Despite being stuck in neutral for the first eight innings, Valparaiso brought the tying run into scoring position in the ninth. However, Flame reliever Ryan Hinchley preserved a 3-2 win for Jake Dahlberg and UIC Saturday at Curtis Granderson Stadium in Chicago.
As was the case in the series opener Friday, both starting pitchers traded zeroes in the early innings. Dahlberg retired the first 11 Crusaders in a row until sophomore Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) shot a double into the right-center field gap. The UIC lefty would sit down the next ten batters in order.
Crusader starter Ryan Fritze (Woodbury, Minn./Woodbury [Des Moines Area CC]) kept the Flames off the scoreboard until the home half of the fourth. Mickey McDonald, the leadoff batter, dropped down a bunt between home plate and the pitcher's mound. Fritze fielded it cleanly, but bounced the throw to Palace at first allowing the UIC third baseman to reach. McDonald advanced to second base in the following at-bat when Fritze unleashed his fourth wild pitch of the season.
After a Jeff Boehm ground out, Fritze issued a one-out walk to Alex Lee. The Valpo right-hander retired David Cronin on strikes for the second out, but caught Cody Bohanek on the right elbow with an errant fastball. With the bases loaded, freshman catcher Rob Calabrese worked it to a full count before Fritze's 3-2 offering was deemed too low. The walk forced in the Flames' first run of the game.
Jeff Edwards (Massillon, Ohio/Jackson) kept it a 1-0 game for the time being with a full-extension, diving stop towards the hole to his left to rob Trevor Lane of a pair of runs batted in.
UIC added two runs in the fifth with a pair of sacrifice flies. The first two Flames reached via a leadoff walk and a double down the left-field line.
Dahlberg kept dealing on the hill for UIC. Valpo failed to put two runners on base until the top of a tense ninth inning.
Spencer Mahoney (La Grange Park, Ill./Lyons Township) laced a one-out single to right. Dahlberg got the second out of the inning when Nolan Lodden (West Des Moines, Iowa/West Des Moines Valley [Heartland CC]) flied out to center. Mahoney swiped second base with Palace at the plate. Palace sent a hard-grounder to third base that appeared to end the game, but the throw from McDonald hopped over the first baseman's glove off a bounce. Mahoney was awarded home while Palace advanced to second base.
With Dahlberg's pitch count just over 100, UIC skipper Mike Dee summoned fellow lefty Hinchley into the game to face Daniel Delaney (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Thousand Oaks [Fresno State]) and record the 27th out. Hinchley got Delaney to swing at strike three, but Calabrese was unable to squeeze it behind the plate, allowing Delaney to race to first and extend the game.
Dustin Beasley (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point [Cisco]) dug in with runners on the corners. Hinchley bounced a breaking pitch in the dirt that scooted to the backstop. Palace scored from third to make it 3-2 while Delaney jogged to second. Beasley and Hinchley engaged in a lengthy at-bat before the Crusader right fielder struck out to end the game.
Fritze took the loss for Valpo after throwing seven innings where he yielded four hits and four walks while striking out three. Two of the three runs that scored on his watch were earned. Freshman Connor Kaucic (Chardon, Ohio/Notre Dame Cathedral Latin) worked a scoreless inning of relief out of the Crusader bullpen.
Dahlberg improved to 2-1 on the season behind a dominant performance. The sophomore tossed 8 2/3 innings, allowing two unearned runs on three hits. He struck nine and did not walk a batter.
Valpo (3-10, 0-2 Horizon) and UIC (4-8-1, 2-0 Horizon) will close out their series Sunday afternoon at 1 pm CT inside Curtis Granderson Stadium. Mario Losi (0-1, 8.79) will try for his - and Valpo's - first win in Horizon League play this season. The Flames will send Trevor Lane (0-1, 11.57) to the hill. Links to the audio, video, and live stats are up at ValpoAthletics.com.