Valparaiso (9-16, 1-5 Horizon)
at Illinois State (7-18, 0-3 MVC)
Duffy Bass Field | Normal, Ill.
Western Michigan (13-11, 3-3 MAC)
Emory G. Bauer Field | Valparaiso
at ISU - Tuesday, April 4, 4:30 p.m. CT – Grant Inman (R) vs. Colton Johnson (L)
WMU - Wednesday, April 5, 3 p.m. CT– TBD vs. TBD
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team rounds out a stretch of 26 straight road games to begin the season on Tuesday evening, then finally opens the home slate, weather permitting, on Wednesday afternoon. The Tuesday trip will be to Normal, Ill. to take on Illinois State, while the Wednesday home affair will welcome Western Michigan to Emory G. Bauer Field. Both games this week feature former Valpo assistant coaches on the opposing staff.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders suffered a string of three straight one-run defeats in this weekend’s series at Wichita State, including two games that ended with walk-off singles by Travis Young in the bottom of the ninth. Valpo received three hits from James Stea in Sunday’s defeat.
On the Air: Tuesday’s game can be seen on ESPN3, WatchESPN and the ESPN app. Wednesday’s game will have live audio available courtesy of WVUR, 95.1 FM Valparaiso. Links to live coverage of both games are available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Tuesday Starters: Grant Inman will look to build on a strong performance from last week as he toes the rubber against the Redbirds. Inman became the first Valpo pitcher since 1977 to notch a victory at Purdue. He upped his record to 3-2 by limiting the Boilermakers to one run on six hits over 5 2/3 innings. Inman holds a 5.06 ERA in seven games, all starts. He has issued 11 walks and struck out 16. Colton Johnson will make his third start of the year for Illinois State. The freshman lefty holds a 4.26 ERA and 1-2 mark in eight games. He has hurled 19 innings and walked eight while striking out seven.
ISU Series Notes: The Crusaders hold a 6-19-1 all-time record against Illinois State. The Redbirds and Crusaders have been going at it since 1969. Valpo prevailed 8-6 at Emory G. Bauer Field last year, which was the first meeting between the two teams since March 1, 2008. This marks the first time the Crusaders have visited Illinois State since March 20, 2007. The Crusaders haven’t won at Illinois State since March 30, 1976, but they’ve played there just twice since. The majority of the meetings have been at Valpo or a neutral site.
WMU Series Notes: The Crusaders are 13-33 all-time against the Broncos, a series that dates back to 1947. The most recent meeting came last year, when Valpo went to Western Michigan and notched an 8-4 victory. The Crusaders have won back-to-back meetings with the Broncos, as they prevailed 8-7 in a 13-inning affair at Emory G. Bauer Field in 2015. Valpo has beaten Western Michigan at least once every year since 2011, when the two teams did not meet.
Connection Spotlight: Both games this week feature former Valpo assistant coaches on the opposing staff. Illinois State assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Stalowy served as an assistant under Schmack in 2014. He’s in his third season at his alma mater, where he played for the Redbirds from 2006-09… Western Michigan assistant coach / recruiting coordinator Adam Piotrowicz worked at Valpo for three years and was on the staff when the Crusaders won the Horizon League Tournament in 2012 and 2013… Illinois State pitcher David Meade and Valpo pitcher Wes Gordon were teammates at the College of Lake County in 2015… Illinois State’s Trevor Cross and Valpo’s Jayden Eggimann both hail from Mesa, Ariz… Illinois State freshman RHP Braden Niksich is a native of Hobart, Ind. and a Hobart High School graduate… Western Michigan senior outfielder Beau Filkins and Valpo sophomore catcher Scott Kapers both attended Mount Carmel High School. The two were teammates on the 2013 team that won the first state title in program history.
Inside the Crusaders: The Crusaders are hitting .256 as a team, third in the Horizon League. They own a 3.88 ERA that also ranks third in the league. Valpo’s offensive leader is Nate Palace, who is hitting .327 (fifth in the league) with 19 RBIs (tied for fifth) and six home runs (tied for second). Since returning from an injury, Chad Jacob has been a force to be reckoned with at the plate. He’s reached base safely in all 14 games played this season and has multiple hits in seven of those contests. Valpo is second in the Horizon League in RPI behind only Wright State.
In the Illinois State Dugout: The Crusaders will hold their fourth consecutive game against a Missouri Valley Conference opponent on Tuesday as they clash with the Redbirds following this weekend’s series at Wichita State. The Redbirds were picked to finish in last in the eight-team conference in the MVC Preseason Poll. They bring back two position starters and eight pitchers from last year’s 17-37 team. They’re led by sophomore Owen Miller, who earned honorable mention all-MVC recognition and was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. He finished his rookie season seventh in the Valley in batting average, fourth in hits and tied for first in doubles. Miller leads the team in hitting this year at .364 (fourth in MVC), followed by John Rave at .300. The Redbirds are coached by Bo Durkac, who is in his third season in charge and his eighth year on the coaching staff. Illinois State has played one Horizon League team – a 13-7 victory over Youngstown State. The only common opponent from this season so far is Western Kentucky – a team Illinois State took two out of three against, while Valpo dropped two of three. As a team, the Redbirds are hitting .267 (fifth in MVC) and hold a 6.48 ERA (seventh in MVC). Illinois State opened league play this weekend against MVC baseball powerhouse Dallas Baptist and dropped all three games, most recently a 10-2 defeat in the series finale on Saturday.
In the Western Michigan Dugout: The Broncos are under the direction of Billy Gernon, who is in his seventh season at the helm. He guided the 2016 team to the program’s first ever MAC Tournament Championship. The Broncos put together a surprising run to the MAC title after finishing the regular season 11-13 in MAC play. They dropped both NCAA Regional games, falling to Louisville 6-1 before seeing their season end with a 10-3 loss to Horizon League foe Wright State. The Broncos were picked to finish fifth of six teams in the MAC West Preseason Poll. Western Michigan is led by Tanner Allison, who is hitting .379 in 24 games. Andrew Stone owns a .458 average, but only has 24 at-bats. The Broncos are coming off a 13-inning marathon on Sunday at Toledo. Western Michigan took the lead with three in the top of the 10th, but the Rockets responded with three of their own in the bottom of the inning. The Broncos struck for two in the 13th, but Toledo walked off with three in the bottom of the frame.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his fourth season at the helm of the Crusaders. He led Valparaiso to 25 wins in his inaugural campaign, a school record for victories by a first-year skipper. The former big leaguer followed that up with a 22-win season in 2015, then guided the team to its first winning record since 2013 a year ago. Schmack, a member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, served as pitching coach/associate head coach at Valpo for seven seasons prior to his promotion.
Looking Back: Valpo finished 2016 with a 30-28 record, its first winning season since 2013 and just the seventh 30-victory campaign in program history. Valpo scored 377 runs, fourth-most in a season in school history. The team also ranked fourth in program history in hits (586) and fifth in total bases (809). The Crusaders graduated 12 seniors a year ago including their top two starting pitchers, closer and 3-4-5 hitters.
Youthful Crusaders: The Crusaders have 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers on this year’s roster. They have just five seniors after having 12 a year ago. This marks the fewest seniors Valpo has featured since having just four on the 2010 roster. The Crusaders haven’t had this many true freshmen on the roster since 2008. The Crusaders have the most true freshmen in the Horizon League, with UIC’s eight second most. Valpo and Wright State have the fewest seniors in the league with five apiece.
Preseason Poll: The Crusaders were picked to finish fourth in the seven-team Horizon League based on voting by the league’s head coaches. Wright State hauled in five of the six first-place votes and is picked to repeat as the league champion, with UIC projected to finish second. Milwaukee is picked third, followed by Valparaiso, Northern Kentucky, Oakland and Youngstown State.
Driftless Drivel: The Crusaders have been hit by pitches 38 times this year, seven ahead of the team that ranks second in the Horizon League… The Crusaders have grounded into a league-most 18 double plays, but they’ve also turned 27, which ranks second in the Horizon and tied for 31st nationally… The Crusaders are 0-8 in one-run games this season… Scott Kapers played second base for all three games against Wichita State. Before this weekend, he had not played a defensive position other than catcher in his collegiate career… Palace currently owns a 12-game hitting streak. He has 105 career RBIs and enters Tuesday’s game needing eight more to crack Valpo’s career Top 10… Montana Quigley holds an 0.57 ERA in 10 games after posting a 7.24 ERA in eight games a year ago.