Valparaiso (8-26, 1-8 MVC)
at Notre Dame (16-22, 10-11 ACC)
Frank Eck Stadium | Notre Dame, Ind.
Tuesday, April 23, 5 p.m. CT / 6 p.m. ET – Keegan Bates (L) vs. Andrew Belcik (R)
Next Up in Valpo Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will make its annual visit to instate foe Notre Dame on Tuesday. The two teams will renew a long history against one another as Valpo competes in its fifth straight game outside of Missouri Valley Conference play. This kicks off an instate week for Valpo, which hosts Evansville for a conference series beginning on Friday.
Last Time Out: Valpo won back-to-back games for the first time this season last week, routing Western Michigan 11-1 in seven innings in a midweek game before blanking SIUE 8-0 in the opener of a nonconference weekend series on Friday. However, the Cougars bounced back to sweep Saturday’s doubleheader and win the series with 4-3 and 16-6 victories.
On the Air: Tuesday’s game will air on ACC Network Extra. Links to live coverage can be found on ValpoAthletics.com. As always, follow @ValpoBaseball on Twitter for in-game updates.
Series Notes: Notre Dame leads 75-21 in a series that started in 1958. Last year, the Fighting Irish edged Valpo 6-5 in the first one-run game between the two teams since 2005. The instate foes have met six times in Brian Schmack’s five seasons as head coach and at least once every year since 2012. Notre Dame has a six-game head-to-head winning streak that dates back to a 7-4 Valpo victory on May 2, 2012. One of the most noteworthy wins in the history of Valpo’s program came against Notre Dame when Valpo prevailed 7-3 against the No. 1 Fighting Irish on April 25, 2001 to snap Notre Dame’s 16-game winning streak.
Strikeouts by the Dozen: Valpo starting pitcher Jon Tieman helped Valpo to its first shutout victory since April 23, 2017 (a 9-0 win over Wright State) in the series opener against SIU Edwardsville on April 19, an 8-0 victory. He recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts, the most by a Valpo pitcher in a game since Jon Gulbransen fanned 13 Chicago State Cougars on April 12, 2011. Both instances of a Valpo pitcher striking out 12 or more in a game over the last nine seasons have come by pitchers with the first name Jon against teams known as the Cougars. Tieman yielded just two hits over six frames to earn the victory.
Back-to-Back Three-Hitters: Before limiting Western Michigan to three hits in an 11-1 victory on Tuesday, April 16, Valpo hadn’t held the opposition to three hits or fewer in a game since May 10, 2015, when Ryan Fritze and Trevor Haas combined on a three-hit shutout of Youngstown State. Valpo pitching held the Broncos to three hits in that seven-inning, 10-run rule affair, and then followed it up with a second straight three-hitter on Friday, April 19 in an 8-0 win over SIU Edwardsville.
Billinger Bombs in Bunches: They say home runs come in bunches, and that’s proved to be the case for a pair of Valpo power bats over the last two weeks. After Sam Shaikin launched four home runs in a five-game span to usurp Blake Billinger for the team lead in dingers, Billinger put together a four-game stretch from April 16-20 during which he launched four home runs to take the team lead right back. By blasting three home runs in a doubleheader including his third career multi-homer game on April 20 at SIU Edwardsville, Billinger bolstered his home run total to nine and took over the Missouri Valley Conference lead. He has 16 career home runs in only his second season at Valpo after joining the program as a junior college transfer.
Double the Fun: When head coach Brian Schmack announced his team’s schedule in November, this past weekend featured the only doubleheader on the slate as Valpo and SIU Edwardsville played two on Saturday in order to enjoy Easter Sunday off. However, doubleheaders have become the norm rather than the exception for Valpo as this weekend marked the team’s eighth doubleheader of the year with the previous seven coming due to inclement weather that altered weekend series schedules. The team also opened the season with a set at Lipscomb that was shortened to two games due to rain, so the only series all year that has been the scheduled Friday-Saturday-Sunday was March 29-31 at DBU. The seemingly inordinate number of twinbills does have a recent precedent as Valpo played nine doubleheaders in 2017. However, the majority of those were scheduled due to a seven-team Horizon League double-round robin format where teams played five games against each league opponent.
Chasing the Record Book: Seniors Chase Dawson and Sam Shaikin rank among Valpo’s career leaders in several statistical categories.
- Dawson is up to 131 career runs scored and recently passed J.J. Swiatkowski (1997-2000) and Mike Healey (1983-1986) to move into eighth in program history. Marc Boggio (1999-2003) ranks seventh with 142.
- Dawson ripped his 12th career triple on April 19 at SIU Edwardsville, moving into a tie for third in program history. He needs one more to become just the third Valpo player to get to 13 and tie Robert Skaltsas (1974-1977) for second. Rod Hadrick is the all-time leader with 15.
- Shaikin has 20 career home runs and needs two more to join four others in a tie for fifth in program history.
- Shaikin has 94 walks in his career and ranks fifth in program history. Steve Wigdor (1985-1988) is fourth with 98.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his sixth season in charge of the program. 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 managing a youthful roster that featured 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers. He led his team to 24 wins, including a strong finish to the regular season that saw them win eight of their last 11. The 2018 season saw Valpo transition to the Missouri Valley Conference. The Brown & Gold made an immediate splash in the highly-respected baseball league, putting together a strong showing in the MVC Tournament, including a 13-10 victory over host Dallas Baptist, a team that went on to receive an at-large NCAA Regional berth. Schmack, a member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, served as pitching coach/associate head coach at Valpo for seven seasons prior to his promotion.
In The Other Dugout: Notre Dame
- The Fighting Irish battled back after dropping the series opener to take two of three from Pitt in ACC play this weekend. Notre Dame has won four of its last five games including a victory over No. 21 North Carolina.
- Notre Dame is led in batting average by Spencer Myers at .281, while Niko Kavadas leads the way in home runs (10) and is tied with Eric Gilgenbach for the team lead in RBIs with 32 apiece.
- The only common opponents that both teams have played thus far are Western Michigan and Ball State. Valpo beat Western Michigan 11-1, while the Broncos topped the Fighting Irish 12-2. Both teams went winless against the Cardinals, with Notre Dame losing both games and Valpo dropping its only meeting.
- Mik Aoki has been the head coach at Notre Dame since 2011.
- LHP Keegan Bates – Led his team to an Illinois High School Class 4A state championship in 2018… Was the starting pitcher in the state championship game, helping Plainfield North to a 4-3 victory over Huntley. That marked the school’s first state title in any sport… Favorite MLB player is Michael Kopech and team is the White Sox… Worked around two walks to put a zero on the board in his outing on March 5 at North Carolina A&T… Worked a scoreless inning on March 22 vs. Butler… Worked three scoreless innings out of the Valpo bullpen on April 12 in the series opener at Indiana State, keeping a hot-swinging Sycamore offense at bay… Picked up the win with six innings of one-run ball in a midweek start vs. Western Michigan on April 17, his first career start. He permitted just three hits and the lone run came on a first-inning dinger… Pitched two innings of relief on April 20 at SIUE. Allowed three runs, but all three were unearned on two hits, a walk and two strikeouts.
Player-by-Player Profiles – Position Players
- Riley Dent, LF – Played in 31 games and made 27 starts as a sophomore last season… Robbed Milwaukee’s John Boidanis of a home run with a leaping catch on May 13, 2017… Played a key role in a dramatic 3-2 win over Chicago State on May 15, 2018 that saw Valpo score twice in the bottom of the ninth to win it. Had a 2-2 count as a pinch hitter with two outs and nobody on base with Valpo down 2-1, then ripped the seventh pitch he saw into center for a base hit, starting a two-out rally… Has moved to the leadoff spot this season and transitioned to center field… Set the tone atop the lineup with three hits, three RBIs, a walk and two runs scored in Valpo’s first victory of the season, which came 8-6 over Lipscomb on Feb. 16… Had his fourth multi-hit game of the season on March 9 vs. South Carolina… Had two doubles in a March 17 win over Northern Illinois, becoming the first Valpo player with a two-double game this season… Had hits in all three games of a weekend series against Butler March 23-24, extending his hitting streak to seven. Ripped a run-scoring triple in the middle game of the series to help Valpo to a 5-2 win… Moved his hitting streak to eight with his second triple of the season on March 27 at Ball State… Had three of his team’s five hits on March 30 at DBU while also making an impressive catch in left-center… Drove in Valpo’s only run of the game on March 31 at DBU with a sacrifice fly. Saw his hitting streak come down to the top of the ninth in that game, when he received an extra at-bat thanks to a Steven Fitzsimmons single earlier in the inning and took advantage by roping a single to center, hitting safely for the 11th straight game, Valpo’s longest hitting streak of the season to date. That streak was snapped on April 5 vs. Illinois State. He batted a team-best .395 during that 12-game stretch (that saw Dent play in 11)…. Bounced back from seeing the streak snapped with multi-hit showings in both games of a doubleheader with the Redbirds on April 6… Had his team-leading 11th multi-hit game of the season in the series finale at Indiana State on April 13.
- Sam Shaikin, SS – Started all 106 games over the 2017 and 2018 seasons… Ranked third in The Valley in runs scored with 54 while batting .288 and getting on base at a .406 clip in 2018… Tied for fifth in program history with 54 runs scored in 2018 and ranked third in walks (43), one behind Spencer Mahoney (2015) for the most since 1991… Also in 2018, slugged the most home runs by a Valpo player since 2008 (Josh Wallace, 11) and the second-most by a Valpo player since 2002 with nine… Named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List by College Baseball Foundation for an award that goes out to the top shortstop in the nation… Was the only Valpo player to earn MVC Player of the Week honors in the program’s first season in the conference. Did so after hitting .700 in three games against Oklahoma and Holy Cross the second week of the season… 2016 Horizon League All-Freshman Team honoree… Member of Valpo’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee… Named to the 2018 California Collegiate League All-Star Game… nephew of Bill, who works as a baseball writer for the Los Angeles Times… Belted a two-out, go-ahead, eighth-inning grand slam on March 3 at UNCW to lift Valpo to a 10-8 victory over the Seahawks. That was his first home run of the season and the 14th of his collegiate career… Belted career home run No. 15 and his second of the season on March 23 vs. Butler, a two-run blow in the eighth inning of a game the Bulldogs won 6-4… Hit his 16th career home run and third of the season on March 27 at Ball State, a three-run blow as part of a five-run eighth… Launched a go-ahead home run in the sixth inning on April 6 vs. Illinois State, the 17th of his career and his fourth of the season… Accounted for both Valpo runs with his first career two-homer game in the series opener at Indiana State on April 12. Also reached the 100-RBI milestone for his career in that game against the Sycamores… Enjoyed a five-game stretch from April 6 to April 16 where he homered four times to lift his career total to 20.
- Chase Dawson, 2B – Led off and started at second base for all 53 games in 2018 while compiling a .265 batting average and .341 on-base percentage… Led the team with 10 stolen bases in 12 chances, had five of the team’s seven triples and drove in a career-high 28 runs… Had three home runs last season after having none in his first two years… Became Valpo’s first player with five triples in a season since Kyle Gaedele in 2010… Led The Valley in triples… Was cut down on each of his first two stolen-base attempts of the year, but went 10-for-10 the rest of the season…. After launching his first career home run on Feb. 24 at Oklahoma, ripped a two-run blast in the top of the ninth inning on March 2 against CSUN, capping a miraculous nine-run ninth that tied the game at 13… Became the first Valpo player since 2016 to rack up five hits in a single game by doing so on March 2 against CSUN… Hit a grand slam against Arkansas Pine Bluff on March 16… Named to the 2016 Horizon League All-Freshman Team and All-Tournament Team… Is a local to Northwest Indiana as an Andrean High School alum and Chesterton native… Played for the Martinsville Mustangs of the Coastal Plains League during the 2018 summer season. He led the league in batting average at .395 and was named to the All-CPL First Team and the CPL Select Team that competed against the USA Collegiate National Team in a midseason All-Star Game. The Mustangs coaching staff featured former Valpo player Dustin Beasley… Is up to 10 career triples, making him the 10th player in program history to reach that milestone. Is tied for eighth in program history with Jeff Snyder (1989-1992) and Chris Manning (2011-2014)… Has moved to the third spot in the batting order this season after hitting first, second and ninth over his first three seasons… Had his first four-hit game of the year on March 2 at UNCW. In fact, he had as many hits in that game as he did over the first five games of the season prior to that contest… Started at first base in all three games of a series against Northern Illinois March 16-17, playing out of position while battling an injury. Had five hits over a doubleheader on March 16 including a go-ahead, eighth-inning home run in a 7-6 victory in Game 1… Returned to his normal position at second base for all three games of a series vs. Butler March 23-24… Contributed two hits and two RBIs on March 27 at Ball State… Had his second straight multi-hit game with a double, single, walk and two runs scored on March 29 at DBU… Hit .400 during a three-game weekend series with Illinois State from April 5-6, going 4-for-10 with two of his hits going for extra bases. He launched his second home run of the season on April 6 in Game 1 of a doubleheader, a two-run blow in the bottom of the ninth… Collected three hits, drove in two, worked a walk and scored two runs in Valpo’s 11-1 victory over Western Michigan on April 16.
- Blake Billinger, OF/DH – Named to the 2018 MVC All-Conference First Team, the lone Valpo player to receive first-team honors, after starting all 53 games and batting .323 in his first season at Valpo… Tied a program record for doubles in a single season with 23 (Kyle Muhlsteff 2010), finishing second in The Valley in 2018… Led the team in league-only batting average at .342, sixth in the MVC… Hit a home run against Alabama in the first at-bat of his Valpo career… Had a three-double game on March 2, 2018 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 Valpo player since 2010 to go 5-for-5 in a game… 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 in 2018 in an 18-13 win over Western Michigan on May 8… Delivered a walk-off single to drive in two with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-2 win over Chicago State on May 15… Named to the 2019 MVC Preseason All-Conference Team… Turned in his second career multi-homer game on Feb. 24 at Arkansas State, launching a two-run bomb and a three-run blow to account for five of the team’s six runs in a 7-6 defeat. He drove in six of the team’s eight runs in the series in Jonesboro… Lifted his team-leading RBI total to nine by belting his third home run of the season on March 5 at North Carolina A&T… Drilled his fourth big fly of the year on March 10 at No. 25 South Carolina, part of a three-hit performance… Had his team-leading eighth multi-hit game of the season on March 27 at Ball State… Completed a string of three straight multi-hit outputs by notching three hits and three RBIs in the series opener at DBU on March 29. Ripped a double and a home run in that game against the Patriots, becoming the third player in the conference to reach five home runs this season… Was one of three Valpo players to homer on April 16 at Western Michigan. After homering three times against the Broncos last season, Billinger went deep in his first plate appearance this year and then received intentional walks in each of his next two trips to the plate and was hit by a pitch in the one after that… Homered three times in a doubleheader at SIUE on April 20 including his third career multi-homer game in Game 2. The contest saw him rack up three hits, four RBIs and three runs scored. That capped a five-day, four-game stretch where Billinger hit four home runs, moving him into the MVC lead with nine.
- Brent Jones, 1B/3B – Has been plagued by injuries throughout his Valpo career… Limited to 14 games in 2018 after being sidelined by an injury in 2017… Started his career with two junior college seasons and posted a .344 batting average as a sophomore at Iowa Central… Was Valpo’s offensive standout during an early-March series at UNCW, racking up seven RBIs after entering that series with four for his career… Had his first three-hit day of the season and launched his first home run in a Valpo uniform on March 10 at No. 25 South Carolina… Saw his 10-game hitting streak snapped on March 17 vs. Northern Illinois at Chicago State… Chipped in two hits and drove in a run in the series opener on March 29 at DBU.
- Jake Kapers, C – One of three different coaches to have seen time behind the dish this season in an effort to replace his older brother Scott, who started each of the last three seasons before leaving a year early to sign with the Texas Rangers after being selected in the 17th round of the 2018 MLB Draft… Hustled out a double on March 29 at DBU for the first extra-base knock of his collegiate career.
- Louie Baker, C/1B – Made his seventh career start and his first at first base on March 31 at DBU after his previous starts came behind the plate… Enjoyed his second career two-hit game in that contest against the Patriots… Scored the team’s lone run of the game in addition to scorching a double for the first extra-base knock of his Valpo tenure.
- Damon Jorgensen, 3B – Native of Nebraska… Junior college transfer who started his career at Coffeyville… Described as an athletic player who moves well… Injured most of the fall season but has returned to health… Hobbies include hunting, snowboarding and wakeboarding… Went 2-for-4 on March 3 at UNCW, his first multi-hit game in a Valpo uniform… Hit his first home run of the year and his first extra-base knock in a Valpo uniform on March 12 at Tennessee Tech… Had his fourth multi-hit outoput of the year on March 26 at Purdue.
- Steven Fitzsimmons, CF – Played in 16 games and made three starts as a sophomore… Two of his three starts came against Big Ten competition – at Michigan State and at No. 25 Illinois… Valpo was victorious all three times he was in the starting lineup… Ripped a double on March 5 at North Carolina A&T, his first extra-base hit of the season, the second double of his career and his first double since the 2017 campaign… Went 4-for-4 in Game 2 of a doubleheader on March 23 vs. Butler, helping Valpo to a 5-2 victory. Accounted for four of the team’s nine hits while enjoying a career day at the dish… Enjoyed a 3-for-3 day and drove in Valpo’s lone run of the game on April 5 vs. Illinois State… Belted his first career home run in an 8-0 win over SIUE on April 19 in Edwardsville.
- Jeremy Drudge, RF – Two-time all-conference selection who won three varsity letters in high school… The Valpo freshman helped his high school team to two conference titles… Saw limited action as a senior in high school due to a torn ACL… Won three varsity letters in football… Was an Indiana Junior All-State selection and first-team all-conference selection…Raced go-karts during his youth… Favorite MLB player is Aaron Judge… Launched the first home run of his collegiate career on April 16 vs. Western Michigan, a solo blast for one of three Valpo homers in that game.
- Christian Barczi, C – Was limited to DH duties early in the season due to an injury but has taken over behind the plate…. Member of the 2017 Horizon League All-Freshman Team.
- Ryan Wickman, RF – Father Bob pitched in the big leagues from 1992-2007, led the American League in saves in 2005 and was a two-time big league All-Star... Majoring in business analytics... Talents/hobbies are hunting, fishing and video games… Had an RBI double on March 2 vs. UNCW, the first extra-base hit and RBI of his collegiate career. That was part of a two-hit day in his first career start.
- RHP Mike Kornacker – Came to Valpo as a graduate transfer after four years at Purdue… Received his undergraduate degree in organizational leadership… Father was drafted by the San Francisco Giants and reached the Double-A level after a collegiate career as a standout performer at Saint Xavier in Chicago… Brother Mark played baseball at Lewis University, where his mother is a professor of nursing… Is pursuing a masters in sports administration… Was an academic all-Big Ten selection each of the last three years… Made his Valpo debut on Feb. 15 and took the loss despite allowing just one hit over 4 2/3 innings at Lipscomb. He did permit four runs (three earned) while walking four and striking out four… Became the first player to make his Valpo debut as an Opening Day starting pitcher since Bryce Shafer got the nod as a true freshman on Feb. 23, 2008… Received no decision in his second start on Feb. 24 at Arkansas State despite exiting in position for the win. Allowed just one run on two hits while walking five and striking out six over six innings… Allowed five runs on four hits and six walks in 2 2/3 innings on March 2 at UNCW, receiving no decision… Got the nod against No. 24 South Carolina on March 8 and took the loss after allowing four runs on four hits and four walks in four innings. He struck out six and was lifted after four because the game was suspended due to rain and finished the following day… Had no decision on March 16 vs. Northern Illinois at Chicago State, allowing three runs on three hits and three walks in four frames… Was charged with five runs on three hits and two walks in 1/3 of an inning on March 24 vs. Butler… Allowed five runs (four earned) in two innings of a midweek start on March 27… Returned to form with two shutout innings of hitless relief on March 30 at DBU.
- LHP Jarrett Hammel – Transferred to Valpo for the 2018 season (his sophomore year) after Division II Saint Joseph’s College closed its doors… Led the team in ERA in 2018 at 3.20 while going 3-2 with 18 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings of work… Made 24 appearances (two starts) during his first season on campus… After a slow start that saw him hold a 13.50 ERA over his first four appearances, had a 1.35 ERA in 33 1/3 innings over his final 20 appearances of the season… Did not allow an earned run over 13 innings from March 4 – April 17, then did not allow any runs in 15 innings from April 28 to May 23… Had a heroic effort out of the Valpo bullpen in a 13-10 win over DBU on May 23 in the first round of the MVC Tournament, sending down the first 10 batters he faced and allowing just one run on two hits in 3 2/3 innings of relief. Achieved the win in an upset over the host Patriots… Loves singing, particularly in the shower or while driving… Brother Jay is a freshman RHP at Quincy University… Majoring in elementary education with a minor in mathematics… Has a three-legged dog… Both of his parents are teachers… Went to a school that housed K-12 in one building with a graduating class of 68… Hometown of Brook, Ind. has a population of about 800 people… Broke his leg in seventh grade and his right leg is now three centimeters shorter than his left… Did not allow a run in 1 1/3 innings of relief on March 23 vs. Butler, helping Valpo to a 5-2 win…. Turned in two scoreless innings in a road game against Big Ten foe Purdue on March 26, walking none and yielding just two hits… Allowed three runs on four hits in 1 2/3 innings on March 29 at DBU, then needed only two pitches to retire the only man he faced in the finale of the series in the Lone Star State on March 31… Picked up his first win of the season with two scoreless frames out of the Valpo bullpen on April 6 vs. Illinois State… Turned in a quality long relief outing on April 20 vs. SIUE, allowing just one run over five frames at SIUE. He exited in a 3-3 tie, but Valpo went on to fall 4-3.
- RHP Montana Quigley – Missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery… Has three younger sisters… Is majoring in marketing with a minor in psychology… Was dominant out of the bullpen in 2017 before having his season cut short by an injury on April 21. Finished with a team-best 1.61 ERA, the best ERA by a Valpo player (minimum 25 innings) since 1987 (Tim Holmes, 1.59)... Strong season came after holding a 7.24 ERA his freshman year… Nailed down his second career save and first of the season on March 3 at UNCW by retiring all six men he faced including three strikeouts… Came on and nailed down his second save of the season by retiring the side in order on March 17 vs. Northern Illinois at Chicago State, preserving a 5-2 victory.
- RHP Easton Rhodehouse – Named to the Horizon League All-Freshman Team in 2017. Did not allow an earned run in any of his five conference outings in 2018 with opponents hitting just .211 against him in conference play… Majoring in political science with a minor in business administration... Spent the 2018 summer doing grassroots volunteer work for a political campaign… Hobbies include skateboarding and mountain biking…. Worked one inning and did not allow a run on March 10 at No. 25 South Carolina… Pitched three perfect innings and struck out four to garner his first decision of the season, a well-earned win in a 7-6 triumph over Northern Illinois on March 16 in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Chicago State… Pitched a scoreless inning in both games of a doubleheader against Butler on March 23 and nailed down his first save of the year in the nightcap… Remained a bright spot of the pitching staff with three innings of one-run ball on March 31 at DBU. He allowed just two hits and one walk and faced six total batters of his final two frames… Continued his strong season by putting up zeros in the eighth and ninth innings of a 4-2 win over Illinois State on April 6 as he stranded base runners in both frames. That allowed him to nail down his second save of the season.
- LHP Josh Currier – Was the only freshman who saw action for Valpo in 2018… Made two starts and three relief appearances… Sister Kayla was a member of the Valpo volleyball team from 2015-2017 and served as a student assistant coach in 2018… Majoring in nursing with a minor in psychology…. Worked a scoreless inning and struck out two on March 24 vs. Butler.
- RHP Jim Jarecki – Was an NJCAA All-Academic first team honoree and a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at Heartland last season… Started his collegiate career in The Valley at Bradley in 2017… Dislocated his elbow 10 days before the start of his junior season in high school, but returned to the diamond in six weeks (rather than the projected six months) to help the team down the stretch… Has two uncles and a grandfather who were collegiate student-athletes, including one uncle, Jim Kovach, who went on to play linebacker for seven years in the NFL with New Orleans (1979-85) and San Francisco (1985)… Was the winning pitcher in Valpo’s dramatic victory over UNCW on March 3, the first decision of his Valpo career… Worked a scoreless inning on March 22 vs. Butler… Allowed one run but it was unearned in his inning on March 26 at Purdue.
- RHP Tanner Skidmore – Started his career at Potomac State, where he was an NJCAA Academic All-American… Two-time all-conference performer in baseball and basketball in high school… Double majoring in kinesiology and education… Pitched a 1-2-3 inning with one strikeout on March 5 at North Carolina A&T… Did not allow a run over 1 2/3 innings on March 22 vs. Butler.
- LHP Michael Mommersteeg – Worked 32 1/3 innings, making five starts and seven relief appearances for Valpo in 2018… Did not allow a run and permitted only one hit in three innings out of the bullpen on May 13 at Illinois State… Won 15 high school letters, four in baseball, four in volleyball, four in golf and three in badminton… Played junior hockey until his junior year of high school, playing against the likes of NHL players Clayton Keller, Travis Konecny and Connor McDavid… Has played with Indiana State catcher Max Wright and was in the same program as Indiana State pitcher Ty Whitbread, Bradley outfielder JF Garon and trains in the offseason with Illinois State pitcher Dalton Harvey, who also played in the same program as Mommersteeg… Has one sister, Maureen, who played college hockey for Laurier (Waterloo, Ontario) from 2009-2012… Father Richard played collegiate and semi-professional soccer. He played at the University of Western Ontario. He won a Western bronze medal during his junior year for displaying exceptional athletic abilities. He then signed with the London Lasers of the Canadian Soccer League and played against teams like the Vancouver WhiteCaps and Toronto FC before they were promoted to MLS… Hasn’t pitched since March 26 due to an injury.
Looking Back: Despite a 19-34 overall record and 6-15 MVC mark, Valpo’s first season in The Valley was filled with numerous accomplishments, unforgettable games and noteworthy achievements.
- Valpo had four wins against teams that finished the season in the Top 50 nationally in RPI in 2018. The team beat DBU twice including a 13-10 victory on the Patriots’ home field in Valpo’s first-ever MVC Tournament game. The other Top 50 wins came against Oklahoma and Illinois. Valpo beat the No. 25 Fighting Illini 11-7, tying with Nebraska for the most runs scored all season against Illinois, a Big Ten team that went 33-20.
- Valpo will look to sustain its offensive success in 2019 after ranking in the Top 5 in program history in doubles, home runs and walks last season. The home run total was Valpo’s highest since 2002, while the team had a .404 slugging percentage, its best since 2010.
- After besting a single-season fielding percentage mark that had stood since 1998 in 2017, Valpo again rewrote that record by posting a fielding percentage of .973 in 2018.
- Valpo had a pair of 20+ run outputs in single games in 2018 after the team hadn’t scored 20 or more runs in a game since 2010. The first time was against defending Patriot League champion Holy Cross on Feb. 24 (20-6), the second against Milwaukee on April 11 (23-5).
- DBU, an at-large NCAA Regional team, played 63 games in 2018. Two teams scored 13 or more runs against them – Oklahoma (15, March 6) and Valpo (13, May 23).
- Valpo’s first ever MVC win won’t soon be forgotten, as Zack Leone launched a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th to lift his team over Bradley 5-2 on March 30 at Emory G. Bauer Field. That was Valpo’s first walk-off blast in over 15 years.
- Blake Billinger had the program’s first three-homer game in 10 years on May 8, helping Valpo to an 18-13 win over Western Michigan.
- Following the season, junior catcher Scott Kapers was selected in the 17th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers. He became the eighth Valpo player in the last nine years to be drafted and was the program’s highest selection since 2011.
The Grandest of Slams: A grand slam is even more grand when it comes with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning down by two runs. An inning that started modestly – with two outs and nobody on base – finished with Sam Shaikin hitting a go-ahead grand slam to lift Valpo over UNCW 10-8 on March 3. The grand slam was Valpo’s first of the season, but the second time in the last three years that the team used a go-ahead, eighth-inning grand slam to win a game in dramatic fashion. The first came on April 13, 2017, when James Stea’s slam helped Valpo beat Oakland 7-6 at Emory G. Bauer Field.
A Challenging Slate: Under Brian Schmack, the Valpo baseball team has not shied away from scheduling high-level nonconference opponents. With the move to the Missouri Valley Conference, the overall schedule has gotten even more challenging. Here are a few notes on the quality of Valpo’s schedule this year:
- Seven opponents played in an NCAA Regional in 2018 – UNC Wilmington, South Carolina, Tennessee Tech, Purdue, DBU, North Carolina A&T and Missouri State.
- Six of those teams all had 37 wins or more last season and averaged 41.5 wins, while the other had 32 wins.
- Those teams combined for 13 NCAA Regional wins last season and Tennessee Tech and South Carolina both advanced to Super Regionals.
- The Gamecocks have reached the College World Series 11 times and won national championships in 2010 and 2011. They finished last season ranked 16th
- Tennessee Tech finished second in the nation in wins with 53 behind only Oregon and finished the season ranked 15th in RPI.
- Six of those teams finished in the Top 60 in RPI last season and five in the Top 40.
- In addition to South Carolina (SEC) and Purdue (Big Ten), Valpo has two other Power 5 opponents – Notre Dame (ACC) and Michigan State (Big Ten). Big East foe Butler is also on the slate after the team finished 34-20 last season.
Inside the Assistants: Although Brian Schmack has become a veteran of the head coaching role, Valpo’s staff has a new look in 2018.
- After spending the last three seasons as a volunteer assistant, Kory Winter has been hired as Schmack’s top assistant and hitting coach for the 2019 campaign. Winter played collegiately at Wittenberg and has completed coaching stints at Muskingum University and Shippensburg University. He is also Valpo’s outfield instructor.
- Casey Fletcher has joined the staff as an assistant coach. He spent the last two seasons at Illinois, where he was a volunteer assistant. Prior to joining the Fighting Illini staff, Fletcher played professionally for two seasons with the Joliet Slammers of the Frontier League. He enjoyed a prosperous collegiate playing career that featured two seasons as an All-Big Ten honoree at Illinois (2014-2015) and helped Illinois to the NCAA Super Regional for the first time in program history by hitting .326 with 48 runs, three homers and 33 RBIs as a senior. Fletcher was an outfielder in college before moving to catcher in the professional ranks. His father Darrin played in the big leagues from 1989-2002 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. His grandfather Tom also reached the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1962 and his great grandfather Glenn spent 10 seasons in the minor leagues.
- Valpo has also welcomed first-year volunteer assistant Dylan DeBrouwer to the coaching staff. DeBrouwer serves as the team’s infield instructor and oversees strength and conditioning. He spent the last two seasons as a graduate assistant at Greenville University, where he served as the recruiting coordinator, hitting coach, infield coach and strength and conditioning coach. He also served as the head coach of the Chesterfield Vipers in the Mid Atlantic Collegiate League, recruiting and building a summer league team that won a championship in 2018. He received his undergraduate degree from Whittier College, where he was a captain on the baseball team.
Preseason Poll: Valpo was picked to finish seventh of eight in the MVC Preseason Poll. Blake Billinger represented Valpo on the Preseason All-MVC squad.
Who’s Next: The Valpo baseball program announced seven newcomers for the 2020 season in November.
- DJ Calvert – an infielder who is transferring from Northern Oklahoma College (JUCO). Was an all-conference shortstop at the junior college level in 2018. During his prep tenure at Edmond Memorial in Oklahoma, Calvert was a 2016 6A state champion and a second-team all-conference performer.
- Ryan Klainos – A senior pitcher at Libertyville High School in Illinois. Is part of a prep team that has won conference and regional championships during his time with the program. Joined forces with two other Division I commits to form the conference pitching rotation during his junior season.
- Jake Miller – A left-handed pitcher from Don Bosco Prep. The Monroe, N.Y. native was a 2018 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason All-American. He will become just the second Valpo player to hail from New York since 2005, joining Zack Leone.
- Jacob Rosenkranz – A senior right-handed pitcher from Stevenson High School in Illinois who boasts a no-hitter among his prep accomplishments.
- Kyle Schmack – A local infielder who is currently a senior at South Central High School, where he was an all-area performer last season and was named the area’s hitter of the year. He is the son of Valpo head coach Brian Schmack.
- Nolan Tucker – A local signee who is an infielder at Hanover Central. Batted .517 as a sophomore, is a two-time all-conference performer and gained 30 pounds in the offseason between his sophomore and junior year.
- Trent Turzenski – A RHP from Burlington, Wis. who has twice earned Perfect Game All-American Honorable Mention (2016, 2018) in addition to being named Southern Lakes All-Conference honorable mention (2018), Racine All-County Second Team (2018) and to the Perfect Game Kernels Foundation All-Tournament Team (2018). He was ranked No. 14 in the state of Wisconsin for the 2019 recruiting class.