The Valparaiso University baseball team notched another victory over a high-caliber program on Tuesday at Illinois Field – this time the team’s best win yet. The Crusaders knocked off Illinois 11-7, handing a team ranked 25th nationally its first loss in the last six games. Illinois (23-9) had won nine straight midweek game dating back to March 2017 and had lost by more than three runs only once all season. The win came on the exact 55-year anniversary of Valpo’s last win over Illinois.
How It Happened
- The Crusaders (12-19) knocked out Illinois starting pitcher Ryan Schmitt before he recorded an out. All five batters he faced reached base via two walks and three hits. Chase Dawson (Chesterton, Ind. / Andrean) started the game with a double and later scored when Blake Billinger (Los Gatos, Calif. / St. Francis [Mission]) ripped a base hit.
- Giovanni Garbella (San Diego, Calif. / Cathedral Catholic) grounded a single through the left side to drive in a run, Billinger scored on a wild pitch and then a walk to Zack Leone (Pelham Manor, N.Y. / Fordham Prep [Susquehanna]) ended Schmitt’s day.
- Chad Jacob (Irvine, Calif. / Woodbridge) lifted a sacrifice fly to center against reliever Zack Jones for the fourth run of the inning. Jones (1-2) retired all three batters he faced, but the damage was done as the Crusaders spotted starting pitcher Michael Mommersteeg (St. Thomas, Ont., Canada / St. Joseph’s) a four-run lead.
- The lead was reduced to one with one swing of the bat as Doran Turchin launched a one-out, three-run homer to left in the bottom of the first.
- A two-out single up the middle by Jeff Korte tied the game. Each team scored four times in the opening inning, a sign of things to come on a chilly night in Champagne that was filled with offense.
- After Leone doubled down the left-field line in the third, Jacob crushed the first pitch of his at-bat over the right-field fence for a two-run blow to give Valpo a 6-4 lead.
- A walk and back-to-back singles to begin the bottom of the third slimmed the edge to 6-5 and ended the day for Mommersteeg. Hayden Kissee (Cumberland, Ind. / Greenfield Central [Kaskaskia]) was summoned from the bullpen. Kissee (1-2) wiggled out of a precarious jam, inducing a double play ground ball followed by a shallow fly ball.
- Billinger belted a two-out, two-run homer in the fourth, extending Valpo’s edge to 8-5 and bouncing another Illinois pitcher from the game.
- Jarrett Hammel (Brook, Ind. / South Newton [Saint Joseph’s College]) came out of the Valpo bullpen and retired the side in order in the fifth, the first time the Illini were sent down 1-2-3 in the game.
- After Hammel worked three up, three down again in the sixth, Valpo added three insurance tallies in the seventh, expanding the lead to 11-5. Jayden Eggimann (Desert Ridge [Central Arizona / Grand Canyon]) ripped a base hit to center to drive in a pair, the highlight of an inning that featured two hits, two walks and an error.
- The Fighting Illini loaded the bases without the benefit of a hit in the seventh, but Hammel worked out of it for his third straight scoreless frame.
- Zac Taylor belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth for Illinois’ first runs against the Valpo bullpen. The blast was followed by a nifty diving stab by Jacob at third base to take away a hit and notch an important second out of the eighth.
- Alex Dirienzo (Somerset, Pa. / Somerset [Akron]) struck out the final better in the eighth, keeping it 11-7 Valpo.
- The first two Illinois batters singled in the bottom of the ninth, but Dirienzo notched the final three outs to nail down the signature win.
Inside the Game
- The Crusaders defeated a team ranked in the Top 25 nationally for the first time since March 11, 2016, a 6-1 victory over No. 25 Dallas Baptist. This is the second time this year the Crusaders have beaten a team receiving votes nationally, as the Crusaders knocked off Oklahoma on Feb. 24.
- Illinois is ranked No. 25 by Baseball America, No. 27 in the RPI and No. 17 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
- This was Valpo’s second straight win over a Big Ten Conference team and its fourth in the last three years.
- Illinois had won five straight and 22 of its previous 27. Tuesday was just the second time all season the Fighting Illini lost by more than three runs.
- Valpo is the only MVC team to beat a Big Ten team on the road this season. The Crusaders are 2-2 on the road against Big Ten foes, the rest of the MVC is 0-6.
- This was the first time Valpo and Illinois faced off since 1981. Valpo notched its first win over the Fighting Illini since April 17, 1963 – making Tuesday the exact 55-year anniversary of the previous head-to-head win.
- Jacob was one of only two players in the starting lineup who didn’t have a home run this season entering Tuesday’s game, joining Steven Fitzsimmons, who had only 15 at-bats. It was the fourth career home run for Jacob, who had three a year ago. Jacob became the 10th Valpo player to homer this season.
- Billinger’s home run was his third of the season, making him the fifth Crusader with three or more long balls this year.
- Garbella has seven hits in the last two games including four on Tuesday. He enjoyed the first four-hit game of his career.
- Billinger added three hits and three RBIs to the Valpo cause, his fifth game with three hits or more and third with three RBIs or more.
The Crusaders will return to Missouri Valley Conference play this weekend with a three-game series at Evansville. The set gets going at 6 p.m. CT on Friday at Braun Stadium. All three games will be broadcast on The Valley on ESPN3.