2023 Grand Valley St. vs Wayne State (MI)

Wayne State Wins It All, Completes League Double

Wayne State Wins It All, Completes League Double

The Wayne State Warriors earned second GLIAC championship title of the season and will carry the GLIAC’s torch in the NCAA Division II Tournament this week.

May 16, 2023 by Briar Napier
Wayne State Wins It All, Completes League Double

Did the wait for Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference baseball titles make Wayne State’s triumphs against the league this year that much sweeter?

Maybe you can ask the Warriors that question. Maybe they’ll just show you their two GLIAC championship trophies earned in 2023 in response.

In a well-deserved and long-awaited twofer for the WSU baseball program, the tourney title wasn’t as quickly wrapped up as the regular-season one, but for a Warriors program that’s been rock-steady for much of the past decade-plus, all of that hard work and dedication into growing a winning tradition was due for some hardware to back it up.

Wayne State will carry the GLIAC’s torch in the NCAA Division II Tournament this week. How far it’ll be lit in an already record-setting WSU campaign could make for something special to watch out for if the Warriors keep on chuggin’ along with victories.

After all, in a season when trophies are piling up, what’s the harm in adding a couple more to the heap?

Here’s a look back at the GLIAC Baseball Tournament and what’s to come for the winner Wayne State as it represents the league against the best Division II programs in America over the course of the coming week (and maybe beyond):

Warriors Break Their GLIAC Hex

After going on a prolonged drought without winning any hardware in the GLIAC, Wayne State and coach Ryan Kelley finally got some — and decided to vacuum up both annual conference titles while they were at it. 

A consistent program that frequently made the D-II NCAA Tournament yet hadn’t won a league regular-season or tournament title since 2010, the Warriors finally got over the hurdle by taking the No. 1 tourney seed with a single-season program record for wins (now up to 42 following this past weekend), then nabbed the double by shooing away Grand Valley State’s upset bid in the tourney title series (more on that down below) to officially clinch their second consecutive NCAA tourney trip and eighth overall under Kelley (since 2009). 

They did it by taking care of business and minimizing stress until the final day of the tourney. Victories in consecutive days over Parkside, Saginaw Valley State, and Purdue Northwest got Wayne State into Sunday with two chances to earn the league’s auto-bid to the NCAA tourney, and the Warriors got it done on the second time of asking. 

Six WSU players made the All-Tournament Team — including well-known standouts Ryan Korolden and Karter Fitzpatrick, the 2022 and 2023 GLIAC Pitchers of the Year, respectively — but arguably none of the nominees had a more important performance in the circle than right-handed sophomore pitcher Griffin Kilander did as he threw a complete game for the first time in his career (notching four strikeouts while only allowing a pair of earned runs with it) in the winner-take-all Sunday decider that GVSU forced after winning Game 1. 

League Player of the Year Rudy Ramirez and Freshman of the Year Tony Hatzigeorgiou, both of which had RBIs in the title-clinching game, rounded out the Warriors’ bunch of nominees along with freshman first baseman Bennett Hitzelberger following a five-RBI tourney overall.

Lakers’ Dramatic Run Just Short

It was an absolute treat to watch Grand Valley State’s epic run in the GLIAC Tournament this week, with almost every game it was in featuring some sort of high drama and excitement that made its charge all the more intense and fun to watch. 

The tourney’s No. 4 seed, the Lakers looked to be drowning with a losing stretch of six of their final seven games to close out the regular season, but immediately announced their arrival in Thursday’s nightcap with an 8-7 win in 12 innings over Saginaw, stranding the Cardinals’ tying run at third and to pick up a thrilling opening victory. 

A 13-8 loss to Purdue Northwest the next day could’ve easily derailed plans to make something happen, but being backed into a corner seemed to only make GVSU stronger. It won two games in back-to-back fashion Saturday (against two-time reigning and defending champion Davenport and in a rematch against Northwest), then surged to a wild 9-8 win in the first game of the title series against Wayne State in which the Lakers were down 9-1 at one point before taking the lead for the first time via a Spencer Nelson solo home run in the top of the ninth inning. 

The Warriors won the decisive Game 2 by a 4-2 margin and therefore the conference tourney title, but the Lakers deserve a tip of the cap for respect for how much fight they showed, even if it didn’t end up resulting in a trip to the NCAA tourney. GVSU matched Wayne State with six nods on the All-Tournament Team, and though the individual awards were deserved, many if not all of those honored would’ve probably traded it for the Lakers’ first tourney title since 2016, especially after how crushingly the push to Sunday ended. 

What’s Next For Wayne State?

Many of Wayne State’s older players said to FloBaseball earlier in the season that they came back to school when they could’ve entered their post-grad lives after last year because they believed that they had the pieces to contend in 2023 and make even more memories than 2022 when the program hosted a Regional for the first time in its history. 

Unsatisfied With Record-Breaking 2022, Vets Returned To Wayne State

Well, now that the Warriors are back in the NCAA tourney, they get a chance to make something happen in the postseason with that commitment in mind. WSU likely would’ve qualified anyway for the Midwest Regional as an at-large selection, but because it’s now officially the GLIAC representative in the tourney, it’ll be the league’s only baseball team still playing when Regional play gets going later on in the week. 

The Warriors were sent to the three-team Midwest Regional #1 hosted by top-seeded Quincy (Illinois), which will play the loser of the opener between WSU and Northwood (Michigan) — an in-state rivalry revisited between former longtime GLIAC foes until the Timberwolves departed for the Great Midwest Athletic Conference this past July. It’ll also be a rematch of a nonconference clash between the two that was played back on March 21, which Northwood won 7-4 in one of only five non-GLIAC defeats on the year for Wayne State thus far thanks to late home runs by outfielder Jacob Rybicki and utility man Blake Salamon, both of whom were All-G-MAC First Team picks. 

With the Warriors probably bound to see the host Hawks sooner or later in such a small bracket, however, Wayne State will likely need to beat both of the Regional’s teams at least once each to get to the Super Regional, where the winner of the Midwest Regional #2 (hosted by Illinois-Springfield, which knocked WSU out of last year’s postseason) awaits.