Crusaders Kick Off Conference Tournament Thursday Versus Familiar Foe
Junior Cole Webb (4-7, 3.20) will make his 14th start of the season Thursday versus the UIC Flames in the Horizon League Conference Tournament. (Ray Acevedo)
Crusaders Kick Off Conference Tournament Thursday Versus Familiar Foe
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

#3 Valparaiso (28-26, 13-11 Horizon)
vs.
#2 UIC (26-26, 13-11 Horizon)

Horizon League Conference Tournament - Game 2
Thursday, May 23rd, 10:00 a.m. CDT
Thursday, May 23rd-Saturday May 25th, TBD

Eastwood Field - Niles, Ohio

This Week in Crusader Baseball: The Horizon League descends upon northeast Ohio this week for the final Conference Tournament of the 2012-2013 school year. The Crusaders finished in a tie for second place in the Horizon League with UIC. The Flames owned the tiebreaker - and consequently the #2 seed - by virtue of a 5-1 advantage in the regular season head-to-head matchup. Thursday morning’s tilt is a repeat of the 2012 Horizon League Tournament Championship Game in Chicago. Valpo won that game 14-5 to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid in 44 years. This will be the 16th game between the two teams in the last 13 1/2 months.

On the Air: Live video will be available for all games through the Horizon League Network. Live stats will be available through valpoathletics.com for all three games.

Head Coach Tracy Woodson: Tracy Woodson, the 16th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his seventh season at the helm of the Crusaders and has a 183-208 (.468) record both for his career as well as at Valpo. Woodson ranks third in school history for career wins by a head coach. A member of the Los Angeles Dodgers 1988 World Champion team, he has also managed in the minor leagues through the AAA level.

Probable Starters: Junior RHP Cole Webb (4-7, 3.20) will take the ball Thursday in the first game of the tournament for the Crusaders. UIC will counter with RHP Tomas Michelson (6-5, 2.80).

Series Notes: UIC leads the all-time series 59-51. The Flames took five of six from the Crusaders during the regular season. Since April of 2012, the two teams have played 15 games with UIC owning an 8-7 edge.

Scouting the Flames: UIC currently stands at 26-26 overall. UIC and Valpo are similar teams in a number of facets. Like Valpo, the Flames have struggled to find consistency for an extended period of the season. Both teams rank in the top 75 in sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies, and hit by pitches. Additionally, both pitching staffs are adept at pounding the strike zone.

Where the two teams contrast is in their approach at the middle-of-the-order. Alex Grunenwald and Ryan Boss are the leaders of an all-or-nothing mantra which often leads to either big innings or extended offensive droughts. The two have combined for 14 homers - and 93 Ks. Overall, the Flames have hit eleven more home runs than the Crusaders, but they’ve also racked up 80 more strike outs in 72 fewer at-bats.

Though John Coen’s .269 batting average won’t land him on any conference leaderboards, his superb on-base percentage will. At .416, the Flames shortstop possesses the fifth-highest OBP in the HL. Ryan Shober has enjoyed a highly productive year for UIC. The former Crusader leads the Horizon League with 19 stolen bases, but a leg injury kept him off the field for the series between Valpo and UIC earlier this month.

On the mound, the Flames go right after hitters as evidenced by an average of just three walks per nine innings. While Milwaukee’s Jake Long was named Horizon League Pitcher of the Year, Tomas Michelson is perhaps the last guy a team wants to face. His fastball sits in the upper 80’s and can hit 90 mph, but the unpredictable movement on his pitches is what makes the sophomore so devastating. Michelson throws an excellent cutter and also gets tailing action on his fastball. That combination makes squaring up his pitches a chore.

Michelson allowed a run in three innings in his first start against Valpo this season before a blister on his pitching hand ended his day prematurely. The innings-leader in the Horizon League followed with a five-hit shutout in his next start versus the Crusaders in Chicago. He walked none but hit three batters while striking out five in the 109-pitch gem.

The UIC bullpen was especially tough on the Crusaders this season. In the five games where Mike Dee called upon his relievers, only Alex Posey surrendered a run. Lefty Tim Suminski (6 1/3), closer Jack Andersen (3 2/3), and Mike Schoolcraft (1 1/3) combined to provide 11 1/3 scoreless frames as part of a bullpen that carries a 1.29 ERA versus the Brown and Gold in 2013.

The Rest of the Field: Milwaukee, deservingly, is the odds-on favorite. The Panthers went 14-7 in the Horizon League behind Player of the Year Michael Porcaro and Pitcher of the Year Jake Long. Add in Newcomer of the Year Mitch Ghelfi and his .413/.435/.667 slash line in League play and Coach of the Year Scott Doffek and the regular season champs are a well-oiled machine. The only source of anxiety exists in the bullpen. The Panther pen coughed up two leads in their series against Valpo in early May. Closer Joshua Uhen can raise eyebrows on the radar gun, but can he find the plate (21 BB in 19 IP)?

Wright State is experiencing a down year by their standards after it saw much of its potent offense graduate in 2012. Casey Henn is a dominating starting pitcher (77 K in 85 IP). Newcomers Kieston Greene and Mark Fowler have helped Garrett Gray retain some of the offensive prowess for the Raiders. But after Henn, question marks accompany Wright State on the mound.

Tournament host Youngstown State was dealt a crushing blow last Friday when it lost team MVP Drew Dosch to a season-ending knee injury. An elite player in the Horizon League, Dosch was the backbone of the Penguin offense. A lack of depth at pitching makes a deep YSU run appear arduous.

Parting shots: Billy Cribbs has thrown out 44.4% of potential base stealers in 2013...Kyle Wormington has a 0.73 ERA since 4/28...Chris Manning hit .478 off UIC in the regular season...Chris DeBoo has an OBA of .068 versus UIC.