Valparaiso (12-19, 2-4 MVC)
at Evansville (6-24, 0-6 MVC)
Charles H. Braun Stadium | Evansville, Ind.
Friday, April 20, 6 p.m. CT – Jon Tieman (R) vs. Adam Lukas (R)
Saturday, April 21, 2 p.m. CT – Trey Ferketic (R) vs. Alex Weigand (L)
Sunday, April 22, 1 p.m. CT – Wes Gordon (R) vs. Jace Burke (R)
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team returns to Missouri Valley Conference play this weekend with a trip to Evansville. The Crusaders will look to build upon the momentum created with Tuesday’s signature victory as they return to conference play and vie for their first series win as MVC members.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders knocked off No. 25 Illinois 11-7 on Tuesday night at Illinois Field in Champaign. Valpo jumped in front with a four-run first, then the Fighting Illini tied the game with four in the bottom of the inning. Giovanni Garbella had a career-high four hits, Chad Jacob launched his first home run of the season and Blake Billinger added three hits, a homer and three RBIs. The Crusaders scored multiple runs in four different innings. The Valpo bullpen also put together a standout performance as Hayden Kissee and Jarrett Hammel combined for five innings of scoreless relief before Alex Dirienzo notched the final six outs.
On the Air: All three games this weekend will air on The Valley on ESPN3. Links to live video and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes: Valpo holds a commanding 35-18 lead in an all-time set that goes back to 1948. The two teams will square off for the first time since 2004 this weekend. The Purple Aces won that most recent meeting 5-2 in Clarksville, Tenn. Valpo will play at Evansville for the first time since 1998, an 11-9 loss. The Crusaders haven’t defeated the Purple Aces since May 2, 1981, a 5-4 win in the Heartland Collegiate Conference Tournament in Indianapolis. The two teams have only met three times since then.
Top 25 Win: On the exact 55-year anniversary of Valpo’s most recent win over Illinois, the Crusaders beat the No. 25 Fighting Illini 11-7 on Tuesday in Champagne. It marked just the second time all season Illinois has lost a game by more than three runs. The Crusaders also beat a Top 25 team in 2016, topping No. 25 Dallas Baptist 6-1. Illinois entered the game ranked 25th by Baseball America, 27th in the RPI and 17th by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Illinois had won five straight and 22 of its previous 27. The 11 runs are the most Illinois has given up in a loss all year.
Beating Big Ten Competition: After dropping the first game of Friday's doubleheader at Michigan State in 12 innings, Valpo picked up a 7-6 win in the nightcap. This marks the third straight season Valpo has beaten a team from the Big Ten Conference, as the Crusaders knocked off instate foe Purdue each of the last two years. It was also Valpo's first one-run win of the season, as the Crusaders were previously 0-8 in games decided by the slimmest of margins. The Crusaders followed that with the 11-7 win over the Fighting Illini, the fourth Big Ten win Valpo has notched in the last three years and the second in a row. The Crusaders are 2-2 on the road against Big Ten teams this season, while the rest of The Valley is 0-6.
Four-Hit Outputs: When Giovanni Garbella set a career high with four hits on Tuesday at Illinois, that marked the ninth time this season a Valpo player has had four hits or more in a game. In 2017, Valpo went the whole season without any four-hit games. Valpo also had nine in 2015, but the team hasn’t had 10 four-hit games in a year since 2010. Garbella has put together a string of four-straight multi-hit games and has 11 total hits during that stretch.
Lefty Locking In: Left-handed reliever Jarrett Hammel tossed three scoreless innings out of the Valpo bullpen on Tuesday to help the Crusaders to the win over nationally-ranked Illinois. Hammel has not allowed an earned run to score since March 2 vs. CSUN. During that stretch, he’s pitched in 11 games and gone 13 innings without yielding an earned tally.
Going the Distance: Valpo starting pitcher Trey Ferketic hurled a 130-pitch complete game on April 7 at Southern Illinois, limiting the Salukis to two runs on two walks and nine hits while striking out seven. 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. He followed that with a second consecutive complete game on April 13 at Michigan State, earning the win to improve to 4-2 after scattering 11 hits and allowing six runs (four earned). After permitting six runs in the first three innings, Ferketic did not allow a run over the final six frames. He became the first Valpo player since Trevor Haas in 2016 to throw consecutive complete games. Ferketic owns both of Valpo’s complete games this season, two of the three that have taken place over the last two years and becomes the first Crusader since Dalton Lundeen and Trevor Haas in 2016 with multiple complete games in a season.
Runs Upon Runs: The Crusaders enjoyed their most prosperous offensive showing since April 2, 2010 in last week’s 23-5 win over Milwaukee. That marked Valpo’s highest run total since scoring 26 runs against Chicago State eight years ago. In addition, Valpo has reached the 20-run mark twice this season (W 20-6 vs. Holy Cross on Feb. 24) after not scoring 20 runs in a game in any of the previous seven seasons. Valpo had 18 hits in the win over the Panthers, equaling a season high set on March 3 at Grand Canyon.
Eggimann’s Extraordinary Effort: Jayden Eggimann launched a grand slam, a two-run triple and an RBI single in last week’s win over Milwaukee, becoming the second Valpo player this season to drive in seven runs in a game. Only four players in the entire Missouri Valley Conference have enjoyed seven RBI games this year, and two of them are Crusaders as Zack Leone drove in seven on March 17 at Arkansas Pine Bluff. Eggimann also became the second Valpo player to hit a grand slam this year, joining Chase Dawson (March 16 at Arkansas Pine Bluff).
Driving in Seven: Eggimann and Leone have joined a list that includes four other Valpo players who have had seven or more RBIs in a Valpo game over the last 10 years. Jake Hanson had eight RBIs against Oakland on May 15, 2016, and a pair of Crusaders enjoyed seven RBI outputs in 2015 – Dustin Beasley (March 3 at Western Carolina) and Nate Palace (March 7 at USC Upstate). Before that, no Valpo player had seven RBIs in a game since Steven Scoby on April 14, 2010 against IU Northwest.
Grand Slam Tracker: Like many offensive areas, Valpo has seen a considerable uptick in grand slams over the last four seasons. Valpo had one total grand slam from 2009-2014, and now has eight from 2015-2018.
In The Other Dugout – Evansville: The Purple Aces fell to No. 10 Vanderbilt 6-1 on Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn. That marked the 13th straight loss for a team that enters this weekend seeking its first Valley win of the season. Evansville was picked to finish seventh in the MVC Preseason Poll, one place ahead of the Crusaders in the conference projections. The team is led offensively by Dalton Horstmeier at .307, while Troy Beilsmith owns a .294 average to go along with team highs in home runs (5) and RBIs (21). Head coach Wes Carroll is in his ninth year in charge. He has led the team to winning seasons in three of the last four years.
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 two walks or fewer in each of his last four starts… In the conference opener at Bradley 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 four starts… Took the loss after allowing six runs (three earned) in 7 1/3 innings in his most recent start on April 6 at Southern Illinois… Got no decision despite eight strong innings at Michigan State on April 13.
- 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 36 hits in 40 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…. Became the first Valpo player this season to throw a complete game in a 6-2 win over Southern Illinois on April 7. He threw 130 pitches… Followed that up with another complete game to help the Crusaders over Michigan State 7-6 on April 13.
- 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 five walks in 34 2/3 innings this season… Left in position for the win in his first conference start, scattering seven hits and yielding two runs (one earned) while walking none in seven innings on April 1 against Bradley, but eventually received no decision… Worked four scoreless innings but was charged with five runs in the fifth in his most recent outing April 8 at Southern Illinois… Hasn’t pitched since the game against the Salukis because last weekend’s series finale at Michigan State was rained out.
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. Hit 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… Is the first Valpo player with four triples since Andy Burns in 2013… Has three games with four hits or more, the most on the team.
- Sam Shaikin, SS: Was the only Crusader to start all 53 games last season. Has started all 27 games this year… Led Valpo in batting average at .317 a year ago… Has started at shortstop the last 16 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… Launched his fifth home run of the year last week at Michigan State, lifting his season total to five, his career total to nine and surpassing his previous career high for homers in a 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… Tied for the conference lead in doubles with 14… Hit .769 (10-for-13) in a three-game series at Southern Illinois (April 6-8), becoming the first Crusader since 2010 to go 5-for-5 in a game… Saw his 16-game on-base streak snapped on April 11 vs. Milwaukee… Belted his third homer of the year on April 17 at Illinois.
- Giovanni Garbella, DH/RF: Missed nine games with an injury this season … 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… Drove in a season-high four runs and launched his fourth homer of the season in Valpo’s 6-2 win on April 7 at SIU… Followed that with his 12th career homer and fifth of the season on April 13 at Michigan State, ripping three extra-base hits and recording the go-ahead RBI in a 7-6 win over the Spartans in the second game of a doubleheader. .. Had a career-high four hits on April 17 at Illinois.
- 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 .416 in 23 games… Leads The Valley in batting average… 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 24 RBIs, 22 have come with two outs. With runners in scoring position and two outs, Leone is hitting .557 with 21 RBIs… Returned to the lineup on April 13 at Michigan State after missing the previous four games with a hand injury… Owns a 12-game on-base streak and a seven-game hitting streak.
- Chad Jacob, 3B: Before March 9 at Loyola Marymount, hadn’t started a game at third base since his freshman year in 2015, but has started at third every game since, switching positions with SS Sam Shaikin… 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 44.4 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… Brother Jake, also a catcher, has signed his NLI to play at Valpo starting next season.
- Jayden Eggimann, CF: Has 30 RBIs after having 13 all of last season… Leads the team in RBIs and is tied for seventh in the league despite batting ninth in the order… 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… Racked up seven RBIs on April 11 vs. Milwaukee, finishing a double shy of the cycle. Launched a first-inning grand slam in the win over the Panthers.
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.
Walk-Off Winner: Valpo reversed the ghosts of years past on March 30 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.
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.