By Sean Chase
The Grand Rapids Community College baseball team faced off against the nationally ranked Bruins of Kellogg Community College, on Tuesday, April 27, splitting the double-header, 18-3 and 8-5. The Raiders are now 20-11 on the season.
“Well, again with younger players you gotta be able to concentrate the whole day, it’s a long day,” said Mike Eddington, GRCC’s head baseball coach. “We jumped up on top and made a mistake, they took advantage of it and we lost a little bit of momentum. Again to play a good team, you gotta be mentally focused for 14 innings.”
During game one, The Raiders sent redshirt-freshman Collin Bradley to the mound to battle the Bruins, who came in at 15 in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association Division II rankings.
GRCC jumped out to an early lead in the top of the first inning, as freshman Ryan Dykstra reached on an infield single that scored redshirt-freshman Sam Schmitt. Kellogg pitcher freshman Ashton Potts then walked consecutive batters to score another run for GRCC. Once Potts found the strike zone, freshman Caleb Englesman drove a pitch to deep centerfield, allowing Dykstra to cross home plate, pushing the Raiders further ahead, 3-0.
Kellogg responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the first. However, in the top of the second inning, the Raiders would respond and add to their lead. Potts managed to get two quick outs on GRCC, before he lost command of a pitch, plunking Schmitt and bringing redshirt-freshman Aaron West to the plate.
After working the count to 2-1, West connected with a pitch sending it over the centerfield wall to give the Raiders a 5-1 lead. Bradley continued to hold the KCC batters at bay, striking out two in the bottom of the second inning, sending GRCC back to the plate.
The Raiders continued their dominance in the top of the third, cycling through the batting order as they brought 10 batters to the plate. GRCC was led by West and Dykstra in the half-inning, as they recorded back-to-back singles, each driving in two runs. When the dust settled, the Raiders found themselves up by a large margin, 11-1.
Bradley made quick work of the Bruins in the bottom of the third, retiring the side in order, putting the red-hot Raiders bats back in the box. This go around, GRCC brought 13 batters to the plate, as they tacked on seven more runs and pushed their lead to 17 runs, 18-1. KCC tried to mount a comeback, as they scored a run in the fourth and fifth inning, however the Raiders pitching staff was too much for them to overcome, as game one went to GRCC, 18-3.
“I was happy,” Eddington said, when asked about his thoughts on game one. “We came ready to play and we played good.”
Bradley picked up the win for the Raiders in the first game, pitching four innings, allowing one earned run to go along with three strikeouts. GRCC received contributions from West (4 for 5, four RBI, a homer and a double), Dykstra (3 for 5 with four RBI), Englesman (3 for 3 with four RBI), freshman Fernando Rivera-Calderon (1 for 3 with three walks) and Schmitt (1 for 2 with one RBI).
“It was good, very good,” Eddington said, when asked about the team’s performance in the batter’s box. “Aaron West is a very good player and I’m happy for him. I thought Dykstra swung it well, and so did Englesman.”
Game two started out all Raiders, who sent redshirt-sophomore Garrett Cheslek to the mound. A double from West scored redshirt-sophomore Jake Ryan, putting GRCC up in the top of the first inning, 1-0. Dykstra followed West’s lead, hitting a hard ground-ball at KCC’s shortstop, which he mishandled, allowing West to score. Rivera-Calderon was next to bat, but after hitting into a double play, the Raiders would end their half of the first inning with a small lead, 2-0.
The GRCC lead would hold until the bottom of the second, as the Bruins found their rhythm at the plate. KCC freshman Kyle VanLiere connected with a 3-2 pitch sending it over the centerfield wall for a solo homerun, that cut the Raider lead to one, 2-1. Cheslek hit the next batter he faced. This would come back to haunt him, when after a fly-ball advanced the runner, an error by redshirt-freshman catcher Jake Paganelli allowed the KCC freshman Hilario DeLaPaz to score, and tie the game up, 2-2.
After the Raiders defense reset, Cheslek walked KCC freshman Eli Hilliard, bringing up freshman Robert Slusher. Slusher turned on the first pitch he saw, driving it to right field. When the ball came back into the infield, Slusher was on third and KCC had their first lead of the day, 3-2.
GRCC couldn’t muster any response in the top of the third inning, and it cost them, as the Bruins brought ten batters to the plate in route to adding three more runs to their lead, 6-2. KCC maintained their four run advantage through the top of the fifth inning, as neither team managed to create any offense. That was until the bottom of the fifth, when KCC sophomore Connor Brawley found his pitch and deposited it over the left field fence, adding two more runs to the Bruins’ lead, 8-2.
In the top of the sixth, the Raiders were able to cut into the Bruins’ lead, when Rivera-Calderon reached first base on a dropped third-strike, scoring Schmitt. However, the Raiders weren’t able to do any more damage, as they gave the ball back to KCC, down five runs, 8-3. The Bruins offense couldn’t provide additional security for their lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, but GRCC went into the top of the seventh, three outs away from defeat.
The Raiders quickly found themselves down to their last out, as Englesman lined out and redshirt-freshman Payton Young stuck-out. Next up was redshirt-freshman Matt Williams, who drew a walk, causing Eddington to bring in freshman Brady Owen to pinch run, which Ryan followed with a single moving Owen to third. Schmitt singled to drive Owen in, putting Ryan at third and pulling GRCC closer, 8-4.
With the momentum swinging in favor of the Raiders, West singled to left field, driving in Ryan, but redshirt-freshman Logan Cross, pinch-running for Schmitt, was tagged out advancing to third base, recording the final out of the game. KCC would win 8-5.
Now the Raiders will turn their attention to a weekend series with Kalamazoo Valley Community college, with the first of two double-headers against the Cougars taking place in Texas Township, on Friday, April 30 at 2 p.m. The teams will face each other again on Saturday, May 1, at Belknap Park at 1 p.m.
“Just getting better every day, work hard every day,” Eddington said when asked about the team’s goals as the season winds down. “We have a big series with KVCC this weekend, so we just gotta be ready to play. Learn from our mistakes and get better.”