Valparaiso (6-12, 0-0 MVC)
at Butler (15-3*, 0-0 Big East)
Bulldog Park (500) | Indianapolis, Ind.
*= entering midweek games
Friday, March 23, 3 p.m. CT – Tieman (R) v. Mitchell (L)
Saturday, March 24, 1 p.m. CT – Ferketic (R) v. Christman (R)
Sunday, March 25, noon CT – Gordon (R) v. Pepiot (R)
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: A storied history across all athletic platforms between two Indiana institutions will continue this weekend. The Valparaiso University baseball team will take the diamond for a three-game series at Butler’s Bulldog Park beginning on Friday, marking the first time Valpo and Butler have played in baseball since 2014 and renewing a long history between the in-state rivals.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders continued to thrive offensively in this past weekend’s three-game series at Arkansas Pine Bluff. A Chase Dawson grand slam helped Valpo cruise to a 14-7 victory in Friday’s opener, while Zack Leone drove in seven in a 12-8 win in the series finale on Saturday. The first game of Saturday’s twinbill belonged to Arkansas Pine Bluff 6-5 as the Golden Lions rallied for the victory. This marked Valpo’s first series win of the season.
On the Air: The first game of the series will have a video stream available via Facebook Live courtesy of Butler Athletics. The Saturday and Sunday game will have a Valpo radio broadcast with Brandon Vickrey doing play-by-play. The link to the online video and audio stream can be found on ValpoAthletics.com. Live stats are also available for all three games.
Series Notes: The Crusaders have the upper hand in the all-time set with their rivals from Indianapolis, holding a 78-54-1 all-time record against Butler. The 78 wins are the most Valpo has racked up against any one opponent in program history. The Bulldogs won the most recent game 5-3 on March 30, 2014. The Crusaders swept the Bulldogs at Emory G. Bauer Field in 2012, the last series between the two teams before Butler left the Horizon League. Current seniors were not yet in college in 2014, so this will mark the first taste of a Valpo-Butler matchup for everyone on the Crusader roster.
Leone Lighting It Up: If the question was whether Zack Leone's success at the Division III level would carry over to Division I Valparaiso, the answer has been a resounding yes so far this season. Leone posted eye-popping numbers at Susquehanna, where he was named an All-American by D3Baseball.com & the ABCA. He finished his Division III days with a career batting average of .405 that ranks second in program history, 112 RBIs (second all-time), 49 doubles (program record) and 18 home runs (second all-time). He's managed to post an even better batting average through the first 14 games of his Crusader career, as he stands at .446 to go along with one home run, three doubles and 16 RBIs. He has multiple hits in half of the games he's played this season and has already racked up five or more RBIs in a single game twice this year.
Garbella Getting Hits: Senior outfielder Giovanni Garbella is back in the lineup after missing nine games due to an injury, and his bat hasn't skipped a beat. He has hit safely in all nine games he's played this season, the longest hitting streak on the team. Garbella is hitting .324 with three home runs and 10 RBIs, continuing the offensive success he experienced late last season. He's one of many examples of Valpo players who have made drastic improvement over the course of their Crusader careers. He entered April 9 of last season hitting .213 with no home runs and eight RBIs in 26 games and was a career .204 hitter over three years. He hit .380 the rest of the way with five home runs and 24 RBIs over the final 25 games of the season.
Balanced Offense: The Crusaders have six players hitting .322 or better, the most they've had above that mark at this point in the season in over a decade. Zack Leone (.446), Chase Dawson (.349), Blake Billinger (.342), Sam Shaikin (.333), Giovanni Garbella (.324) and Scott Kapers (.322) are all enjoying strong offensive seasons.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Position Players
- Chase Dawson, 2B: Has already surpassed his career high for RBIs in a single season. Had 15 RBIs in 52 games last season after having 17 in 49 games as a freshman. Already has 19 in the first 18 games of this season, four of them coming on a grand slam against Arkansas Pine Bluff on March 16… Dawson hit .221 over the first 29 games last season before batting .364 over the final month (April 23 – May 24, 16 games), leading the team in batting average and on-base percentage (.364) during that stretch… Has led off and started at second base for Valpo every game this season.
- Sam Shaikin, SS: Was the only Crusader to start all 53 games last season. Has started all 18 games this year… Led Valpo in batting average at .317 a year ago… Has started at shortstop the last six games after starting the first 12 games at third base. Switched positions with Chad Jacob… Has batted second for Valpo every game this season.
- Blake Billinger, LF: Was a unanimous first team all-conference selection in both seasons he played at Mission College (JUCO)… Has batted third and started in left field in every game this season… Hit a home run against Alabama in his first at-bat as a Crusader.
- Giovanni Garbella, DH: Missed nine games with an injury this season… Has hit safely in all nine games he’s played and owns Valpo’s longest hitting streak… Entered April 9 of last season hitting .213 with no home runs and eight RBIs in 26 games and was a career .204 hitter over three years. He hit .380 the rest of the way with five home runs and 24 RBIs over the final 25 games of the season.
- Zack Leone, 1B: Transferred to Valpo this season after having tremendous success from 2014-2017 at Susquehanna, where he was named an All-American by D3Baseball.com and the ABCA… Racked up 178 hits (fourth all-time), a .405 average (second all-time), 112 RBIs (second all-time), 49 doubles (program record), 18 home runs (second all-time), a .470 career OBP and a .641 career slugging percentage in his time at the Division III level… Valpo’s leading hitter at .446 in 14 games… Had seven RBIs in Sunday’s second game at Arkansas Pine Bluff, becoming just the second player in the Missouri Valley Conference with a seven RBI game this season… Ranks 10th in the nation in batting average and ninth in on-base percentage (.544).
- Chad Jacob, 3B: Has started the last six games at third after starting the first 12 games at shortstop… Before March 9 at Loyola Marymount, hadn’t started a game at third base since his freshman year in 2015… Has played in every game this season after dealing with various injuries through his first three collegiate campaigns.
- Scott Kapers, C: Missed the second game of last week’s doubleheader at Arkansas Pine Bluff after starting 52 of 53 games last season… Threw out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers last season and has upped that to 58 percent (7/12) this year… Batted a team-best .378 over the final 14 games of 2017 and is hitting .322 in 17 games this year. Has made tremendous offensive strides since batting .196 as a freshman.
- Christian Barczi, C: Made his first career start behind the plate in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader at Arkansas Pine Bluff… Named to the Horizon League all-freshman team last year after leading the team in league-only batting average at .343 in 20 contests.
- Riley Dent, RF: Brother Ryan has played 10 minor league seasons in the Red Sox and Cubs organizations, reaching as high as Triple-A.
- Jayden Eggimann, CF: Has 18 RBIs after having 13 all of last season… Drilled a three-run homer in the ninth inning of an 11-7 victory over Grand Canyon on March 4. The homer was extra special for Eggimann, who started his collegiate career at Grand Canyon and is a native of the Phoenix area.
Quick Hits – Weekend Rotation
- Jon Tieman: Freshman All-American last season… Started his freshman year as Valpo’s closer before moving into the weekend rotation by season’s end… Became the first Valpo underclassman to get the Opening Day start for the Crusaders since Bryce Shafer in 2009. Six of Valpo’s last seven Opening Day starters had been seniors before Tieman got the ball at Alabama this season… Got the win in his most recent outing at Arkansas Pine Bluff after throwing eight innings and allowing seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits. The most impressive aspect of his start was that he struck out seven and issued no walks. The Crusaders didn’t allow any walks in that game, the first time they’d done that since April 23 of last season.
- Trey Ferketic: Valpo is his fourth school (Saddleback, Long Beach State, UC San Diego)… Didn’t pitch last spring and threw just 3 2/3 innings at UC San Diego in 2016… Has allowed just 22 hits in 24 2/3 innings, by far the fewest of any of Valpo’s weekend starters this season.
- Wes Gordon: Pitched in nine games, all starts, in his first year as a Crusader last season after transferring from Lake County (JUCO), but didn’t appear after April 14 due to an injury… Has only issued four walks in 23 2/3 innings this season.
In The Other Dugout – Butler: Entering their midweek contests on Tuesday at Dayton and Wednesday vs. DePauw, Butler is off to a 15-3 start to the season. The Bulldogs took two of three from Western Michigan this past weekend. Their leading hitter is Garrett Christman at .351 in 18 games, followed closely by Tyler Houston at .346. Christman is a two-way standout as he owns a 2.70 ERA in five starts as the team’s Saturday starter. Connor Mitchell has been the ace of Butler’s staff and owns a sparkling 2.08 ERA and 2-0 record in five starts. He has struck out 34 and issued just five walks in 30 1/3 innings. Ryan Pepiot is 3-0 with a 5.01 ERA and is expected to get the Sunday start. Butler is under the direction of second-year coach Dave Schrage, who guided the team to a 31-20 overall record in his first season. It was the first winning year for Butler in 13 seasons and just the fifth time in school history that the Bulldogs reached 30 wins. Butler freshman pitcher Ryan Schmit went to Prairie Ridge, also the alma mater of Jon Tieman. Freshman pitcher Joe Graziano is a Schererville, Ind. native and Lake Central High School product.
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, 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.