The Valparaiso University baseball team saw a pair of newcomers enjoy noteworthy debuts on Friday at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but the Crimson Tide defended their home field with a 16-2 victory on Opening Day. An eight-run fourth inning turned the tide, transforming a one-run Valpo edge into a seven-run deficit.
How It Happened
- First-year Crusader Blake Billinger (Los Gatos, Calif. / St. Francis [Mission]) wasted no time making an impact. The junior college transfer belted an opposite-field, line drive home run to right in his first plate appearance in a Valpo uniform.
- Alabama had base runners in each of the first three innings, but sophomore starting pitcher Jon Tieman (Crystal Lake, Ill. / Prairie Ridge) worked his way out of trouble. His most impressive frame was the third, when the Crimson Tide started with two on and nobody out before Tieman recorded back-to-back strikeouts and a shallow fly ball to center to wiggle out of the jam.
- Billinger’s big fly stood as the only tally of the game until the fourth inning, when Alabama exploded for eight runs. Sam Prayton’s two-run double to right center put the Crimson Tide in front. After a run-scoring single by Gene Wood, Hunter Alexander rapped a double down the left-field line to plate a pair and make it 5-1. That spelled the end of the day for Tieman, who left after 3 1/3 and was eventually hit with the defeat.
- Valpo head coach Brian Schmack went to the bullpen, but the Crimson Tide continued the uprising, scoring three more times before the inning ended, with two of those runs also being charged to Tieman. Alabama added an unearned tally in the fifth before putting up a five spot (4 ER) in the sixth.
- Senior Chad Jacob (Irvine, Calif. / Woodbridge) stroked a single to center in the top of the seventh to plate Giovanni Garbella (San Diego, Calif. / Cathedral Catholic), who had doubled to start the frame. That made it 14-2 before Alabama responded with two more runs in the bottom of the inning.
- Fifth-year senior southpaw Chet Joslyn (Battle Creek, Mich. / Lakeview) was the lone Valpo pitcher to escape the day unscathed, as he sent down the side in order in the bottom of the eighth.
Inside the Game
- Senior Zack Leone (Pelham Manor, N.Y. / Fordham Prep [Susquehanna]) led the way with three hits in his first game as a Crusader. He became the first Valpo player since 2012 to lash out three hits on Opening Day. In the 2012 season lid-lifter, Tanner Vavra and Elliott Martin had three hits apiece in Valpo’s 5-2, 13-inning victory over Murray State that spanned two days.
- Billinger became the first Valpo newcomer to slug a home run on Opening Day in the last decade.
- Tieman became the first underclassman to get the Opening Day start for the Crusaders since Bryce Shafer in 2009. Six of Valpo’s last seven Opening Day starters have been seniors.
- The Crimson Tide debuted a new head coach on Friday as Brad Bohannon is in his first year with the program. He looked on as starting pitcher Sam Finnerty earned the win, allowing one run on five hits in six innings while striking out two and walking none.
- Tieman was charged with seven earned runs on nine hits in 3 1/3 and took the loss. He issued three bases on balls and struck out three.
- Since May 7 of last season, Joslyn has been flawless in five of his six outings. He has not allowed a base runner in five of his last six games.
- This was Valpo’s first game against an SEC team since a 5-4 win over Florida to open the 2013 NCAA Regional in Bloomington, Ind.
Thoughts From Head Coach Brian Schmack
“It wasn’t the result we were looking for, but believe it or not given the score, we did some things well in this game. We hit the ball hard all game, but when Finnerty got into trouble, he made some quality pitches. We allowed too many free bases to beat anyone.”
The Crusaders and Crimson Tide will play the middle game of the three-game weekend series on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The contest will be broadcast on SEC Network+, which can be accessed via WatchESPN and is free by logging in using your cable provider. Eli Gold (play-by-play) and Lance Cormier (color commentary) will describe the action as fifth-year senior RHP Trey Ferketic makes his Valpo debut opposite Alabama righty Jake Walters.