Valparaiso head coach Jordan Stevens earned his first victory at the helm of the Crusaders as they pounded out 16 hits in a 9-4 victory over Western Illinois in their second game at the Cyclone Indoor Invitational in Ames, Iowa. In the season opener, Valpo dropped a 2-1 decision to Creighton.
“It was nice to actually see us on the field in game situations today,” said Stevens. “Even though we are still indoors, it’s good to finally get on a full-scale field, to see where we’re at as a team and what we still need to work on over the next couple weeks.”
Western Illinois scored single runs off of the Crusaders and starter Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) in each of the first two innings to take a 2-0 lead, but Valpo exploded in the bottom of the second, starting the inning with seven straight hits. Sophomore Tori Brown (Harrison, Ohio/Harrison) started off the frame with a single and stole second before coming around to score after a single by sophomore Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist). Freshman Amanda Wisniewski (Lake in the Hills, Ill./Huntley) then dropped down a bunt single, and fellow rookie Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) followed with an RBI double to tie the game.
Back at the top of the order, junior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) kept the train rolling with a 2-RBI double, plating both of the freshmen to give the Crusaders a 4-2 edge. The Leathernecks then made a pitching change, but the hits kept coming, as sophomore Jennifer Hermanson (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) singled to put runners on the corners for junior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden). Rutkowski delivered Valpo’s seventh straight hit, a single which scored Strickland to make it 5-2 Valpo.
Two batters later, Hermanson came home on a wild pitch to increase the lead to four runs. Senior Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) then connected for a ground-rule double that brought home Rutkowski with Valpo’s seventh run of the inning, capping the frame as the Crusaders owned a 7-2 advantage.
Wisniewski gave Valpo another insurance tally in the bottom of the third, blasting a leadoff homer to straightaway center field to push the lead up to 8-2. But despite the six-run deficit, Western Illinois (0-3) didn’t go away, scoring once in the fourth and then getting the first two runners on in the fifth.
Junior Shaleigh Jansen (Ottawa, Ill./Ottawa Township) entered in relief and hit the first batter she faced to load the bases before striking out the next two batters. An error allowed the Leathernecks to plate a run, cutting Valpo’s lead to 8-4, but with the potential tying run at the plate, Jansen induced a groundout to third to get the Crusaders out of the inning.
Wisniewski was responsible for another insurance run in the bottom of the fifth, drawing a one-out walk and working her way over to third three batters later, where Hermanson drove her in with an RBI single for the game’s final run. Jansen shut the door from there on the Leathernecks, retiring the last six batters in order, only one of which even got the ball out of the infield.
McGee earned the win with her four-plus innings of work, her 24th career victory, already tied for seventh-most all-time at Valpo. One year after finishing second in the nation and setting a new Crusader single-season record for saves, Jansen picked up a save in her first appearance, working three hitless innings. Seven different Crusaders had two-hit games as all nine starters picked up at least one hit. Wisniewski led all players with three runs scored, while Strickland was the only Valpo player to drive in multiple runs.
“What I liked about our hitting in the second game was that we waited for pitches we could hit,” said Stevens. “We took much better swings and had much better plate appearances. It’s not that we swung bad in the first game, but we were just antsy, and I think that comes with it being the first game. We just took a much better approach to game two, and I was pleased we settled down fairly quickly, playing another team that wanted its first win.”
WIU starter Hailey Bickford took the loss, surrendering five runs on seven hits as she only pitched into the second inning. Bickford did go 2-for-4 at the plate with two runs scored, while Kelsey Michelini, who finished the game in the circle, also tallied two hits.
Junior Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) pitched a solid game for the Crusaders in their season opener against Creighton (2-1), limiting the Blue Jays, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, to just two runs while scattering five hits and striking out seven in the complete-game effort, but eventually took the loss. Creighton scored its runs on single tallies in the second and third innings to take a 2-0 lead.
Rutkowski got Valpo on the board with a deep solo home run with one out in the fourth to cut the deficit in half, but the Crusaders’ only hope for the tying run came in the seventh when Lagesse singled with two outs. But a strikeout ended the game for Valpo, as Creighton’s Becca Changstrom picked up her second win of the year with a complete-game three-hitter, striking out 12. Rutkowski went 2-for-3 against the Blue Jays and ended the day with four hits, while Lagesse totaled three hits over the two games.
“Jordan really had a good day today,” said Stevens. “She swung the bat very aggressively and also played well behind the plate, throwing out a pair of baserunners. I also was happy to see two of our freshmen (Doerffler, Wisniewski) get their first career hits as well.”
Valparaiso (1-1) concludes play in Ames on Sunday with a doubleheader against Iowa State. First pitch of the first game is slated for 11 a.m.