Valparaiso at Wright State - Tuesday, April 27 (DH); 1 p.m. CDT - Wednesday, April 28; 1 p.m. CDT
Youngstown State at Valparaiso - Saturday, May 1 (DH); noon - Sunday, May 2; noon
The Matchups: Valparaiso (29-13, 9-3 Horizon) is set for the most crucial week of the season to date, with six Horizon League contests on the slate. The Crusaders travel to Wright State (20-24-1, 11-7 Horizon) for a mid-week series Tuesday and Wednesday before returning home this weekend to host Youngstown State (13-30, 6-12 Horizon). Seniors Carrie Franson and Whitney Warner will be honored during Senior Day ceremonies Saturday at the Valparaiso University Softball Field.
Previously in Valpo Softball: Valparaiso took #23/25 Notre Dame to the wire Wednesday before dropping a 7-6 decision, but rebounded to sweep a key Horizon League doubleheader from Loyola on Saturday by scores of 4-0 and 9-1. The Crusaders’ game Sunday against the Ramblers was rained out.
Series Histories: Wright State - The Crusaders hold a 9-6 edge in the all-time series over Wright State, but the Raiders took all three games in Valpo last season April 1-2 by scores of 9-7 (10 inn.), 9-0 and 6-2. The three-game sweep gives the Raiders a 4-1 advantage over the Crusaders since Valpo joined the Horizon League.
Youngstown State - Valpo is 14-5 overall against Youngstown State and 6-1 against the Penguins since joining the Horizon League, including four victories in as many games last year. The Crusaders swept a rare tripleheader from the Penguins in Youngstown on April 11 by scores of 13-8, 3-1 and 8-0, and also defeated YSU on May 8 in the HL Championship, 10-2. Sara Strickland went 8-for-12 with ten runs scored over the four games, while Jill Jacobson tallied seven RBIs in the season series.
Following the Crusaders: Valpo’s student-run radio station, WVUR, 95.1 FM, will be broadcasting all three games of the weekend series against Youngstown State. Live audio for the YSU series, as well as live stats for all six games this week, will be available at www.valpoathletics.com, as well as live chats both days on the road from Wright State.
Only League Games Left: The Crusaders can set their total focus on closing out Horizon League play as strong as possible, as following the game against Notre Dame last Wednesday, Valpo was left with just four Horizon League series on the regular-season schedule. If all the remaining games get played as scheduled, it will be the most consecutive league contests to close out a regular season in program history.
Looking at the Standings: With only the top six teams in the final Horizon League standings making the league championship this year, the regular season becomes more paramount, and the Crusaders have put themselves in good position. While they have not quite mathematically clinched a berth yet, they are very near to doing so, and are also right in the hunt for a top-two seed and a first-round bye. But Valpo is in a unique spot, as due to rainouts and a backloaded schedule, it has played the fewest league games to date, giving it the greatest control of its own destiny over the final two weeks.
Raindrops Keep Falling on the Field: Rain plagued the Crusader efforts to complete a three-game home Horizon League series for the third time this year, as Valpo’s finale with Loyola was rained out. All three of Valpo’s home league series have been cut short to two games due to rain this year. Total, the Crusaders have lost seven games to inclement weather, including five home contests.
Key Hits Return: Valparaiso got back to its norm with its bats last week, hitting a robust .366 over the trio of games. Most importantly, however, the Crusaders started hitting again with runners in scoring position and bringing runs home. Valpo went 13-for-34 (.382) with RISP en route to scoring 19 runs over the three games.
Pitching Keeps Plugging Along: The Crusader pitching staff has been nothing short of stellar all season long, giving up two runs or fewer in 24 of Valpo’s 42 outings. After struggling against nationally-ranked Notre Dame on Wednesday, Alex Lagesse and Sam McGee combined for 12 innings of one-run ball against Loyola, dropping the staff’s season ERA to 1.93. Even more impressive is Valpo’s ERA in league play, a miniscule 1.08, easily the best in the league.
Nearing the Wins Record: With 29 wins, the Crusaders enter this week second in program history for wins in a single season and just one off the record of 30, set in 2008. Wins is just one of the many categories that Valpo will threaten this year, as a look at the single-season record book shows a ton of categories it will finish at or near the top of the charts in, while many individuals are cracking single-season charts as well. A full list of top-fives already reached can be found on page three of the notes.
Raking in the Honors: Valparaiso has dominated the Horizon League weekly awards this season, bringing home eight honors already in 2010. Kelsey Phalen and Shaleigh Jansen swept the Batter and Pitcher of the Week honors, respectively, following the Crusaders’ opening weekend of action February 15. Jordan Rutkowski was named the Batter of the Week March 1, while Alex Lagesse earned Pitcher of the Week accolades March 8. Most recently, Lisa DeBruzzi was awarded Batter of the Week honors March 15, and Lagesse earned her second Pitcher of the Week award March 22. On March 29, Valpo again earned a double honor, as Sadie Conner was named Batter of the Week, while Lagesse repeated as Pitcher of the Week, her third honor of the season.
Youth Shall Be Served: The 2010 edition of the Valparaiso softball team is an extremely young edition, as this year’s Crusaders have just two seniors (catcher Whitney Warner; pitcher Carrie Franson). Five juniors, seven sophomores and five freshmen round out the 19-player squad.
Conner Dominates League: Junior Sadie Conner has been nearly unstoppable at the plate during Horizon League play. The Crusader third baseman went 4-for-6 with two doubles and a homer in Valpo’s two wins over Loyola Saturday, adding to an already stellar league season. Conner is now 23-for-39 (.590) at the dish in Valpo’s 12 league games, with 11 runs scored and 16 RBIs. She has registered ten extra-base hits in league play (six doubles, four homers), giving her a slugging percentage north of 1.000 against league opponents. Overall this season, the junior is second on the team in batting average and leads the way in slugging, while her seven home runs are already fourth-most in a single season in Valpo history.
Strickland Solid at the Top: Sophomore Sara Strickland, coming off a 2009 rookie season in which she was named HL Newcomer of the Year, has moved back to her natural outfield position this year and has continued to be consistent at the plate. On the year, Strickland is pacing the Crusaders with a .389 batting average, good for fourth in the league, and is also leading the way with 12 doubles and 16 stolen bases. Last week, the sophomore was solid, putting up three hits at #23/25 Notre Dame en route to a 5-for-9, three R, three RBI week.
Marinec Produces: Freshman Jessie Marinec has quietly been one of Valpo’s most productive batters this season. Marinec enters this week with a .350 batting average and is third on the team with a .427 on-base percentage. The freshman is tied for team-high honors with 31 runs scored, already fifth-most in a single season in Crusader history. Last week, Marinec went 4-for-8 at the plate, extending her current hitting streak to five games.
Walk This Way, Jordan: Sophomore Jordan Rutkowski has proven to be among the Horizon League’s best this year at drawing walks. Rutkowski took three free passes last week, increasing her season total to 22, tied for fifth in the league and already tied for fourth-most in a single season in Valpo history. Combined with her .375 batting average, the walks Rutkowski has drawn make for an on-base percentage of .485, tops on the team and second in the league.
Kelsey Produces Runs: Sophomore Kelsey Phalen scored three runs and drove in a pair last week with a two-run homer at #23/25 Notre Dame, giving her 31 runs scored and 30 RBIs on the year. Both already rank among the top-five single-season performances in Crusader history and make her only the second Valpo player ever to tally 30+ runs and RBIs in the same season (Gina Rhoda, 1986).
McGee Shuts Down Bats: Sophomore Sam McGee continued her stellar Horizon League campaign as well, earning a complete-game four-hitter against the Ramblers in Saturday’s nightcap. McGee is now 4-1 this year with a 1.27 ERA against league foes, allowing league opponents to hit just .206 against her. Overall, she lowered her ERA to 1.96 and improved her record to 12-3.
Lagesse Dominates Foes: Sophomore Alex Lagesse kicked off her week with a stellar showing at #23/25 Notre Dame, giving up just one earned run (three total) in her 4.2 innings of work against the Irish. She parlayed that success into a three-hit shutout three days later against Loyola, walking nobody and striking out eight. On the year, Lagesse is 12-7 with a 1.55 ERA, allowing opponents to hit just .226 against her. She has been even better in league-only action, posting a 4-2 mark with a 1.07 ERA, including three shutouts. She has struck out 26 batters while walking just two in 32.2 innings of work against Horizon League teams.
Quickly: Sophomore Joylyn Ichiyama picked up a three-RBI double against Loyola in the 4-0 victory, her first extra-base hit since March 31 ... senior Whitney Warner hit a pinch-hit RBI single in the nightcap against the Ramblers for her 60th career run driven in ... Warner and fellow senior Carrie Franson have now been a part of 111 victories over their four years ... Valpo has already clinched its best home record (by winning pct.) in eight years of playing at its current home field, and with a three-game sweep, would set a new record for home wins in a single season (12).