Valparaiso (16-27, 5-10 MVC)
at Illinois State (18-26, 5-10 MVC)
Duffy Bass Field | Normal, Ill.
Friday, May 11, 6 p.m. CT – Jon Tieman (R) vs. Brady Huffman (R)
Saturday, May 12, 2 p.m. CT – Trey Ferketic (R) vs. Brent Headrick (L)
Sunday, May 13, 1 p.m. CT – Wes Gordon (R) vs. Matt Walker (L)
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: With six games to go in the regular season, the Valparaiso University baseball team’s level of success in its first season in the Missouri Valley Conference has yet to be defined. How Valpo views its first year in The Valley on the diamond will largely be determined by what happens the rest of the way as the Crusaders have a pair of conference series the next two weekends that appear evenly matched. The stretch run starts on Friday as Valpo visits Illinois State to kick off a three-game set.
Last Time Out: When Tuesday’s midweek game finally ended after 3 hours, 39 minutes of baseball (Valpo’s second-longest game of the season, eclipsed only by the 14-13 loss to CSUN in early March that took six minutes longer), Valpo and Western Michigan had combined for 31 runs, 35 hits, six home runs and 14 pitchers. The Crusaders came away with an 18-13 win over the Broncos behind a three-homer game by Blake Billinger and a five-hit output from Scott Kapers.
On the Air: Note that none of the games in this series will have video available, a change from the original Valley on ESPN3 schedule. There will be live audio available online courtesy of Illinois State’s student radio station. Links to live audio and stats can be found on ValpoAthletics.com. For in-game updates throughout the weekend, follow @ValpoBaseball on Twitter.
Series Notes: The Redbirds are the one current Valley team Valpo featured on its schedule last season. The Crusaders prevailed in that midweek affair 4-3 in 12 innings. Chase Dawson walked with the bases loaded in the top of the 12th to force in the go-ahead run, the first tally by either team since Illinois State had tied it at three in the fifth. Riley Dent enjoyed a two-hit day for the Crusaders, his first multi-hit game in a Valpo uniform. That boosted Valpo’s record to 7-19-1 in a series that goes back to 1969. The Crusaders have won the only two meetings that have occurred since 2008, also besting Illinois State 8-6 in 2016 at Emory G. Bauer Field. Illinois State’s most recent win over Valpo came on March 1, 2008 in Clarksville, Tenn. as part of the Austin Peay Tournament.
Billinger Bomb After Billinger Bomb: Blake Billinger homered in three consecutive plate appearances on Tuesday at Western Michigan, becoming the first Valpo player to launch three home runs in a game since Andrew Quinnette in 2008. Earlier this season, Billinger also became the first Valpo player with a three-double game since Quinnette in 2008. He was the first player in The Valley with a three-homer game this year and the 23rd nationally. Billinger became the first Valpo player since Quinnette in 2008 with 12 total bases in a single game on Tuesday.
5-for-5: Scott Kapers became the third Valpo player with a five-hit game this season on Tuesday, joining Chase Dawson and Blake Billinger. Before this year, Valpo hadn’t had more than one player post a five-hit game in any of the previous seven seasons. Kapers joined Billinger as the second Valpo player to go a perfect 5-for-5 this year after previously that feat had not been accomplished by a Crusader since 2010.
More Tuesday Tidbits: Valpo and Western Michigan combined for 64 total bases, the most in a Valpo game since Valpo and Butler combined for 73 on April 26, 2008. Valpo totaled 35 bases, the most by the Crusaders since they had 40 on April 3, 2010 against Chicago State. Valpo had six hit batters on Tuesday, the team’s most since at least 2005. The Crusaders also set 2018 game highs in home runs with four and matched two other games (against Milwaukee and Grand Canyon) for the season high for hits with 18.
Billinger Belting Doubles: Valpo’s Blake Billinger is on the verge of etching his name atop the program’s all-time doubles list. He has 21 doubles this season – already tied for second most in program history – and needs just two to tie and three to break Kyle Muhlsteff’s single-season program record of 23 established in 2010.
Other Record Book Threats: Sam Shaikin has scored 48 runs this season, six away from moving to the top five in program history… Chase Dawson needs one more triple to enter the Top 5 in program history… Zack Leone holds an on-base percentage of .470, which would currently rank fifth in program history… As a team, Valpo needs nine more doubles to crack the Top 5 in program history… The Crusaders have 36 home runs and are just four away from moving into the Top 5 in program history for home runs in a single season… After shattering a program record for fielding percentage that had stood since 1998 last season, the Crusaders hold a .969 fielding percentage this year, which would rank second to only 2017’s .971.
Familiar Face: For the second straight game, a former Valpo assistant coach will be positioned in the opposing dugout when the series opens on Friday. Now in his fourth season as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at his alma mater, Mike Stalowy was the top assistant for Brian Schmack’s first season as head coach in 2014. Schmack also encountered a familiar face on Tuesday at Western Michigan, as Adam Piotrowicz is on staff there after having spent three years at Valpo under Tracy Woodson and alongside Schmack.
A Rare Occurrence: First-place Missouri State came to Emory G. Bauer Field and won three straight close games last weekend. This marked the first time since 2014 the Crusaders were swept in a three-game series on their home field. UIC was the last team to come to Valpo and accomplish that feat. This also marked just the second time this season and the first in Missouri Valley Conference play that the Crusaders have dropped all three games in a series.
Gordon Going Good: For some teams, Sunday starting pitching can be the biggest question mark of the weekend, but Wes Gordon has been statistically Valpo's strongest starting pitcher in conference play. Opponents are hitting just .238 against him in Valley games, while he owns a team-best MVC era of 3.00 in five starts. Gordon has allowed three earned runs or fewer in four of his five MVC starts, including outings against the top two teams in the league. He's allowed just 11 walks all season, tied for the fewest in The Valley among those who qualify.
Quality Wins: Valpo added to its growing list of quality wins on April 29 against DBU. The Patriots entered the weekend ranked 46th nationally in RPI, while Valpo also has wins over Illinois, ranked 25th nationally by Baseball America at the time of the game, and Oklahoma, ranked 28th nationally by the USA Today at the time of the Valpo victory.
Almost Only Counts in Horseshoes & Hand Grenades: The Crusaders incurred their 11th one-run loss of the season on May 4 against Missouri State. The Crusaders are just 1-11 in one-run decisions with the lone win coming 7-6 over Michigan State in the second game of a doubleheader on April 13.
Six is The Magic Number: Valpo is just 1-23 this season when scoring five runs or fewer. When the Crusaders score six runs or more, they own a 15-4 mark. The only time Valpo came away with a win without reaching the six-run plateau was on March 30 vs. Bradley, a 5-2, 10-inning win. Furthermore, Valpo is 0-15 when scoring fewer than five runs.
In The Other Dugout – Illinois State: The Redbirds and Crusaders have followed a rather similar path in Missouri Valley Conference play this season. Like Valpo, Illinois State has been swept only by Missouri State, has dropped series to DBU, Southern Illinois and Bradley and has one series win. Illinois State’s series win came over Indiana State and the Redbirds finish with Evansville next weekend, while the Crusaders have already taken two of three from the Purple Aces and have yet to play the Sycamores. Illinois State standout Owen Miller leads the team with a .374 average, while John Rave tops the club in the power categories with six home runs and 41 RBIs. Illinois State is much improved after going just 2-18 in The Valley last year, though the Redbirds did finish last season strong with three upset wins in the MVC Tournament – two over Missouri State and one over Wichita State. They fell to DBU in the conference final. Illinois State, picked to finish fifth in the MVC Preseason Poll, is under the direction of fifth-year head coach Bo Durkac.
Pitching Profiles – 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… In the conference opener vs. 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… Took the loss after allowing six runs (three earned) in 7 1/3 innings on April 6 at Southern Illinois… Got no decision despite eight strong innings at Michigan State on April 13… Threw his first career complete game in a 7-2 win over Evansville on April 20. Scattered nine hits and permitted only two earned runs while racking up a season-high eight strikeouts. Earned his fourth win of the year, matching his season win total from his rookie campaign. The CG marked the third by a Valpo pitcher this season, all in the last three weeks… There has only been one successful stolen base with Tieman on the mound this season. Opponents are 1-for-7 when trying to run against the Tieman/Kapers combo... Allowed four earned runs and no walks in six innings on April 27 vs. DBU… Got no decision after allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings against Missouri State on May 4.
- Trey Ferketic: Valpo is his fourth school (Saddleback, Long Beach State, UC San Diego)… Didn’t pitch last spring due to an injury at UC San Diego and threw just 3 2/3 innings in 2016… 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… Was lifted after 5 2/3 innings on April 21 at Evansville and got no decision in an eventual 9-8 defeat... Took the loss on April 28 after allowing four runs on seven hits in four innings against DBU and on May 5 after allowing five runs in five frames against Missouri State.
- 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… 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… Had a strong outing in his last start, going six strong innings and yielding just one run on seven hits on April 22 at Evansville. Picked up his first victory since April 8, 2017 against Northern Kentucky and limited the opposition to fewer than two runs for the first time since March 24 of last season at UIC… Threw his first career complete game on April 29 vs. DBU, limiting the Patriots to two runs on five hits to garner the win… Had another strong outing on May 6 against Missouri State, allowing three runs on six hits in seven innings against the conference’s first-place team, but took the loss.
Player-by-Player Profiles – 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 as an Andrean High School alum and Chesterton native… Is the first Valpo player with five triples since Kyle Gaedele had eight in 2010… Leads The Valley in triples… Has been successful with each of his last seven stolen-base attempts. Was cut down trying to steal in each of the first two games of the season, but has been perfect in stolen-base attempts since.
- Sam Shaikin, SS: Was the only Crusader to start all 53 games last season. Has started every game this year… Led Valpo in batting average at .317 a year ago… Started at third base for the first 12 games of the season, but has started at shortstop every game since. .. Has batted second for Valpo in every game this season… Named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List by College Baseball Foundation for an award that goes to the top shortstop in the nation… Is the only Crusader to have earned MVC Player of the Week Honors as he did so in the second week of the year, hitting a robust .700 in three games against Oklahoma and Holy Cross… Has launched seven home runs in 2018 and has 11 in his Crusader career.
- Blake Billinger, LF: Was a unanimous first team all-conference selection in both seasons he played at Mission College (JUCO)… Has batted third 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 in 2008… 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… Belted his third homer of the year on April 17 at Illinois... Leads the team with 18 multi-hit games and seven games with three hits or more… Became the first Valpo player since 2010 and seventh in program history with 20 doubles in a season on May 1 vs. Northern Illinois… Leads the MVC in two-baggers… Became the first Valpo player since Quinnette in 2008 with a three-homer game as he put together the first three home run performance in the Missouri Valley Conference this season in an 18-13 win over Western Michigan on May 8.
- Giovanni Garbella, RF: 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 a home run 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… Had a season-high five RBIs, all in his first two plate appearances, in a win over Evansville on April 20. That included his sixth home run of the season and the 13th of his career…. Won the MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Week honor on April 25… Hit his team-leading eighth home run of the season on May 8 against Western Michigan.
- 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… 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… Returned to the lineup on April 13 at Michigan State after missing the previous four games with a hand injury… Extended his on-base streak to 16 games on April 25 at Notre Dame, matching Billinger for the longest by a Crusader this season… Had three doubles in the April 25 defeat to the Fighting Irish, becoming the second Valpo player this season with a three-double game and just the third player in the entire MVC with three doubles in a contest this year.
- 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 as the Vice President… Had the best offensive weekend of any Crusader against DBU (April 27-29), posting a .455 average (5-for-11) against the Patriots… Had a career-high four hits on May 8 at Western Michigan.
- Scott Kapers, C: Threw out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers last season and has cut down 40.8 percent this season… 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… On the Johnny Bench Award Watch List for an award given annually to the nation’s top catcher…Became the third Crusader with a five-hit game this season by going 5-for-5 on May 8 at Western Michigan. Also threw out two Broncos trying to swipe second in that game.
- Jayden Eggimann, CF: Has 35 RBIs after having 13 all of last season… Ranks third on the team in RBIs 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. Only four players in The Valley have seven RBI games this season, and two of them play for the Crusaders. Also launched a first-inning grand slam in the win over the Panthers.
Two-Bagger, Three Times: Zack Leone enjoyed a three-double game on April 25 at Notre Dame, becoming the second Valpo player with three doubles in one game this season, joining Blake Billinger (March 2 vs. CSUN). Only three players in the entire Missouri Valley Conference have had three-double games this season, and two of them play for the Crusaders. No Valpo player had posted a three-double game since Andrew Quinnette on April 26, 2008 against Butler prior to this season.
Garbella Gains MVC Recognition: Valpo outfielder Giovanni Garbella was selected as a Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Week, presented by Enterprise Bank and Trust Company, on April 25 for his performance in both the classroom and on the playing field. Garbella, a finance major, had seven hits in 15 at-bats (.467) while ripping a double and a homer as Valpo took three of four during the week. He drove in six runs in four games and played a key role as Valpo knocked off No. 25 Illinois and then won its first Missouri Valley Conference series since joining the league over the weekend at Evansville. Garbella became the first Valpo male athlete in any sport to capture MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Week honors. He joins a pair of Crusaders who won the MVC Female Scholar-Athlete of the Week award during the winter season – women’s basketball players Dani Franklin and Meredith Hamlet.
Welcome to the Watch List: Valpo shortstop Sam Shaikin was named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List, which was announced by the College Baseball Foundation on April 19. The honor puts Shaikin in elite company, a group of 53 of the most talented athletes in Division I college baseball. The award honors the nation’s top shortstop and will be presented this summer. The award is named after former Texas Tech shortstop Brooks Wallace, who played for the Red Raiders from 1977-1980. Wallace died of leukemia at the age of 27. Shaikin is one of five MVC shortstops on the list, joining Missouri State’s Jeremy Eierman, DBU’s Jimmy Glowenke, Southern Illinois’ Connor Kopach and Illinois State’s Owen Miller. The Missouri Valley Conference trails only the ACC (9) and the SEC (8) in number of players on the watch list.
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, April 17 in Champagne. It marked just the second time all season Illinois had 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 had given up in a loss all year.
Beating Big Ten Competition: After dropping the first game of a doubleheader at Michigan State in 12 innings on Friday, April 13, 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. 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.
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) – a marked that has since been topped with a 23-run outpouring on April 11 vs. Milwaukee. 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.