Valparaiso rallied for the third time this week, coming back from a 3-0 deficit after one, by banging out 16 hits on the way to a 13-4 victory over Wright State on Friday afternoon in an elimination game of the Horizon League Baseball Championships presented by the U.S. Army held in Niles, Ohio.
With the win, Valpo (21-34) will advance to Saturday’s loser’s bracket championship contest against Milwaukee, who fell 7-5 to UIC on Friday night, beginning at 10 a.m. CDT. The game will be carried live on the Horizon League Network and on www.sportsjuice.com. The winner of that game will face UIC in the championship round beginning at 2 p.m. CDT.
“This was a big win when we were not suppose to,” said head coach Tracy Woodson. “It does a lot for our program. A lot of people had Wright State picked to win the tournament, and for us to knock them out is quite an accomplishment for this team.”
Wright State (30-23) wasted little time striking first. A ground rule double to lead off the game by Casey McGrew and a passed ball put a runner on third. Valpo looked to limit the damage on a ground ball fielder’s choice, throwing McGrew out at the plate. A single by Jeremy Hamilton followed to put runners on the corners, and a wild pitch on a walk plated the first run of the game. Back-to-back run scoring singles by Jeff Mercer and Gerald Ogrinc increased the lead to 3-0 for the Raiders, still with one out. After a visit to the mound, Bryce Shafer (Wabash, Ind./Northfield H.S.) settled down getting a strikeout and a ground out to limit the damage.
Valpo manufactured one run in the third as John Giusti (Coventry, R.I./Coventry H.S.) was hit by a pitch to lead off and Dan DeBruin (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly H.S.) followed with an infield single to extend his hitting streak to 15 straight games. Brett Bivens (Battle Creek, Mich./Lakeview H.S.) laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position and a ground out by Zach Rodeghero (New Lenox, Ill./Providence Catholic H.S.) plated Giusti. For Rodeghero, it was his 50th RBI of the year.
Valpo put the first three runners on in the fourth, chasing starting Wright State starter Ryan Ostrosky. Jason Brunelli (Greenfield, Wis./Greenfield H.S.) led off with a walk and moved to third after Andrew Quinnette (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) singled. When Matt Lenski (Milwaukee, Wis./Marquette University H.S.) was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Scott Ruthven was summoned from the bullpen. Jon Gulbransen (Appleton, Wis./Fox Valley Lutheran H.S.) laced a single through the right-side to plate Brunelli, cutting the deficit to one. After a flyout, DeBruin was walked to score another run and Bivens laced a long single off the top of the rightfield fence to score Lenski, putting Valpo up 4-3.
Rodeghero continued the hot hitting lacing a two-run single into left-center and with Brunelli capped the 11-batter and seven-run inning with a two-run triple into the rightfield corner, giving the Crusaders an 8-3 lead.
Valpo tacked on three more runs in the fifth, all with two outs. Giusti was aboard following a fielder’s choice and moved to second on DeBruin’s single. Bivens doubled home Giusit with his two-bagger down the leftfield line and Rodeghero followed with a two-run single giving him five RBIs on the day, increasing the Brown and Gold’s advantage to 11-3.
Meanwhile, Shafer settled down on the mound following the first inning conference, not allowing another hit until a two-out double to Justin Parker in the fifth.
The Raiders did find the scoreboard again in the sixth cutting the lead to 11-4 with an unearned run. Wright State loaded the bases with one out following an error, but could only manage a McGrew sacrifice fly in the frame.
The Crusaders tacked on a couple more runs in the seventh as Gulbransen led off with a single and moved to second on another sacrifice bunt. A DeBruin single, his third hit of the day, put runners on the corners for Bivens, who collected his fourth hit, a RBI single to right, driving home Gulbransen with his third run batted in on the afternoon. After a fielder’s choice, Josh Wallace (Bellefontaine, Ohio/Bellefontaine H.S.) joined the hit parade with a run-scoring single to rightfield to score DeBruin for the third time pushing the lead to 13-4.
Shafer (3-5) pitched into the ninth throwing 129 pitches allowing just three earned runs in eight innings of work. The freshman allowed nine hits and four walks while striking out three to earn the victory. Jarad Miller (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll H.S.) came on to get the final three outs, needing just seven pitches including a double play ball to end the game.
“Shafer was huge today,” said Woodson. “The biggest thing is he saved our bullpen with possibly two games tomorrow. For him personally, he had some ups and downs this year, and to battle back from the three runs in the first is big.”
Ostrosky (3-3) suffered the loss for Wright State, allowing four earned runs and four hits in three innings.
Five different Crusaders had multi-hit games, led by Bivens 4-for-5 night and DeBruin’s 3-for-4 effort. Wright State finished with nine hits, with just John Kopilchack tallying two on the afternoon.
“Bivens had two big at bats today with two strikes on him,” said Woodson. “Offensively we kept adding on today.”
“We have to be rested and ready to go tomorrow,” concluded Woodson. “Hopefully we’ll be playing 18 innings.”