Trailing by four runs, Valparaiso scored three times in the eighth inning and had the potential tying and winning runs on base in the ninth, but a diving line drive double play ended the Crusaders comeback attempt as Butler defeated the Brown and Gold 8-7 on a rain delayed Friday afternoon at Emory G. Bauer Field.
Down 8-4 with two at bats remaining, Kyle Gaedele (Arlington Heights, Ill./Rolling Meadows H.S.) singled and Robbie Robinson (Brea, Calif./Olinda H.S.) walked to lead off the eighth inning. Will Hagel (Arlington Heights, Ill./Prospect H.S.) followed with a single up the middle to score Gaedele. After Robinson and Hagel moved up on a ground out, Karch Kowalczyk (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru H.S.) plated Robinson with a one out hit. With two outs, Kyle Muhlsteff (Yorba Linda, Calif./Esperanza H.S.) drove home Hagel with a single through the right side, pulling Valpo within 8-7.
Valpo then threatened again with one out in the ninth. Gaedele and Robinson both walked, but Hagel’s line drive up the middle was snared on a dive by Butler second baseman Luke Duncan, and he doubled Gaedele off of second.
Butler jumped on top in the opening inning on a two-run double by Nick Hladek. The Crusaders throw out Kevin Crane at the plate trying to score a third run on the play, ending the inning.
A heavy thunderstorm rolled through the area with two outs in the bottom of the first, delaying the action for 57 minutes, but both starting pitchers, Joe Ochs for Butler and Jon Gulbransen (Appleton, Wis./Fox Valley Lutheran H.S.) for Valpo returned to the mound for their respective clubs after the interruption.
The Crusaders manufactured a run in the third to get on the scoreboard as Kowalczyk walked, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on a single by Muhlsteff.
Butler answered with a solo homerun by Kyle Schultz in the fourth before the Crusaders tied the game in the fifth. Steven Scoby (Delton, Mich./Delton Kellogg H.S.) had a flare single to right that scored Damon McCormick (Louisville, Ky./Saint Xavier H.S.), who was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Gaedele added a sacrifice fly scoring Muhlsteff, who singled, tying the game at three.
Again the Bulldogs immediately responded, scoring a pair of runs in the sixth, one on an error and another on a sacrifice fly. A pinch hit RBI ground out by David Klein (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East H.S.) scored McCormick in the seventh as the Brown and Gold cut the deficit to 5-4, only to see Butler add three runs in the top of the eighth, setting the stage for Valpo’s comeback effort.
“We gave away too many at bats early in the game,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “We couldn’t stop them. Every time we scored runs, they came back the next half inning with some runs of their own. We never got that shutdown inning.”
Ochs earned the win (3-3) for Butler, pitching 6.2 innings and allowing four runs and seven hits. Jamie Feldheiser came on and pitched the ninth to earn his second save of the year. Gulbransen went just 5.1 innings while suffering the loss (4-4). The junior allowed eight hits and five runs, four of which were earned, while walking four and hitting two.
“Jon didn’t have his best stuff today,” Woodson said. “He didn’t hit his spots.”
Muhlsteff led the Crusaders offensive attack, going 3-for-5 with two runs batted in. Gaedele, who extended his hitting streak to 15 straight games, had two hits, as did Hagel as part of an 11-hit attack.
Valparaiso (18-26, 6-6 Horizon) and Butler (17-23, 7-10) will wrap up their three-game weekend series on Saturday afternoon with a doubleheader beginning at noon.
“We’ve got to make things happen for ourselves,” Woodson concluded. “That’s just not happening right now.”