Valparaiso (8-16, 1-2 MVC)
at Southern Illinois (14-13*, 2-1 MVC)
Itchy Jones Stadium | Carbondale, Ill.
*=entering midweek game
Friday, April 6, 1 p.m. CT – Tieman (R) vs. Baird (R)
Saturday, April 7, 2 p.m. CT – Ferketic (R) vs. Steege (L)
Sunday, April 8, 1 p.m. CT – Gordon (R) vs. Harrison (L)
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will be back in action this weekend as the Crusaders head to Carbondale for a three-game series with Southern Illinois. Valpo will hit the road for the first time in Missouri Valley Conference play, while the Salukis will compete in their first home MVC contests of the campaign.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders dropped two of three in their first-ever Missouri Valley Conference series this past weekend at Emory G. Bauer Field. Valpo held the lead in the eighth inning or later in both losses to the visiting Braves. Two Bradley runs scored in the top of the ninth in the series opener to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead, while the Braves used a two-run eighth and a six-run ninth to secure a 10-4 win in Sunday’s rubber match. That ninth inning featured one hit, one error, seven bases on balls and five Valpo relievers. The highlight of the series from a Valpo standpoint was a 5-2, 10-inning win in the middle game, the second game of Friday’s doubleheader. Zack Leone hit a three-run homer with two outs in the 10th, Valpo’s first walk-off blast in over 15 years.
On the Air: All three games in the series can be seen on The Valley on ESPN3 and on Saluki Radio. Connor Onion will have the ESPN3 play-by-play, while Mike Reis will describe the action over the airwaves. Links to live video, audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes: Southern Illinois and Valpo have faced off just three times in the history of the programs – once in 1966 in the NCAA University Division Playoffs in Columbus, Ohio and twice in April 2007 at Southern Illinois. The two teams split the 2007 meetings and Valpo prevailed in the 1966 showdown.
Walk-Off Winner: Valpo reversed the ghosts of years past last Friday when Zack Leone crushed a three-run, walk-off home run, Valpo's first game-ending long ball in over 15 years. The swing that sent Valpo to a 5-2, 10 inning victory over Bradley for its first Missouri Valley Conference triumph also allowed the team to lay to rest the ghosts of the program's recent past. Three of the Crusaders’ first five losses this season came in walk-off fashion, while Valpo has been hurt by walk-off home runs in the past as well – most recently last year’s season opener at Western Kentucky and most notably a 2013 NCAA Tournament game against Indiana.
Opening An Era: This past weekend's three-game series with Bradley at Emory G. Bauer Field was historic before the first game even began. It marked the first Missouri Valley Conference games for the Crusaders in their first year in the league. The last time the Valpo baseball team played its first game in a new conference was March 21, 2008, a doubleheader at Wright State. The Crusaders split that twinbill, winning the opener 6-5 before falling 8-7 in 10 innings in the second game. Head coach Brian Schmack is the only person who was in attendance on Friday and was also there for Valpo’s initial games in the Horizon League, as he then served as the pitching coach under Tracy Woodson.
Strikeout Factor: The Crusaders saw both ends of the strikeout spectrum this past week. On Sunday against Bradley, no Valpo batters went down on strikes, the second time this season that has occurred. On Tuesday, March 27 against Ball State, the Crusaders had 15 batters strike out, their most since March 5, 2016.
On The Road Again: After playing four of its last five at home for the first four home games of the season, the Valpo baseball team is back on the road, where it played the first 19 games of the year. The Crusaders will play 11 of the next 12 games away from Emory G. Bauer Field.
Weather Wreaking Havoc: Since the Midwest portion of Valpo’s schedule began on March 20 after playing the first 18 games in warm-weather areas, the slate has continuously been impacted by Mother Nature. Nine of the 10 games that have been scheduled in the Midwest this season have been altered by weather in some fashion.
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 on March 16 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… One of his strongest starts of the season was when he pitched Valpo to a 9-2 win over the school’s instate rival Butler on March 23. He yielded two runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out four in 7 1/3 innings. Tieman did not allow a run over the first seven innings and both runs charged to him scored after he had left the game. He sent down 11 straight batters from the third to the sixth. Tieman's outing came against Big East foe Butler, a team that entered that game with a 16-3 record… Has allowed one walk or fewer in each of his last three starts… Most recent outing came in the conference opener at Bradley, when he left in position for the win but wound up with no decision after allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits and two walks in seven innings… Has lasted seven innings or more in each of his last three starts.
- 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 27 hits in 31 2/3 innings… Went seven innings and allowed two runs on five hits and one walk on March 30 against Bradley, a game Valpo eventually won in 10 innings. He received no decision.
- 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 issued only four walks in 30 2/3 innings this season…Holds a team-best WHIP of 1.53... Left in position for the win in his most recent start, scattering seven hits and yielding two runs (one earned) while walking none in seven innings on Sunday against Bradley, but eventually received no decision.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Position Players
- Chase Dawson, 2B: Had already surpassed his career high for RBIs in a single season before conference play even began. Had 15 RBIs in 52 games last season after having 17 in 49 games as a freshman. Has 19 in the first 24 games of this season, four of them coming on a grand slam against Arkansas Pine Bluff on March 16… 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… A local to Northwest Indiana – Andrean High School alum and Chesterton native.
- Sam Shaikin, SS: Was the only Crusader to start all 53 games last season. Has started all 21 games this year… Led Valpo in batting average at .317 a year ago… Has started at shortstop the last nine games after starting the first 12 games at third base. Switched positions with Chad Jacob… Has batted second for Valpo in 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… Had a three-double game on March 2 vs. CSUN, becoming the first Valpo player with three doubles in a game since Andrew Quinnette on April 26, 2008 against Butler.
- Giovanni Garbella, DH: Missed nine games with an injury this season… Saw his 10-game hitting streak snapped on Monday vs. Ball State… 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 .423 in 20 games… Leads The Valley in batting average and ranks 10th nationally as of April 3… Had seven RBIs in a game on March 17 at Arkansas Pine Bluff, becoming just the second player in the Missouri Valley Conference with a seven RBI game this season… Of his 23 RBIs, 21 have come with two outs. With runners in scoring position and two outs, Leone is hitting .611 (11-for-18) with 20 RBIs.
- Chad Jacob, 3B: Has started the last nine games at third after starting the first 12 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… Leader on Valpo’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
- Scott Kapers, C: Missed three games this season before returning to the lineup on March 28 at Purdue after starting 52 of 53 games last season … Threw out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers last year and has upped that to 52.9 percent this year… Batted a team-best .378 over the final 14 games of 2017 and started this season with a .317 average over the first 18 games. Has made tremendous offensive strides since batting .196 as a freshman.
- Riley Dent, RF: Brother Ryan has played 10 minor league seasons in the Red Sox and Cubs organizations, reaching as high as Triple-A… Leads the team with 14 walks.
- Jayden Eggimann, CF: Has 20 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.
A Weekend To Remember: The Crusaders picked up several signature wins in the same day on Feb. 24 in Norman, Okla. Valpo upended host Oklahoma, a team ranked 28th nationally, 11-4 in the first game of the day, before routing Holy Cross 20-6. Both Oklahoma and Holy Cross reached the NCAA Tournament last season. The 20 runs in a game were Valpo’s most since April 2, 2010 (26 against Chicago State). The final game of the weekend in Norman saw the Crusaders take the Sooners to extra innings, but Oklahoma prevailed 3-2.
Ninth Inning Magic: On March 2 against CSUN – a neutral site game at GCU Ballpark in Phoenix – Valpo scored nine times in the top of the ninth to create a 13-13 tie. Chase Dawson capped the miraculous rally with a two-run homer, but CSUN walked off with a run in the bottom of the ninth for a 14-13 victory.
In The Other Dugout – Southern Illinois: The Salukis took two of three last weekend at Illinois State, sweeping a Friday doubleheader 6-4 and 7-5 before dropping Saturday’s series finale 6-5. Southern Illinois has a Top 25 win this season, beating then No. 24 Illinois on March 17 5-4. The Salukis are led by Connor Kopach, who entered Wednesday’s game against Austin Peay hitting .393 with three home runs and 20 RBIs. The top power bat in the lineup is Logan Blackfan at .351 with six bombs and 34 driven in. Alex Lyon (.351) and Nikola Vasic (.324) are also hitting above the .300 mark. The Crusaders are expected to see RHP Michael Baird (2-2, 4.08), RHP Jamison Steege (4-1, 3.45 ERA) and LHP Brad Harrison (3-1, 3.29 ERA) in this series. Ken Henderson is in his eighth season as the head coach of the Salukis, who were picked to finish fourth in the MVC Preseason Poll.
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.