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Play Video Brian Schmack embarks on his first season as head coach Friday versus Samford. The former pitching coach is in his eighth season overall with the Crusaders. (Dave Schofield)
Brian Schmack embarks on his first season as head coach Friday versus Samford. The former pitching coach is in his eighth season overall with the Crusaders. (Dave Schofield)
Valparaiso (1-0)
at
Samford (0-1)
2/14/2014 | Birmingham, Ala. | Attendance: 483
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Valparaiso400200000670
Samford0100001215121
PitchingIPHRERBBSO
Win: Webb (1-0) 6.082234
Loss: Traffica (0-1) 3.046332
BattingABRHRBIBBHR
Mahoney (VALPO) 312120
Hanson (VALPO) 412200
Quinn (SAM) 514200

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Though much of the cast is different, the Valparaiso Crusaders open 2014 in a similar position to last year. Coming off back-to-back NCAA Regional appearances, five other Horizon League teams aim to dethrone the Brown and Gold come late May. A signature 5-4 win over Florida - just 24 hours after coming two outs away from the biggest upset in program history - put Valparaiso on the college baseball map. The season commences this Friday and the Crusaders intend on proving they're no fluke.

"We approach each day realizing that while we may have gotten to the Regionals, we haven't accomplished all we want to and that keeps us going," first-year head coach Brian Schmack said in an interview with Collegiate Baseball Insider earlier this week.

Emory G. Bauer Field currently sits knee-deep in snow, but with opening day 48 hours away we take a look at the 2014 version of the Crusaders.

In the Dugout

New blood was recently injected into a coaching staff that had been place in from 2011-2013. Former head coach Tracy Woodson (Richmond) and former assistant coach Adam Piotrowicz (Western Michigan) moved away, then associate head coach and current head coach Brian Schmack moved up, and former volunteer assistant Jeramy St. Clair moved on. With the promotion of Schmack - Woodson's chief lieutenant for seven seasons - came reinforcement of a level of heightened expectations within an organization that has won 92 games the past three years and advanced to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time in school history. 

Schmack, who has been lauded as a master pitch-caller by a number of current and former Crusader battery mates, will continue his play-calling duties from the rubber to home plate. Newly-anointed assistant coach Mike Stalowy will play tactician with the offense from the dugout, while assistant Ben Wolgamot and volunteer assistant Nic Mishler will reside in the third and first base boxes, respectively. 

On the Dirt

The infield brings more questions than answers in 2014. Valparaiso graduated core players at all positions except shortstop. Tanner Vavra, John Loeffler, Elliott Martin, and Billy Cribbs offered the Crusaders plenty of punch in the order, steady defense, credible leadership, or all of the above. Redshirt senior Andy Burns (Edwardsville, Ill./Edwardsville [Heartland CC]), who appeared in 38 games last season, figures to see the majority of time at second base, though his defensive versatility allows Schmack to move him at either shortstop or third base should the need arise.

Last season's on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) leader Andrew Bynum (Huntington Beach, Calif./Ocean View [Orange Coast CC]) will inherit the first base job. Bynum, who dealt with a hamstring injury for much of 2013, possesses significant pop and should be given ample RBI opportunities in the middle of the order. Junior Spencer Mahoney (La Grange Park, Ill./Lyons Township) may see his name at the top of the lineup card more often than in his first two seasons. The 6'4'' shortstop is the most patient and disciplined Crusader at the plate (54 BBs/55Ks in 304 career at-bats). His ability to drive up pitch counts and take walks project him as an ideal leadoff batter. Mahoney, who hit his first career home run versus Florida in the NCAA Regional last season, has put on 15 pounds of muscle and could very well see an increase in his power numbers.

Joppi Martin (Irvine, Calif./University [Saddleback]), Elliott's younger brother, will sit out the 2014 season after undergoing hip labrum surgery. As a result, freshman Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) will man the hot corner to open the season. Palace, who went deep in a Fall World Series game, "has some juice in his bat" according to Schmack. 

Jake Hanson (Yorkville, Ill./Aurora Christian) will serve as Valpo's backstop. Catchers, like umpires, are at their best when gone unnoticed and Crusader fans were able to take Cribbs' defense for granted for much of the past three seasons. Hanson owns the best arm behind the plate and shined in his reserve role (.370 BA in 13 games) last season. A mix of young Crusader pitchers will rely on the sophomore to become acquainted with an increased workload. Freshman Ray Bartolomucci (Concord, Calif./De La Salle), who is the best receiver on the roster, is a strong backup. 

Jeff Edwards (Massillon, Ohio/Jackson) possesses a plus-glove that will force his way into the field especially in late-inning situations. Should injuries strike the infield, the sophomore is more than capable of providing sound play as a starter.

In the Grass

The outfield carries veteran presence at each position. Senior Chris Manning (Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro) has been a model of consistency on both sides of the ball for the Crusaders. He's started all but one game for the Brown and Gold since arriving in Valpo in 2010. Manning will assume his position in right field and will be featured toward the top of the lineup to open the season. Michael Morman (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) is slated as the opening day starter in left field. Morman has battled knee and back ailments each of the last two seasons. When healthy, he supplies considerable power and projects as a middle of the order bat in addition to a plus arm.  

The 2012 Horizon League Conference Tournament MVP Mark Johnson (Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township) will begin the season in center. Johnson is patient at the plate and has developed a knack for timely hits. Bryce Hara (Irvine, Calif./Northwood [Irvine Valley College]) continues to work towards 100% health after dealing with a hamstring injury sustained in the fall. The senior offset a .249 batting average with a .330 on-base percentage and his speed allows him to patrol generous space in center field. Freshman Emerson Misch (Bloomfield Hills, Mich./Andover [IMG Academy]) is best described as both fast and physically mature and will give Schmack flexibility in the outfield and in late-inning situations. Misch's work ethic, approach at the plate, and overall baseball smarts have impressed.

On the Hill

After a stellar first year with the Crusaders, Cole Webb (Tulsa, Okla./Union [Coffeyville CC]) is slotted as the opening day starter. Webb finished 2013 with a misleading 5-7 record. His 3.42 ERA and 1.30 WHIP were more indicative of his overall body of work. The senior carried a sub-2.00 ERA into mid-April and limited one of the best offensive teams in the country (Indiana) to one run over seven innings in the Bloomington Regional last May 31st.

Dalton Lundeen (Streamwood, Ill./Streamwood), who saved his most dominating start of the season for the Horizon League Conference Tournament-clinching game over Wright State, figured to be a shoe-in for the Saturday starting spot, but a case of mononucleosis has rendered him out. Schmack is hopeful the sophomore can return during Valpo's spring trip, but Lundeen's recovery remains a question mark. As a result, Drew Hasler (South Bend, Ind./Mishawaka Marian) will make his third career start Saturday versus Samford. The 6'6'' right-hander will pound the strike zone (1 BB in 21 IP in 2013), a long-standing requirement for Crusader pitchers. 

Freshman Mario Losi (Anaheim, Calif./Canyon) has worked his way into the starting rotation with an advanced changeup, good overhand curve, and a fastball in the mid-to-upper 80's. His 6'3'', 180-pound frame projects well as Losi possesses the highest ceiling of any pitcher.

Trevor Haas (Mt. Prospect, Ill./Hersey) and Ellis Foreman (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point) both figure to vie for mid-week spots and can provide bullpen innings on the weekend. 

Junior Ben Mahar (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein) has been an unsung hero out of the Crusader bullpen the past two seasons. Mahar's heavy sinker allows him to get two outs with one pitch; hence, his ideal fit as the first man out of the pen. Woodson showed no hesitation using the underclassman in highly-flammable situations in '12 and '13 and that trust is sure to carry on as Mahar has developed into a veteran leader.

At the back end of the bullpen is Karch Kowalczyk. The senior carried twelve saves and a microscopic 0.36 ERA into the postseason last year. Kowalczyk earned Horizon League Conference Tournament MVP honors in 2013 after saving all three games for the Crusaders in their unblemished run through the tourney. He was later named the HL's Relief Pitcher of the Year. The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) has named him to the 2014 Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List.

The rest of the bullpen features a medley of mid-80's throwing righties. Sophomore Bryce Yoder (Spencerville, Ind./Eastside) has been working on a new delivery that will give batters a different look. Junior transfer Jason Condit (Putnam, Ill./Henry-Senachwine [Illinois Central College]) and redshirt junior Zach Walsh (Batesville, Ind./Batesville [Connecticut]) own the most experience of the remaining relievers. Sean Kennedy (Gurnee, Ill./Warren Township [Jacksonville]) represents the lone lefty out of the pen as Matt Gatewood (Westport, Ind./South Decatur) and Chet Joslyn (Battle Creek, Mich./Lakeview) will spend the season rehabbing from surgery.

Valpo opens a three-game set with Samford on Friday. Cole Webb will oppose righty Chase Traffica in a 6:00 pm CT first pitch. Links to the live stats will be available at valpoathletics.com.

 

W Golf Crusader/Jaguar Challenge Valparaiso, Ind. (The Course at Aberdeen)
Apr 13 2nd/6 (657); 5th/6 (692)
M Golf Bluegrass Invitational Lexington, Ky. (University Club Big Blue Course)
Apr 13 t-6th/13 (895)
Softball Cleveland State 6 8 inn.
Apr 13 Valpo 7
W Tennis Valpo 1 Rochester, Mich.
Apr 13 Oakland 6
M Tennis Valpo 1 Notre Dame, Ind.
Apr 13 #12 Notre Dame 6
W Tennis Valpo 0 Chicago, Ill.
Apr 14 Chicago State 7
M Tennis Valpo 7 Homewood, Ill.
Apr 15 Chicago State 0
Baseball Valpo CCD
Apr 15 Toledo
M Track Cougar Invitational River Forest, Ill.
Apr 17 No Team Score
W Track Cougar Invitational River Forest, Ill.
Apr 17 No Team Score
Baseball Valpo 4 Milwaukee, Wis.
Apr 17 Milwaukee 0
M Tennis Youngstown State 1 Valpo Tennis Complex
Apr 18 Valpo 6
Baseball Valpo 0 Milwaukee, Wis.
Apr 18 Milwaukee 3
Softball Oakland 3 VU Softball Field
Apr 18 Valpo 11
W Tennis Youngstown State 7 Valpo Tennis Complex
Apr 18 Valpo 0
M Golf Wolfpack Spring Open Raleigh, N.C. (Lonnie Poole Golf Course)
Apr 19 CCD
M Track DePaul Invitational Chicago, Ill.
Apr 19 2nd/3 (191)
W Track DePaul Invitational Chicago, Ill.
Apr 19 3rd/5 (82)
W Tennis Cleveland State 7 Valpo Tennis Complex
Apr 19 Valpo 0
Softball Oakland 1 VU Softball Field
Apr 19 Valpo 2
Baseball Valpo 0 Milwaukee, Wis.
Apr 19 Milwaukee 5
Softball Oakland 4 8 inn.
Apr 19 Valpo 2
M Tennis Cleveland State 5 Valpo Tennis Complex
Apr 19 Valpo 2
M Golf Wolfpack Spring Open Raleigh, N.C. (Lonnie Poole Golf Course)
Apr 20 12th/15 (314)
Baseball Kalamazoo 3 Emory G. Bauer Field
Apr 21 Valpo 10
Baseball Ohio Northern 2 Emory G. Bauer Field
Apr 22 Valpo 1
Softball Valpo 3 Macomb, Ill.
Apr 22 Western Illinois 1
Softball Valpo 5 Macomb, Ill.
Apr 22 Western Illinois 4
Softball Valpo Notre Dame, Ind.
Apr 24, 5:00 p.m. Notre Dame
W Golf Horizon League Championship Howey in the Hills, Fla. (Mission Inn Resort & Club)
Apr 25
M Golf Horizon League Championship Howey in the Hills, Fla. (Mission Inn Resort & Club)
Apr 25
W Track Miami (Ohio) Invitational Oxford, Ohio
Apr 25
M Track Miami (Ohio) Invitational Oxford, Ohio
Apr 25
M Tennis Valpo Ann Arbor, Mich.
Apr 25, 2:00 p.m. UIC
Baseball UIC Emory G. Bauer Field
Apr 25, 3:00 p.m. Valpo
M Tennis Valpo Ann Arbor, Mich.
Apr 26, 3:00 p.m. Horizon League Tournament
M Track Miami (Ohio) Invitational Oxford, Ohio
Apr 26
W Track Miami (Ohio) Invitational Oxford, Ohio
Apr 26
M Golf Horizon League Championship Howey in the Hills, Fla. (Mission Inn Resort & Club)
Apr 26
W Golf Horizon League Championship Howey in the Hills, Fla. (Mission Inn Resort & Club)
Apr 26
Baseball UIC Emory G. Bauer Field
Apr 26, 12:00 p.m. Valpo
Softball Valpo Dayton, Ohio
Apr 26, 12:00 p.m. Wright State
Softball Valpo Dayton, Ohio
Apr 26, 2:00 p.m. Wright State
M Tennis Valpo Ann Arbor, Mich.
Apr 27, 2:00 p.m. Horizon League Tournament
W Golf Horizon League Championship Howey in the Hills, Fla. (Mission Inn Resort & Club)
Apr 27
M Golf Horizon League Championship Howey in the Hills, Fla. (Mission Inn Resort & Club)
Apr 27
Softball Valpo Dayton, Ohio
Apr 27, 12:00 p.m. Wright State
Baseball UIC Emory G. Bauer Field
Apr 27, 12:00 p.m. Valpo
Baseball Western Michigan Emory G. Bauer Field
Apr 29, 3:00 p.m. Valpo
Softball IUPUI VU Softball Field
Apr 29, 3:00 p.m. Valpo
Softball IUPUI VU Softball Field
Apr 29, 5:00 p.m. Valpo
Baseball Chicago State Emory G. Bauer Field
Apr 30, 3:00 p.m. Valpo
Softball Valpo Bloomington, Ind.
Apr 30, 3:00 p.m. Indiana (resumption of suspended game)
Softball Valpo Bloomington, Ind.
Apr 30, 4:00 p.m. Indiana
W Track Horizon League Outdoor Championships Youngstown, Ohio
May 2
M Track Horizon League Outdoor Championships Youngstown, Ohio
May 2
Baseball Oakland Emory G. Bauer Field
May 2, 3:00 p.m. Valpo
M Track Horizon League Outdoor Championships Youngstown, Ohio
May 3
W Track Horizon League Outdoor Championships Youngstown, Ohio
May 3
Baseball Oakland Emory G. Bauer Field
May 3, 12:00 p.m. Valpo
Softball Valpo Green Bay, Wis.
May 3, 1:00 p.m. Green Bay
Softball Valpo Green Bay, Wis.
May 3, 3:00 p.m. Green Bay