By Sean Chase
The Grand Rapids Community College baseball team, 24-11 on the season, found themselves in sole possession of first place in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association’s Western Conference after sweeping Kalamazoo Valley Community College, 5-4 and 12-2, at Belknap Park on Saturday, May 1.
“It’s good, I think we’re starting to gain some confidence and momentum and that’s what happens when you win,” said Mike Eddington, GRCC’s head baseball coach. “We’ve won a couple close games, we were losing those close games early. Hoping we learn from our mistakes, our goal is to just get better.”
After battling their way to a sweep over KVCC on Friday, April 30, the Raiders looked to continue that momentum in game one, as Eddington sent redshirt-freshman Collin Bradley to the mound to start things off.
However, KVCC got off of the bus in Grand Rapids with plans of reversing their fate from the previous day. The Cougars immediately jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, capitalizing on an error by GRCC freshman Caleb Englesman, resulting in a run coming home when KVCC sophomore Aaron Sexton smacked a double to left field.
The Raiders worked their way out of the jam in the first, and both teams struggled at the plate until the top of the third inning, when the Cougars struck again increasing their lead to 2-0, off of a single by sophomore Carson Price scored Sexton. Bradley remained composed and induced a fly-ball followed by a strikeout to shut down the KVCC run.
In the bottom of the third, GRCC responded in a big way. Freshman Camden Keatley singled to centerfield, bringing up the top of the Raiders batting order, and leadoff hitter Jake Ryan. The redshirt-sophomore laid down a sacrifice bunt to the KVCC third baseman, advancing Keatley to second base. Up next was redshirt-freshman Sam Schmitt, who struck out, sending redshirt-freshman Aaron West to the plate with two outs, representing the tying run.
West dropped to an 0-2 count after fouling off five-consecutive pitches, however, the sixth found its way out of the park as well, but this time over the left field fence, to knot the game up, 2-2.
Through the fourth, both team’s bats fell silent, but the Cougars found a second-wind, manufacturing two runs in the top of the fifth inning to go ahead of the Raiders, 4-2, forcing Eddington to bring left-handed pitcher Bradley Dunn to the mound. GRCC would respond, but not immediately, as their bats came to life in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“Outstanding,” Eddington said when asked about his thoughts on the performance of his pitchers in game one. “Bradley, that’s the third game he’s pitched this week and Dunn came in and helped win the game.”
The Raiders’ rally started with Schmitt drawing a walk, he then advanced to second base on a passed ball. West lined out to the third baseman, giving the Raiders their first out of the half inning, bringing up Dykstra. After he singled, moving the runner into scoring position, freshman Fernando Rivera-Calderon drove Schmitt home with a single of his own, 4-3. A KVCC error on the very next at-bat allowed the Raiders to tie things back up, 4-4.
Dunn struck out three of the next seven batters, to bring the Raiders’ back to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning. West turned on the first pitch he saw, driving a ball on the ground past the Cougars’ third baseman. Dykstra waited on a pitch outside, before connecting with the second pitch he saw, sending it to centerfield, and putting West on third. With no outs and two on, Rivera-Calderon made contact with a pitch, airmailing it directly to KVCC’s left-fielder.
The catch was made, but the throw didn’t get back to the plate fast enough to stop West from heading home to seal the win for the Raiders, 5-4.
“(West’s) a great player and KVCC’s pitcher is a great pitcher, I’m very happy that we were able to win the game,” Eddington said, when asked about West’s third inning homer.
After entering the game in relief for the Raiders, Dunn earned the win, pitching three innings, giving up three hits and recording three strikeouts. GRCC also received contributions from West (3 for 4, two RBI and a homer), Rivera-Calderon (1 for 3 with two RBI), Dykstra (2 for 3 with two singles), Keatley (1 for 3) and Ryan (1 for 3).
With all the momentum on their side, the Raiders went into the bottom of the first inning of game two, with redshirt-sophomore Garrett Cheslek on the hill, ready to secure a four-game sweep of the KVCC. Ryan led things off with a single, which West followed shortly thereafter with a double to left field, scoring a run to give GRCC a 1-0 lead. After a Dykstra ground out, Rivera-Calderon scored West with a double of his own. Redshirt-freshman Jake Paganelli singled to the Cougars’ second baseman, scoring Rivera-Calderon, and putting the Raiders up 3-0.
Through the end of the third inning, GRCC had built a decent lead, 6-0, but in the top of the fifth, the Cougars managed to crack the scoring column, as Cheslek struggled with control of his pitches. After plunking a batter, a Cheslek error allowed a run to score, drawing the Cougars within five of the Raiders, 6-1. KVCC freshman Ben Cerven singled later in the half inning, scoring a run, the last of which the Cougars would manage on the day, 6-2.
In the bottom of the fifth, Sophomore Andrew Jacoby, who was on the mound for KVCC, was having control issues of his own. After recording two quick outs, Jacoby walked GRCC redshirt-freshman Pat Young and Keatley. Jacoby then hit Ryan.
With the bases loaded, the Cougars switched pitchers, bringing in sophomore Jake Dirksen. Dirksen hit Schmitt, walked West and hit Dykstra to put the Raiders ahead 9-2. Rivera-Calderon was the first GRCC player to record a hit in the fifth, when he singled to left field, scoring two more runs, 11-2. Looking to end the game, Englesman stepped into the batter’s box looking to score Dykstra, as KVCC brought in sophomore Riley Getman to pitch. The second pitch Getman dealt was off target, forcing the catcher to retrieve the errant throw, allowing Dykstra to cross the plate, ending the game, 12-2.
The Raiders’ second win on the day was attributed to Cheslek, who pitched five innings, giving up two runs and four strikeouts. GRCC also received contributions from Ryan (3 for 3), West (1 for 2, one walk and two RBI), Dykstra (1 for 3 and one RBI), Schmitt (1 for 2 and two RBI), Rivera-Calderon (3 for 4 with four RBI), Paganelli (1 for 2, one RBI and one walk) and Keatley (one walk and one RBI).
As the season comes to a close, the Raiders will head to Donaldson, Indiana for a double-header against the Chargers of Ancilla College on Friday, May 7, with the first game getting underway at 2 p.m. After that Eddington’s team will jump on the bus and head back home to face the Chargers in their last double-header of the season on Saturday, May 8 at 1 p.m.
“We’re going to practice and get better,” Eddington said, about the team’s plans going into the postseason.