By Sean Chase
The Grand Rapids Community College baseball team faced off against the Cougars of Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Kalamazoo, for a double-header on Friday, April 30, winning 6-0 and 4-3. The Raiders’ record is 22-11 on the season.
“(Today’s wins) were very important, because earlier in the year, we were losing the tight games,” said Mike Eddington, GRCC’s head baseball coach. “I’m very proud of them, that they’ve stuck together and pulled one out. It (would’ve) been easy for them to start pointing the finger at each other and they’re just great teammates and I’m very proud of them.”
To start game one, the Raiders came out in the top of the first inning and immediately jumped all over the KVCC starter sophomore Michael Dunkelberger. Redshirt-sophomore Jake Ryan drew a walk to leadoff the half inning, which redshirt-freshman Sam Schmitt followed with a single. After freshman Ryan Dykstra singled to score the first run of the game, freshman Fernando Rivera Calderon reached on an error, loading the bases. With the Raiders up 1-0, freshman Caleb Englesman hit a sacrifice fly to increase the lead, 2-0.
In the bottom of the first, Eddington sent redshirt-freshman Drew Murphy to the mound, who struck out the side, bringing the Raiders back to the plate. After freshman Camden Keatley and Schmitt singled to put runners in scoring position, redshirt-freshman Aaron West connected with a pitch, driving it to left field, allowing two runs to cross the plate, increasing GRCC’s lead, 4-0.
The score would remain 4-0, as both team’s pitchers began dominating the contest. Until the top of the seventh inning, when the Raiders found their stride once again in the batter’s box. Schmitt drew a walk to start things off, which seemed to rattle KVCC’s pitcher, who mishandled a routine ground ball from West, putting two runners on as Dykstra came to the plate. The first pitch Dykstra saw, he connected with driving it to centerfield and scoring two runs, putting GRCC up 6-0.
Murphy came back out to finish the bottom of the seventh with another strikeout, bringing his total to 12 on the day, allowing him to pick up the win. He pitched a complete game shutout, allowing three hits from KVCC. The Raiders also received contributions from West (2 for 4 with two RBI), Dykstra (2 for 4 with three RBI), Schmitt (2 for 3 with a walk) and Englesman (1 for 3 with one RBI).
“(Murphy) pitched a phenomenal game,” Eddington said. “He commanded three pitches and hit his spots, outstanding job.”
After getting shut out in the first game of the day, the Cougars immediately answered back, notching a quick run off of Englesman in the bottom of the first inning, who got the start for GRCC in game two.
It would take a few innings, but the Raiders would respond with runs of their own in the top of the fourth inning. GRCC got two quick singles from West and Dykstra, which brought Rivera-Calderon to the plate. After watching the runners advance to second and third, Rivera-Calderon grounded out to third base, allowing West to score on the throw, trying the game, 1-1. Redshirt-freshman Jake Paganelli followed that with a single of his own, scoring Dykstra and giving the Raiders their first lead in game two, 2-1.
KVCC immediately answered back in the bottom of the fourth to tie the contest, 2-2. From then on, both teams fell silent at the plate, until the seventh inning, when the Raiders once again pulled ahead, 3-2, off of a sacrifice fly from Dykstra that scored redshirt-freshman Keaton Peck. With the game on the line, the Cougars came back to the plate, looking for a spark. They found it in sophomore Mitchell Begeman, who singled allowing one run to score, however, their rally was stopped when KVCC sophomore Aaron Sexton was thrown out trying to head home on the Begeman hit, sending the game to extra innings.
The game would remain 3-3, going into the top of the ninth inning, when the Raiders jumped back in front of KVCC, 4-3, off of a single from Rivera Calderon, plating West. Looking to continue the game, the Cougars managed to get runners on second and first, but redshirt-freshman Dalton Vander Ark closed the door on the comeback to seal GRCC’s second win of the day.
“I’m very happy, KVCC had two very good pitchers throwing,” Eddington said when asked about the Raiders dominance in the batter’s box against the Cougars. “I’m very happy with the outcome, they’re a very good team.”
Vander Ark picked up the win for the Raiders in game two, pitching one and a third innings, allowing zero hits. GRCC also received contributions from Rivera-Calderon (2 for 5 with two RBI), Dykstra (2 for 4 with one RBI) and Paganelli (1 for 3, one RBI and three walks).
The Raiders will welcome KVCC to Belknap Park to compete in another double-header on Saturday, May 1, with the first game starting at 1 p.m.
“Again it’s a long day with a double-header, we’re there at the field for seven hours,” Eddington said. “We just gotta be mentally focused, keep battling away and believing in ourselves.”