The Valparaiso University baseball team excelled in all three facets of the game on Saturday afternoon at Itchy Jones Stadium, using sound pitching, hitting and defense to put together a well-played 6-2 win over host Southern Illinois in Missouri Valley Conference play. Starting pitcher Trey Ferketic (Laguna Niguel, Calif. / JSerra [UC San Diego]) turned in a strong start, Blake Billinger (Los Gatos, Calif. / St. Francis [Mission]) racked up a career-high five hits and the Crusaders played flawless defense on their way to creating a rubber match in the three-game weekend series.
How It Happened
- The Crusaders (9-17, 2-3) got on the board first as they did something Southern Illinois did in the first game of the series – capitalized on an error. Sam Shaikin (West Hills, Calif. / Chatsworth) reached on a dropped fly ball in center field and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice bouncer by Giovanni Garbella (San Diego, Calif. / Cathedral Catholic) for the first tally of the game.
- Valpo had a chance for more in the opening inning, loading the bases with two down, but SIU starter Jamison Steege got out of it without further damage.
- The Salukis (16-14, 3-2) started the second inning with back-to-back extra-base knocks, including a two-run, go-ahead homer by Drew Curtis that made it 2-1 Southern Illinois.
- Garbella crushed a three-run homer to right center in the fifth, putting Valpo back in front 4-2. That blast came after a ground-rule double by Billinger and a slump-snapping single by Chase Dawson (Andrean / Chesterton, Ind.).
- Following the home run, the Salukis notched the second out of the inning and Valpo had two outs with nobody on. However, Steege allowed three walks and one hit over the next four batters to force in the fourth run of the inning as Jayden Eggimann (Desert Ridge [Central Arizona / Grand Canyon]) drew a bases-loaded walk on a full-count pitch to make it 5-2.
- SIU’s Brad Hudson reached second on a ground-rule double with one away in the fifth, but a strong back pick by Valpo catcher Scott Kapers (Schererville, Ind. / Mt. Carmel) quickly erased the runner.
- The Crusaders loaded the bags in the fifth and had the first four batters of the inning reach base, but they failed to score. Sam Shaikin was out trying to go first to third on a base hit to left by Billinger.
- After picking up his fifth hit of the day, Billinger crossed the dish on an RBI grounder to short by Brent Jones (Ankeny, Iowa / Ankey Centennial [Iowa Central]). That expanded the Valpo edge to 6-2 in the eighth.
- Following the Hudson double that preceded the Kapers back pick, Ferketic didn’t permit a hit until a two-out double by Addison Fugitt in the eighth. The Valpo right-hander improved to 3-2 with the complete-game win, holding the Salukis to two runs on nine hits while striking out seven and walking two. Steege was handed the loss after allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits and five walks in 4 2/3 innings.
Inside the Game
- Billinger enjoyed his 13th multi-hit game of the season, the most of any Crusader. He has reached base in 15 consecutive games, the longest such streak this year by a Valpo player.
- Billinger’s ground-rule double in the fifth was his 13th two-bagger of the season, moving him into a tie with Jameson Hannah of Dallas Baptist for the league lead.
- Billinger finished with a career-high five hits, joining Chase Dawson as the only Crusaders with five-hit games this season. This marks the first time since 2010 Valpo has had multiple players with five-hit games in the same season (Kyle Muhlsteff, Justin Frane, Ryan O’Gara).
- Ferketic became the first Crusader to throw a complete game since April 23, 2017, when Ellis Foreman went the distance in a 9-0 win over Wright State.
- Garbella’s homer was his fourth of the season and the 11th of his career. He launched five as a junior last season.
- Eggimann’s RBI courtesy of the bases-loaded walk was his 21st of the year, allowing him to move into second on the team in that area.
- Garbella drove in a season-high four runs.
- Valpo played without MVC leading hitter Zack Leone (.423) as he was sidelined by an injury for the second consecutive game.
The Crusaders and Salukis will round out the three-game series on Sunday with a 1 p.m. start at Itchy Jones Stadium in Carbondale. The pitching matchup pits Valpo’s Wes Gordon against Southern Illinois’ Brad Harrison. The game will air on The Valley on ESPN3 and on Saluki Radio. Live stats are also available.