Valparaiso (0-0, 0-0 MVC)
at Alabama (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
Sewell-Thomas Stadium | Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Friday, Feb. 16, 3 p.m. CT – Tieman (R) v. Finnerty (R)
Saturday, Feb. 17, 2 p.m. CT – Ferketic (R) v. Walters (R)
Sunday, Feb. 18, 1 p.m. CT – Gordon (R) v. TBD
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will throw out the first pitch of the 2018 season on Friday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Ala. as the Crusaders begin a challenging nonconference schedule by visiting SEC foe Alabama for a three-game weekend series. As always, Mother Nature has the Crusaders on the road for the season’s early portion, as this weekend starts a season-opening stretch of 23 straight games away from Emory G. Bauer Field.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders won four of their last five regular season games before falling 6-4 to Oakland in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament. Valpo took a 3-2 lead to the fifth inning, but the Grizzlies scored a pair in the fifth and two more in the sixth while the Crusaders didn’t score over the last four innings. James Stea, Sam Shaikin and Giovanni Garbella had two hits apiece in the season finale.
On the Air: All three games of the series can be viewed on SEC Network+ through the WatchESPN app. The broadcasts are free with a cable provider login. Links to live video and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com. Eli Gold (play-by-play) and Lance Cormier (color commentary) will have the call on SEC Network+.
Series Notes: This weekend will mark the first ever games between the two teams.
Inside the Crusader Offense: The Crusaders return six of the nine players who started last year’s season finale… Junior third baseman Sam Shaikin was the only Crusader to start all 53 games last season and hit a team-best .317. He finished with 20 multi-hit games, the most of any Crusader, and enjoyed a 23-game on-base streak, Valpo’s longest of the season… Entering a game against Northern Kentucky on April 9, Giovanni Garbella was hitting .213 with no home runs and eight RBIs and was a career .204 hitter over three years. From that point forward, he hit .380 with five home runs and 24 RBIs over the final 25 games of the year… Christian Barczi was named to the Horizon League all-freshman team, one of three Crusaders to receive that honor. He led the team in batting average in league-only games at .343 in 20 contests… Junior catcher Scott Kapers threw out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers last season. He finished the year on a season-long six-game hitting streak and hit a team-high .378 over the final 14 games of the season after entering that stretch with a .231 average… Junior second baseman Chase Dawson batted .364 over the final month of the season (April 23 – May 24) in 16 games, leading the team in batting average and on-base percentage (.517) during that stretch. Dawson made just two errors all season in 205 chances (.990) after making 15 errors (.935) as a freshman… Senior shortstop Chad Jacob finished with a .291 batting average in 34 games a year ago. He missed time early in the season with a wrist injury and the end of the season with a concussion… First-year Crusader Blake Billinger is expected to start in left field after earning unanimous first-team all-conference honors in each of his two junior college seasons… Senior Zack Leone is expected to start at first base in his first year at Valpo after setting a Susquehanna (Division III) program record for career doubles and ranking second in program history in batting average, RBIs and home runs.
On the Mound: Sophomore Jon Tieman made 20 appearances and four starts during his freshman season, earning Horizon League All-Freshman Team accolades while becoming the first Crusader to be named a Freshman All-American since shortstop Spencer Mahoney in 2012. Tieman enters 2018 as one of three Missouri Valley Conference players who were Freshman All-Americans a year ago, joining Bradley’s Brendan Doherty and Illinois State’s John Rave. The Valpo right-hander shared the team lead in wins by going 4-1 and held the team watermark in strikeouts (51) and saves (7). His seven saves put him in a tie for eighth in program history in career saves after less than a full season as the team’s closer. He finished the year with an ERA of 2.93 over 46 innings… Trey Ferketic has transferred in as fifth-year senior for his final season of eligibility and will assume the role of Saturday starter…Wes Gordon has been tabbed the Sunday starter after an injury limited him to nine starts in his first year at Valpo in 2017... Sophomore Easton Rhodehouse burst onto the scene by appearing in 25 games out of Brian Schmack’s bullpen during his rookie campaign. He shared the team lead with four wins while posting a 2.43 ERA over 33 1/3 innings of work. Rhodehouse yielded just 10 walks while striking out 40 and earning three saves. He was honored as the Horizon League Pitcher of the Week on May 15, becoming the first Valpo reliever to win the award since 2013 and the first Crusader true freshman to receive the honor since 2008. The right-hander was one of a league-high three all-freshman team honorees for Valpo… Sophomore Jake Larson closed his freshman season on a high note, totaling 10 2/3 scoreless innings of relief against Northern Illinois (May 3) and UIC (May 14).
Driftless Drivel: The Crusaders will seek to open a season with a win for the first time since Feb. 14, 2014 against Samford… Last year got off to an unfavorable start as a walk-off home run by Western Kentucky lifted the Hilltoppers to a 6-5 victory over Valpo… This marks the second straight season Valpo will play an early-season series in the state of Alabama. Valpo went to UAB for three last February… This marks Valpo’s first game against an SEC team since a 5-4 win over Florida to open the 2013 NCAA Regional in Bloomington, Ind… Alabama hasn’t played a Missouri Valley Conference team since 1997 (Wichita State).
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his fifth 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 in 2016. In 2017, the Schmack continued his success despite guiding a youthful roster that featured 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers. He led the Crusaders to 24 wins, including a strong finish to the regular season that saw them win eight of their last 11. 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 2017 with a 24-29 record and a 13-15 mark in the Horizon League. Three Crusaders earned all-league freshman team honors, the first time Valpo had three players on the all-freshman team since 2013 and the seventh straight year the Crusaders had multiple players on the all-freshman squad. After posting a 4-1 record, 2.93 ERA and seven saves, right-handed pitcher Jon Tieman was named a Freshman All-American, becoming the first Crusader to earn that high honor since shortstop Spencer Mahoney in 2012. The 2017 season also saw the Crusaders set the program record for team fielding percentage, as they put together a .971 fielding percentage that bested the previous mark of .968, which had stood since 1998. The Valpo offense has enjoyed a significant statistical uptick over the last three seasons. The Crusaders held a combined average of .279, slugging percentage of .387 and on-base percentage of .372 from 2015-2017, all improvements from a .265/.351/.337 slash line from 2012-2014.
Preseason Poll: The Crusaders were picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll in their first season in The Valley. Dallas Baptist is the preseason favorite to win the league and is ranked 18th nationally by D1Baseball.com, 20th by the NCBWA and 17th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Missouri State, picked second in The Valley, is ranked 35th nationally by the NCBWA and received 35 votes in the USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll.
In The Other Dugout: Friday will mark the dawn of a new era for the Crimson Tide, who will play their first game under head coach Brad Bohannon, who previously served as an assistant at Kentucky (2004-15) and Auburn (2016-17)… Junior outfielder Chandler Taylor was named to the All-SEC Second Team last season after ranking third in the conference in home runs (16), fifth in slugging percentage (.601) and ninth in total bases (71). The 2017 Minnesota Twins 27th round draft pick led the Crimson Tide in home runs, RBIs (34), runs scored (39), total bases, stolen bases (7) and slugging percentage… Junior catcher Kyle Kaufman is the team’s leading returning hitter after finishing second on the squad in batting average a year ago at .301… Alabama finished last season 19-34-1, 5-24-1 in the SEC.