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Crusaders Head Into Final Week of Regular Season With Shot at League Championship
Monday, April 28, 2008
Notre Dame (34-17-1) at Valparaiso (29-15, 11-4) - April 29
The Matchups: Valparaiso enters the final week of regular season play this week with a shot at capturing the Horizon League championship in a weekend series at Cleveland State. Prior to the decisive three-game set, Valpo will close out the non-conference portion of the schedule, as well as its home slate, with a single game against Notre Dame. The Crusaders are 11-26 all-time against the Fighting Irish and own a 4-7 record in the series versus the Vikings.
Last Meetings: Valparaiso registered seven hits April 19, 2007 in Notre Dame, Ind. against the Fighting Irish, but was unable to push any runs across the plate, falling to Notre Dame, 5-0. All seven of Valpo's hits came from the top five spots in the batting order, led by two base knocks apiece by Megan Carroll and Shannon Robinson.
Last Week: In a critical week of Horizon League action, Valparaiso compiled a 5-2 record to stay in the hunt for the league regular season championship. The Crusaders swept a doubleheader from Butler by identical 2-0 scores, split a twinbill at Wright State (W 3-2 ; L 4-2), and won two of three games from Youngstown State (W 4-1, L 7-2, W 13-5). Courtney LaFerle led the Crusaders at the plate on the week, hitting .350 with six RBIs, while Whitney Warner and Tracy Korth also hit .300 or better over the seven games. Ashley Wolter stole five bases on as many attempts, as Valpo stole 25 bases on the week. In the circle, Andrea Zappia threw 33 of the 49 innings, compiling a 5-1 record with 33 strikeouts.
On The Air: This week’s games will not be broadcast by WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso. The campus student radio station broadcasted 12 Crusader softball games live over its airwaves and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics this season.
Race for the Top: Entering the final weekend of Horizon League action, the Crusaders sit in second place in the league standings and trail Cleveland State by 1.5 games for the regular season championship. The scenario is simple for Valpo (assuming no cancellations): if it wins all three games this weekend against the Vikings, the Crusaders will be Horizon League regular season champions. If the Crusaders take two of three, they will finish in second place. If they only win one or get swept, the Crusaders would have to wait for the results of the other league games to figure out their final regular season placement.
Advantage Top Seed: With a regular season championship would come the top seed in the upcoming Horizon League Championship, which brings with it a big advantage during the four days of the tournament. If the top seed wins out through the tournament, it would have to play just one game per day, while all the other teams would have to play twice on at least one day of tournament play.
Record-Breaking Victory: Valparaiso’s win in the series opener against Youngstown State was one of the most historic in program history. It marked the Crusaders’ 28th win of the 2008 season, breaking the previous single-season victory record. Valpo had previously won 27 games on three occasions, including the 2007 season.
Uncharted Territory: While the single-season wins record is the most prominent of records in the Crusader softball record book, it is by no means the only mark Valpo has surpassed this year. Valpo is on pace to demolish the previous fielding percentage record, as it carries a .976 clip into this week. The Crusaders have also set single-season records for RBIs (162), strikeouts (274) and saves (8), and are second all-time in doubles (54) and runs scored (205).
Running Wild: Perhaps the most impressive of the Crusaders’ record-breaking efforts this year is their compliation of stolen bases. The previous team record for steals in a season entering this year was 77, but this year’s squad has already registered 123 stolen bases on just 146 attempts. Valpo currently ranks second in the nation with 2.70 stolen bases/game, trailing only SEC power Alabama. The Crusaders have stolen 50 more bases than the next-closest Horizon League squad. Five different players have taken at least ten bases on the year and rank among the top-eight in the league in the category.
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.
Saving the Best for Last: Andrea Zappia is enjoying her finest season as a Crusader during her senior year. Earlier this year, she broke Valpo’s career records for appearances and strikeouts, and had another record-setting week last week. In the Crusaders’ split at Wright State, Zappia broke Valpo’s single-season strikeouts mark, which she now holds at 161 K’s. Sunday, she earned a complete-game win over Youngstown State, her school-record 18th victory of the season.
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. On a national level, Zappia was one of 30 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.
Robinson Ties Mark: Senior catcher Shannon Robinson broke Valpo’s career hits record earlier this season and matched another record on Sunday, tying the Crusader career doubles record with the 37th and 38th two-baggers of her career. Robinson’s fingerprints are all over the Crusader record book, as she is currently second all-time in batting average, tied for second in RBIs, third in runs scored, total bases and putouts, and fourth in stolen bases.
Korb Keeps Stealing: Junior outfielder Karen Korb has picked right back up and started another streak of consecutive stolen bases since having her year-long stretch without being caught broken on April 15. Korb swiped four bases last week, making her 28-of-29 on the year on the basepaths and giving her a school-record 64 steals. In fact, Korb’s 28 thefts this year by itself would rank third on Valpo’s all-time career chart.
Wolter Driving Them In: Junior outfielder Ashley Wolter is having one of the best run-producing seasons in Valpo history. With a home run on Sunday, the junior now has 29 RBIs this season, tied for second-most in a single campaign all-time at Valpo and just two behind the record mark. In addition, the round-tripper was the 12th of her career, tied for second-most in Crusader history.
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 has swiped 17 bases on the year, second-most in the league behind only Korb and tied for fifth-most in a single year in Crusader history. Sundling is in fourth place in the league and seventh in Valpo’s single-season record book with 16 successful steals.
More League Honors: Four 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. 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, while Mallory Gill was named Player of the Week on April 14 after hitting .571 with six runs scored and ten RBIs over the previous week.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish enter Tuesday’s contest at 34-17-1 on the season and 12-6 on the Big East campaign and most recently swept Connecticut in a doubleheader on Sunday. Three regulars are hitting at least .300 for ND, led by senior outfielder Sarah Smith, who is swinging at a .385 clip on the season. In the circle, the Irish are led by junior hurler Brittney Bargar, who is among the top-20 pitchers in the nation with a 1.05 ERA in 234 innings of work.
Cleveland State: The Vikings come into this weekend’s series at 28-13 on the year and 13-3 in Horizon League action, sitting on top of the league standings after sweeping a three-game set at Loyola last weekend. Christa Coppus hits at a .371 clip to pace the Viking offense and has driven in a team-best 25 runs on the season, while in the circle, Amanda Macenko has been a stalwart, registering a 23-10 record with a 1.49 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 221 innings.