Grand Valley baseball quietly having excellent year

To achieve greatness, neither a team nor a player needs to be vocal, necessarily. For the 2016 Grand Valley Mustangs baseball squad, the “quiet” approach has led the club to a Northeastern Athletic Conference, Stars Division title, as they currently sit at 14-0 in the league, and 17-4 overall.

Leading the way is senior centerfielder Matt Larned, a three-year letterman who was named first team All-NAC, along with first team All-Ashtabula County honors.

“He’s (Matt) not verbal, but he leads by example. He’s soft spoken and real modest about his accomplishments … my favorite part about him is that he’s always positive to the guys,” first year Mustang coach Matt Brumit said.

Larned, described as a “contact hitter with speed and power,” is certainly tearing up the base paths for a team that loves to run. He is currently a perfect 38-for-38 in stolen base opportunities, to go along with his .500 batting average.

“He’s definitely a pure athlete with a tremendous arm and great speed in the outfield,” Brumit said. “He runs a 6.7 in the 60 yard dash, which is what a Division I-caliber athlete runs.”

Larned, the team’s leadoff hitter, is not the only soft spoken star on the team, however.

Jason Byler, a senior pitcher, emerged as a starter in 2015 and became a full-on ace this season, due to a shoulder injury suffered by junior Josh Cunningham.

“Jason is very shy, but he’s done a great job for us,” Brumit said. “He beat Mathews twice, he allowed one run in the first game and two in the second. He had like 16 strikeouts in those two games.”

Byler currently sits at 5-1 with a 2.30 ERA on the season. Run support comes in the form of small ball, as the team has 15 doubles and seven triples, and of course, loves to steal bases, as well.

“We have a lot of contact hitters that put the ball in play,” Brumit said. “Robert Miller (sophomore shortstop) is the number two hitter, he’s a contact guy, and then our three hitter is Jake Reichek (junior second baseman). Reichek is second on the team in RBI’s and is a free swinger. Our cleanup guy, Jake Kocab (junior catcher) leads the team in RBI’s.”

Kocab, a two-year letterwinner, provides a calming influence to Byler.

“Jake Kocab has called his own games since last year. Byler, coming in from starter to ace, it has helped him with (the presence of) Kocab,” Brumit said.

For a first-year coach (and former assistant/JV coach) in Brumit, taking over a team with all of this talent, but coming off an 11-10 season from a year ago, the expectation level was a great uncertainty coming into the year.

“I told the kids in the first meeting, our expectations were to definitely compete for the NAC title, but we knew it would be tough with Mathews,” he said.

While the season has been a great success thus far, it wasn’t always that way at the beginning of the year.

“We went down to Myrtle Beach and played two Division I-type schools, a private school from Maryland and a school from West Virginia. We played those two teams as our first two games down there, and I can’t say it helped us get ready for the season,” Brumit said.

“We had 16 errors and were held to two runs against them. But, we practiced for two-and-a-half-hours the next day, and then after going 2-2 down in Myrtle, we played Mathews that next Monday, and that win gave the kids the confidence that we could beat Mathews in the NAC.”

As for what Grand Valley, a five-seed in the Division III LaBrae District, needs to do to make a deep tournament run, it’ll be up to the 2,3,4 hitters, among other things.

“Miller, Reichek, and Kocab need to continue to drive in runs and put the ball in play. The bottom of our lineup has struggled, but they’re starting to get hits, so we’ll be counting on them, as well,” Brumit said.

“Byler needs to pitch like he can and Larned needs to continue to get on base. Our expectation is that we can compete and win every game, we just gotta take it one game at a time. Right now, we’re not good enough to go to regionals, with the likes of LaBrae and Champion in our district, but we definitely have a chance.”

A chance is all the Mustangs need in a hugely successful (and perhaps unlikely) 2016 campaign, to this point. One thing that’s for certain, while they may not be a vocal bunch, this Mustang team certainly won’t go out quietly.