Valparaiso took the opening game of a doubleheader at Cleveland State on Sunday, 1-0 in eight innings, giving itself a shot to win the Horizon League regular season championship in the finale, but the Vikings rebounded for a 4-1 win over the Crusaders in the nightcap.
“I really thought today provided us with a great experience, to come down to the last two hours of the regular season with a chance to win the championship.” said Crusader head coach Randy Schneider. “We played good softball today, but a couple mishaps in the second game just took the wind out of us. I give a lot of credit to Cleveland State, they came up with plays when they needed them.”
The opener was an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel, as Crusader senior Andrea Zappia (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) went head-to-head with Viking sophomore Amanda Macenko. Neither team mounted a serious scoring threat until the bottom of the fifth, when the Vikings placed runners on first and second with two outs. Haley Keller lined a single into center field, but Karen Korb (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran North) threw a strike to the plate to nail Christa Coppus trying to score.
Valpo’s best scoring threat in regulation came in the top of the seventh, as Shannon Robinson (Toronto, Ontario/John Redmond) reached second with two outs after a CSU error, but Macenko registered a strikeout to squelch the threat. The Vikings had a runner on second with two outs in the bottom of the frame as well, but could not push the run across and the game went to extra innings scoreless.
Mallory Gill (Beloit, Wis./Memorial) led off the eighth with a first-pitch double to the left-center gap, and pinch-runner Aubrey Sundling (Huntington, Ind./Huntington North) moved over to third on an infield single by Tracy Korth (Elgin, Ill./Larkin [Elgin C.C.]). After Korth stole second, Macenko induced a flyout for the first out of the inning. But pinch-hitter Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) stepped up and blooped an RBI single into left field to plate Sundling with the decisive run. Zappia set down the Vikings in order in the bottom of the inning to secure the victory.
Zappia allowed just two hits for the complete-game victory, striking out four Viking hitters in her fifth shutout of the year. Macenko took the loss for Cleveland State, allowing four hits in her eight innings of work.
Both hurlers started the second game as well and threw matching zeros on the board in the first three innings. But Cleveland State (29-16, 14-4 Horizon) broke through in the fourth inning, scoring the game’s opening tally on a single to shallow left field by Amanda Houchin. The Vikings added three more runs in the fifth inning, getting a solo home run from Danielle Young followed by two unearned tallies to go ahead 4-0.
The Crusaders would not go down without a fight, mounting a seventh-inning rally. Courtney LaFerle (Elgin, Ill./Larkin) led off with a single to center field, and Gill reached on a botched double-play attempt to put runners on second and third with none out. Following a strikeout, Whitney Warner (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) drove in pinch-runner Sundling with a groundout to pull Valpo within three, but Macenko forced a groundout to end the game.
Zappia moved to 19-8 on the season after taking the loss in the nightcap, going 4.2 innings. Stephanie Kelly (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield) and Jill Jacobson (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) combined to shut out the Vikings over the final 1.1 innings. Macenko improved to 24-12 with the complete-game win in the second game. Korth and Ashley Wolter (Denver, Iowa/Denver) each had two hits on the day to pace the Crusader offense.
“It’s been a fun year so far,” said Schneider. “To finish the regular season with 30 wins and to come two innings from winning the title is a great year. Now, we have to refocus and be ready for next week’s tournament.”Valparaiso (30-17, 12-5 Horizon) clinched the second seed for next weekend’s Horizon League Championship, finishing three spots higher than it was projected in the preseason poll. The Crusaders will open the Championship, being hosted by Loyola, at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 8, facing the winner of a first-round game between the fifth seed and eighth seed, a matchup to be determined following the remainder of today’s league games.