For the second straight day Valparaiso needed to rally in the late innings to complete a comeback as the Crusaders scored once in the eighth and once in the ninth on Wednesday afternoon to defeat third-seeded Youngstown State on the second day of the Horizon League Baseball Championships presented by the U.S. Army held in Niles, Ohio.
With the victory over the tournament hosts, the sixth-seeded Crusaders (20-33) advance to the semifinals of the winner’s bracket in the double-elimination tournament and will face top-seeded UIC on Thursday evening at 6 p.m. CDT. The game can be heard live online at www.sportsjuice.com and can be seen online as part of the Horizon League Network.
Valpo had rallied from a three-run deficit in the third and a one-run deficit in the fifth while scoring two runs in the seventh on Tuesday to defeat Butler in game one of the tournament.
“Our kids haven’t given up all year,” head coach Tracy Woodson said afterwards. “We have lost some games late, but we have also battled back to win some. We just keep battling back.”
Youngstown State struck first in the opening inning, loading the bases with just one out. Anthony Porter plated Sean Lucas with a sacrifice fly to center, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead after one.
An unearned run in the third put the Penguins up 2-0 before Jon Gulbransen (Appleton, Wis./Fox Valley Lutheran H.S.) settled down, allowing just two hits from the third through seventh innings. Meanwhile, the Crusader offense loaded the bases but were unable to score in both the fourth and fifth innings against Horizon League Pitcher of the Year Aaron Swenson. In the fourth, the first four batters reached, but the leadoff man was picked off. With one out, a strike out and pop out ended the threat. In the fifth, the bases were loaded with two outs but a fly out ended the inning.
Valpo finally found the scoreboard in the sixth as Josh Wallace (Bellefontaine, Ohio/Bellefontaine H.S.) led off the inning with his team-leading 11th homerun of the season to right-center. The Crusaders tied the game in the eighth as Jason Brunelli (Greenfield, Wis./Greenfield H.S.) singled with one out and scored all the way from first on Andrew Quinnette’s (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) double into the left field corner.
Gulbransen left after seven innings of work with the game tied at two. He allowed just one earned run and five hits while striking out four and walking two. Jay Clites (Ann Arbor, Mich./Pioneer H.S.) and Austen Siwiec (Aurora, Ill./Marmion Academy) retired the side in the eighth, with Clites allowing a walk for the only baserunner of the inning.
“Gulbransen was just outstanding,” Woodson said. “When he’s been good this year he had his fastball and curve going. The last two outings he’s had a good change as well. He has the ability to be a very good pitcher in this league.”
John Giusti (Coventry, R.I./Coventry H.S.) led off the ninth with a single to right-center but was erased at second on Dan DeBruin’s (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly H.S.) fielder’s choice bunt. Brett Bivens (Battle Creek, Mich./Lakeview H.S.) dropped a perfect bunt down the third baseline for a single to put two runners on. Zach Rodeghero (New Lenox, Ill./Providence Catholic H.S.) singled to left, advancing DeBruin to third, but Bivens was thrown out at third when DeBruin was held up. Wallace finally broke the tie with a two-out single to right field, plating DeBruin with what would be the winning run. For the sophomore, he ended the day with two more RBIs, giving him five for the tournament through two games.
“Wallace had a big two out hit for us,” said Woodson. “Guisti got things going twice tonight. It was good for us to get to their bullpen early because usually he (Swenson) goes deep into games.”
Jarad Miller (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll H.S.) came on to pitch a scoreless ninth for his ninth save of the season and career, moving him into a tie for fourth place on Valpo’s career list. He allowed a walk and a two-out error to put two runners aboard before getting Erich Diedrich to fly out to center.
Siwiec (2-0) earned the victory for Valpo with his two-thirds of an inning of work in the eighth while Craig Gillet (1-3) suffered the loss for Youngstown State (23-32) allowing two runs and six hits in 1.2 innings on the hill.
Bivens, Wallace, Giusti, and Matt Lenski (Milwaukee, Wis./Marquette University H.S.) had two hits each as Valpo banged out 12 for the night.
UIC won all five regular season meetings against the Crusaders this year, but the last two last Saturday afternoon were both one-run contests.