - all in the last seven days - Andrasik has tallied two wins in the circle and has earned a save in each of the last three victories, all of which were one-run wins.
In her last four outings - dating back to the victory over #2 Indianapolis last Friday - Andrasik has pitched six consecutive hitless innings, retiring 18 of the 19 batters she has faced during that stretch, allowing only the seventh inning walk to Spano in today's win.
Boehler was the hard-luck loser, as she fell to 18-4 for the Warriors, allowing one run on five hits in six innings. She struck out four and did not issue a walk.
Grand Valley State, which moved to 36-1 when it scores first, outhit the Warriors by a 5-2 count. No player in the game had more than one hit, while Balbach's roundtripper was the only extra base hit for the Lakers. Shomin, Rhynard, Supernaw, Balbach, and junior Janae Langs all collected a base hit in the win.
With the victory on Thursday, Grand Valley State improves 42-28 all-time in 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and 4-3 in the Midwest Super Regional. The Lakers were 0-2 in their initial Super Regional outing at Saginaw Valley State in 2011 and went 2-1 at #1 Indianapolis in 2013, winning the first and third games of that best-of-three series. Coincidentally, Andrasik also recorded the final out of the winner-take-all third game to beat #1 Indianapolis and send the Lakers to the World Series for the second time.
GVSU is 6-4 all-time at the national championship, going 4-2 and earning a national runner-up finish in 2002. The Lakers went 2-2 and were one of the final four teams in the country in 2013.