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Crusaders Ready for Key Stretch of Seven League Games This Week
Monday, April 21, 2008
Butler (16-23, 5-8) at Valparaiso (24-13, 6-2) - April 22 [DH]
The Matchups: Valparaiso returns to Horizon League play with a full slate of games this week, playing seven league contests in a six-day span. The Crusaders are set up for a run at the top spot in the league, as they enter the week in second place, just percentage points behind league leader Cleveland State. Valpo holds the edge in the all-time series against all three of this week’s opponents: 14-10 versus Butler, 8-2 against Wright State and 8-4 against Youngstown State. However, the Crusaders have not faced any of the three teams since Randy Schneider became head coach in 2004.
Last Meetings: Valparaiso split a doubleheader with Butler in Indianapolis, Ind. on April 10, 2002, dropping the opener 3-2 in nine innings before capturing the nightcap 6-3. Karen Constien led the Crusaders, going 5-for-8 with two runs scored and two RBIs in the twinbill.
Last Week: Valparaiso took the second game of a doubleheader at Purdue, 4-1 in eight innings, after dropping the opener by a 3-0 score. Crusader pitchers held Purdue, which entered the day hitting .285 as a team, to just eight hits over the two games. Shannon Robinson led the Valpo offense with a 3-for-6 effort on the day and scored twice, while Alicia Ashburn and Mallory Gill both had multi-hit days as well. Zappia registered all but one out in the nightcap to improve to 13-5 on the season, allowing just one run on four hits while striking out six Purdue batters.
On The Air: Tuesday’s doubleheader versus Butler will be broadcast by WVUR, 95.1 FM Valparaiso, as well as the three-game series this weekend against Youngstown State. WVUR is planning on broadcasting the entirety of the Crusaders’ home schedule this year.
Continued Success: Valparaiso’s split with Purdue last week continued the program’s recent success against the Boilermakers. Since Randy Schneider’s arrival in 2004, Valpo is 4-3-1 against Purdue and has won three of the last four meetings.
Near the Top: Valparaiso enters this week’s slate of seven league games poised to make a run at the top of the standings and its own record book. The Crusaders held first place by themselves briefly over the weekend and currently sit second behind Cleveland State. They are also just three wins shy of matching the school record of 27 wins in a single season, accomplished three times, including last year.
Running Wild: The 2007 Crusader squad stole 77 bases, breaking an 18-year old school record in the process. But the new record lasted not even one year, as the 2008 team has already broken the mark for thefts in a single campaign. Valpo surpassed the record in its 30th game of the season, its 2-1 victory over Loyola three Saturdays ago, when Jamie Weinburger took third base in the second inning. The Crusaders have now taken 98 bases on just 116 attempts this year, and enter the week ranked second in the nation with 2.65 stolen bases/game, behind only SEC power Alabama.
Offensive Bonanza: Through the first 31 games of the season, Valparaiso had shown that it could win games with pitching, speed and defense. While all of those elements were in place two weeks ago as well, it was the bats which won the games for Valpo. The Crusaders came into the week hitting .259 as a team and averaging 4.2 runs per game, but over the four games two weeks ago, hit at a .377 clip and averaged 10.5 runs per game. After connecting on just six long balls through the first 31 games, the Crusaders swatted nine home runs in the four-game stretch.
Moving Up the Charts: That show of offense helped propel the Crusader team up some of Valpo’s single-season team record charts. With at least 13 scheduled games remaining, this year’s squad would currently finish third in program history with a .268 batting average this year. Offensively, this year’s team currently sits third in a single season in runs scored (177), fourth in home runs (15) and tied for fourth in RBIs (144). On the pitching side, Valpo has already bested the single-season saves mark with eight, ranks third with 223 strikeouts and is fourth with 24 victories.
Valpo Picked Fifth in Horizon: The Valparaiso University softball team has been tabbed to finish in fifth place in the Horizon League in preseason polling of the league’s head coaches. The Crusaders garnered 35 points in the polling, which awarded nine points for a first-place vote. Loyola has been projected to win the league, receiving five first-place votes and 60 points. UIC and Wright State each earned two first-place votes and checked in with 53 and 50 points, respectively, while Cleveland State was picked fourth with 41 points. Following the Crusaders were Butler (34), Youngstown State (22) and Green Bay (18), while Detroit rounded out the polling with 11 points.
Returning Experience: Head coach Randy Schneider returns six starting position players and all four pitchers from the 2007 squad that won a school record-tying 27 games. Among the 12 returnees on this year’s squad are eight seniors: infielders Alicia Ashburn, Mallory Gill and Courtney LaFerle; outfielders Kayla Grutz and Tracy Korth; catcher Shannon Robinson; and pitchers Chris Halstead and Andrea Zappia.
Robinson’s Hot Bat Continues: Senior catcher Shannon Robinson broke Valpo’s career hits mark two weeks ago and continued to push her mark upward last week, registering three hits in Valpo’s doubleheader split with Purdue to give her 174 career base knocks. Sincemoving into the leadoff spot six games ago, Robinson is hitting .471 (10-for-21) with eight runs scored. She has also stolen five bases over those six games, giving her ten thefts on the season and 27 for her career, fourth-best in Crusader history.
Among Valpo’s All-Time Best Pitchers: Andrea Zappia continued her march up Valpo’s all-time wins chart, picking up her 31st win last week, third-most in the Crusader annals. Already Valpo’s all-time leader in strikeouts (397) and saves (19), Zappia has put together a stellar senior campaign, going 13-5 with a 1.93 ERA and five saves in 116.1 innings of work. With 128 strikeouts so far this year, the senior is just 11 K’s shy of Valpo’s single-season record.
Raking in Horizon League Honors: Zappia has also received recognition from the Horizon League numerous times already this season. The senior has twice been honored as the league’s Pitcher of the Week, on March 4 and March 18, and also received the U.S. Army Scholar-Athlete of the Week award on March 11.
Gill Stands Out: Senior infielder Mallory Gill enjoyed the best week of her Crusader career two weeks ago and was recognized by the Horizon League as its Player of the Week on April 14. Gill, who entered the week with three career home runs, registered four round-trippers on the week and hit .571 with six runs scored and 10 RBIs, more RBIs than she had tallied in any of the previous three years. In the nightcap of Valpo’s doubleheader sweep over then-League leader UIC, Gill registered the first multi-homer game of her career.
More League Honors: Three other Crusaders have already earned weekly recognition from the Horizon League this year. Whitney Warner was named the league’s Player of the Week Feb. 26 after her 7-for-9 effort at the Tulsa Invitational. Freshman Jill Jacobson earned Pitcher of the Week honors March 11 after throwing a three-hit shutout against Holy Cross in her first career start. Most recently, Karen Korb was named the league’s female Scholar-Athlete of the Week on April 1 after hitting .367 from the leadoff spot the previous week.
Jacobson Steps Up: Freshman Jill Jacobson stood out in the circle against Purdue on Tuesday, tossing 4.1 innings over the two games of the doubleheader and allowing just two hits and one unearned run. With the appearances, Jacobson has lowered her season ERA to 2.07 in 23.2 innings of work and has allowed batters to hit a paltry .161 against her.
Running in a Pinch: Freshmen Jamie Weinburger and Aubrey Sundling have been a dangerous duo on the basepaths for the Crusaders this year, mostly coming off the bench to pinch-run. Weinburger ranks third in the Horizon League and second on the team with 14 stolen bases, while Sundling is right behind her with 13 thefts.
Butler: The Bulldogs enter Tuesday’s Horizon League doubleheader at 16-23 overall and 5-8 on the league slate after dropping two of three games last weekend to Youngstown State. Butler is led offensively by Amy Hyerczyk, who sports a .385 batting average, while in the circle, Nikki Naffziger has tossed 110.2 innings with a 2.59 ERA.
Wright State: The Raiders enter the week at 22-22 overall and 9-6 in Horizon League play, good for fourth place, after dropping three games this past weekend to Loyola. One of the nation’s most potent offensive teams, WSU ranked among the top-ten nationally last week in batting average and scoring. Leading the way is Jherica Williams, who led the nation in slugging percentage and RBIs/game.
Youngstown State: Youngstown State took two games of a three-game series last weekend against Butler, improving its record to 4-12 in Horizon League action and 8-27 overall. Three regulars bat over .300, led by Jamie Fornal, while Danielle Chase and Cheryl Cale have split the majority of time in the circle.