The Valparaiso softball team captured its first game Thursday at the Rebel Spring Games, out-slugging Holy Cross 12-7, but fell in the nightcap to Fairfield in eight innings, 4-3.
“Many of our players out there are freshmen and sophomores, youngsters who are going to make mistakes as they learn,” said Crusader head coach Randy Schneider. “Right now, some of these mistakes are just unfortunately coming at bad times, but the good news is a lot of them are making up for it with their performance at the plate. We really are doing a good job staying focused on the purpose of this trip, which is to get better one game at a time. The tight, competitive games we have played early on here are great experiences to learn from.”
The scoring got started right away for Valpo in the opener, as Karen Korb (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran) and Jill Jacobson (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) both scored as Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) reached on an error three batters into the game. Joylyn Ichiyama (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) added an RBI groundout later in the inning, plating Ashley Wolter (Denver, Iowa/Denver), to make it 3-0 Brown and Gold after one.
Valparaiso added two more runs in the second on RBI singles by Jacobson and Rutkowski to go ahead 5-0, but Holy Cross scored four runs of its own in the bottom of the fourth on a 2-RBI double by Nicole Ortiz and a two-run homer by Courtney Nealon, both with two outs and unearned. Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) came into the game in relief in the circle and induced a lineout to get Valpo out of the inning still ahead by a run.
Valpo then exploded in the top of the fifth inning for seven runs on seven hits, all singles. Ichiyama registered a 2-RBI single during the frame, while Sara Strickland (Phoenix, Ariz./Horizon) and Korb followed with RBI singles of their own. After Holy Cross’ second pitching change of the inning, Jacobson recorded a sacrifice fly and Rutkowski tallied her second single of the inning, this one plating two runs to give Valparaiso a 12-4 lead.
Holy Cross did not go down without a fight, scoring three runs of its own in the bottom of the fifth to get within 12-7 with runners on second and third and one out, but McGee got a strikeout and a flyout to squelch the threat. Holy Cross would not get a runner in scoring position for the rest of the game.
Korb, Rutkowski and Wolter all had three hits in the win over Holy Cross, as Valpo tallied 16 hits as a team. Rutkowski also drove in four runs, while Ichiyama added three RBIs. McGee picked up the win, going 3.1 innings in relief to improve to 1-0 on the season, while Holy Cross starter Natalie Cruz was charged with the loss, giving up seven runs in her 4+ innings of work.
The Crusaders got out to the early lead against Fairfield as well, as Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) recorded a sacrifice fly and Ichiyama tallied another RBI single to make it 2-0 Valpo after two innings. The Stags responded with three runs, all unearned, in their half of the fifth, as Dani Griswold registered an RBI single and Kayla Marth drove in two more with a double.
Valpo responded right away to tie the game, as Strickland led off the bottom half of the frame with a single, advancing to second on an error, and two batters later came home on a Jacobson sacrifice fly. Both teams put multiple runners in scoring position in the final two innings of regulation, but neither squad could push across the late go-ahead run.
With the game entering extra innings in the eighth, the international tiebreak rule was invoked, which places a runner on second base to start the inning. Fairfield took advantage, as Laura Carta advanced to third on an error on the leadoff hitter and eventually came home on a passed ball to put Fairfield ahead 4-3. The Stags had another runner on third with none out, but two strikeouts and a lineout prevented them from scoring any more runs.
Korb was the runner placed on second for the Crusaders in their half of the eighth, and she was immediately sacrificed over to third base with one out. But a pop-out to the outfield was not deep enough for the senior to tag up on, and a fly out ended the game in Fairfield’s favor.
Wolter went 2-for-3 to lead the Crusader offense in the nightcap. She also stole two bases among the five Valpo steals against Fairfield, as the Crusaders went 8-for-10 on the basepaths on the day.
Stephanie Kelly (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield) took the tough-luck loss against the Stags, allowing just the one unearned run in her 3.2 innings of relief to fall to 1-2 on the campaign. Shaleigh Jansen (Ottawa, Ill./Ottawa Township) had a solid outing in her first career start, going 4.1 innings and only giving up one hit. Sarah Minice earned the complete-game victory for Fairfield.
“I thought both Shaleigh and Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) came in and did well today making their first collegiate starts at pitcher,” said Schneider. “Some of the situations they were placed in affected the way they could pitch, and we’ve got to do a better job getting through those tough situations so that they can get some confidence.”
Valparaiso (2-3) returns to the field on Friday, playing the same two squads again. The Crusaders will face Fairfield at 12 p.m. CST before taking on Holy Cross at 2 p.m.