Valpo Set for 2011 HL Championship
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
#2 Valparaiso (32-19-1, 13-6 Horizon)
at 2011 Horizon League Championship - May 12-14 - Chicago, Ill.
May 12 - vs. #3 Butler OR #6 Wright State - 1:30 p.m.
May 13 & 14 - TBA
 
Next Up in Crusader Softball: Valparaiso enters the 2011 Horizon League Softball Championship this week as the tournament’s #2 seed after concluding the regular season just one-half game out of the top of the league standings.  With the #2 seed comes a bye, meaning the Crusaders could earn the tournament title with as few as three victories.

Previously: Valpo opened the final week of the regular season last Tuesday taking on #25/21 Notre Dame, eventually falling in six innings, 10-2.  The Crusaders then swept a pair of games from Cleveland State to close out the league slate, winning the first game 4-2, a contest which started on Saturday, was suspended in the fourth inning and completed Sunday.  Valpo concluded the regular season with a 3-0 victory over the Vikings.

Following the Crusaders: Games from Friday and Saturday at the Horizon League Championship will be video-streamed live online through the Horizon League Network.  Links will be available for those video broadcasts at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats for every game, as well as live chats.

Head Coach Jordan Stevens: Jordan Stevens is in his first season at the helm of the Crusader softball program.  Stevens came to Valpo from Union [N.Y.] College, where he led the Dutchwomen to their most successful season in program history in 2010, winning 32 games and conference regular season and tournament crowns.  Stevens also previously spent time as an assistant at Rhode Island and Niagara.

Series Notes:
Butler - 1-2 this year, 5-5 since joining HL, 19-15 overall; Strickland .333 (8-for-24), 3 runs; Boldt .300 (3-for-10), 4 runs, 5 RBIs; Lagesse 0.90 ERA in 23.1 IP, .195 OBA
Wright State - 3-0 this year, 4-8 since joining HL, 12-10 overall; Strickland .400 (12-for-30), 10 runs, 7 RBIs; Rutkowski .364 (12-for-33), 9 RBIs; Doerffler .600 (6-for-10), 5 runs
Loyola - 1-2 this year, 6-6 since joining HL, 20-32 overall; Conner .273 (9-for-33), 5 runs, 5 RBIs, 3 HR
Cleveland State - 2-0 this year, 3-8 since joining HL, 7-15 overall; Boldt .800 (4-for-5), 3 runs, 3 RBIs, 2 HR
UIC - 1-2 this year, 5-5 since joining HL, 10-52 overall; Rutkowski .412 (7-for-17), 2 runs, 8 RBIs; Strickland .400 (8-for-20), 6 runs, 4 RBIs, 2 HR; McGee 2.58 ERA in 21.2 IP

Plenty of Experience Returns: While Stevens is in his first go-round as coach of the Crusaders, he has an experienced team at his disposal, as 15 of 18 letterwinners from last year’s squad are back in 2011.  Included among the 15 returnees are eight starters and both primary starting pitchers from last year’s squad.

Crusaders Out-Pace Preseason Pick: Valparaiso was one of just two Horizon League softball programs to finish ahead of where the coaches had tabbed them in the preseason poll.  The Crusaders finished second in 2011, three spots ahead of their fifth-place projection.  The only other league team to finish ahead of their projection was Loyola, which was picked sixth but ultimately finished first.

Tops Versus the Tourney Field: The Crusaders enter this week’s tournament owning the best record of the six teams against the rest of the tournament field.  Valpo posted an 8-6 mark against the other five teams in the bracket, beating all five squads at least once.  UIC finished 7-6 against the rest of the field, while Butler (7-7), Loyola (7-7) and Cleveland State (6-6) all finished at the .500 mark.  Wright State (6-9) was the only team to own a sub-.500 record versus the field.

Second for the Second Time: 2011 marks the second time in Valpo’s four years as a Horizon League member that the Crusaders have finished second in the league’s final regular season standings.  The 1/2 game back of the top of the standings was the closest Valpo has been to a championship in that four-year span as well.  The other second place finish came in 2008, Valpo’s first season of Horizon League competition.

Big Bats: The Crusaders’ stretch of nine wins in their last 11 games has been punctuated by a potent offense.  Over the regular season-ending stretch, Valpo hit .332 as a team and averaged nine runs per game, including 16 home runs over that time frame as well.  Three members of the starting lineup (Rutkowski, Conner, Lagesse) hit better than .400 over the last 11 games of the regular season, while three others hit at least .300.

Caution - Falling Records: Valpo’s offensive prowess this season has the squad in position to possibly break a number of team single-season records, depending on the squad’s performance at the league tournament this weekend.  One mark that has already gone down this year is the single-season home run record, which now stands at 48 after KC Boldt’s two bombs Sunday against Cleveland State.  Ten different players have connected on round-trippers this year, with six of those ten tallying at least four home runs.

Moving On Up: Boldt joined the Crusaders’ group of individuals this season who have matched or surpassed either single-season or career records as well.  Boldt’s pair of homers give her 10 round-trippers this year, tied with Jordan Rutkowski for the most in a single year in Valpo history.  Rutkowski has also set the single-season RBI record this year, while six different career records have fallen by the wayside as well.  A complete updated record book can be found on the back end of this week’s notes.

Player of the Week: For the fourth time this year and the second strraight week, a Crusader player has earned weekly honors from the Horizon League office, as KC Boldt earned the final Player of the Week honor of the year.  Boldt went 5-for-6 last week, also walking twice as well.  She scored the first run in a 4-2 victory over CSU in the opener, and accounted for all three Valpo runs with a pair of homers in the nightcap win.  Boldt joins Jessie Marinec (Feb. 28, Player), Alex Lagesse (Mar. 28, Pitcher) and Sadie Conner (May 2, Player) as weekly honorees by the league this season.

Seven Up: The Crusaders set a new program record as the Horizon League’s postseason honors were announced on Tuesday afternoon, as seven Valpo players received accolades.  Juniors Jordan Rutkowski and Sara Strickland both were named to the All-League First Team, while seniors KC Boldt and Sadie Conner were joined by junior Alex Lagesse on the All-League Second Team.  The Crusaders’ keystone combo of freshmen Angie Doerffler and Amanda Wisniewski both earned spots on the league’s All-Newcomer Team.

Lucky 13: Valparaiso set a new school record for the longest winning streak in program history earlier this year, as a loss in the opening game of a doubleheader April 2 against UIC snapped the Crusaders’ string of consecutive wins at 13.  Valpo, which had not lost since a March 8 affair against South Dakota, easily surpassed the previous program record of nine straight victories, accomplished twice.

In Impressive Fashion, Too: Almost as impressive as the string of consecutive victories was the manner in which the Crusaders won those games.  Valpo faced no one-run decisions during the winning streak and only had two games decided by two runs.  In fact, the Crusaders trailed just twice in the 13 games: after the top of the 1st against Florida A&M, down 1-0, tied the game in the bottom of the 1st; and after the bottom of the 1st in game 2 at NIU, down 1-0, took the lead in the top of the 2nd.

Fit to be Tied: For the first time in six seasons, Valpo had a game end in a tie, as the nightcap of an April 7 twinbill against Purdue at the VU Softball Field was called after five innings tied 4-4 due to darkness.  Coincidentally enough, the last time the Crusaders had a game called a tie was also against Purdue in Valpo, a 4-4, nine-inning tie on April 19, 2005.  The only other previous tie came on Mar. 26, 1986 against DePaul, a 0-0, six-inning game that actually ended as a double no-hitter.

Bringing Home the Hardware: For the first time in the modern era, the Crusader softball team earned a tournament championship by capturing Stetson’s Hatter Classic in late February.  Valpo got back-to-back homers from KC Boldt and Tori Brown in the second to take the lead for good in a 5-2 win over Bethune-Cookman in the championship game on Feb. 27.

Home Field Advantage: Valparaiso closed out the home slate this past weekend with a pair of victories over Cleveland State, improving its record at the Valparaiso University Softball Field this season to 10-3-1.  Among the home results this year were the program’s first ever victory over Michigan State and a tie with Purdue.  Sunday’s pair of wins assured Valpo of double-digit victories at home for the fifth time in the nine-year history of the team’s softball facility.

Simply Perfect: Alex Lagesse threw a perfect game for the Crusaders in their Horizon League opener against Detroit Mar. 26, setting down all 15 batters she faced, eight via strikeout.  Lagesse didn’t allow a ball into the outfield after the first inning of the perfect gem, her second career no-hitter, joining a no-no against Bryant her freshman year.  The perfect game is believed to be a Crusader program first, while Lagesse becomes just the third Crusader all-time to throw multiple no-hitters, along with Laurie Pajakowski and Kathy Doering.

A Look at the Honorees: Here’s a look at each of the Crusaders’ seven league postseason honorees this year.
 
Jordan Rutkowski - The junior, a Second Team honoree last season, has already set new Valpo single-season records for home runs (10) and RBIs (42), while also breaking the Crusader career RBI record along the way.  The junior catcher leads the league overall in RBIs and is tied at the top in runs scored (38), while she ranks second in on base percentage (.434), home runs and total bases (89).  Rutkowski hit at a .394 clip in league-only play, good for fourth in the league, while she also ranks among the league’s top-five in league-only action in on base percentage, runs, stolen bases, RBIs and slugging percentage.
 
Sara Strickland - The junior receives First Team accolades for the third time in as many seasons as a Crusader after breaking Valpo career records in hits, runs, total bases and doubles.  Strickland leads the league by far with 16 doubles on the year, second-most in a single year in Crusader history, and is hitting at a team-high .365 clip for the season, good for fourth in the league.  The junior also ranks among the Horizon League’s best in hits (61, 2nd), total bases (89, t-2nd), on base percentage (.434, 3rd), stolen bases (14, t-4th) and runs scored (35, 5th).
 
KC Boldt - This senior capped her final regular season with a pair of homers in the Crusaders’ win over Cleveland State, helping Valpo clinch the two seed for the HL Championship.  Boldt is tied with Rutkowski atop Valpo’s single-season home run chart with 10 round-trippers this year.  Boldt saved her best efforts for Horizon League play, pacing the circuit in league-only games in runs scored (17), home runs (7) and RBIs (25) while slugging at a .686 clip.  Overall, the senior is tied for second among HL players in both home runs and RBIs (40) and also ranks among the top-five in slugging percentage (.604, 3rd), runs scored (36, 4th) and total bases (87, t-5th).
 
Sadie Conner - The senior was named to the Second Team this year, her second career All-League accolade, after a season in which she moved into a tie atop Valpo’s all-time charts for career home runs.  Conner cemented herself as one of the Horizon League’s top sluggers in league play, closing the regular season atop the league-only charts in home runs (7), third in slugging percentage (.692) and tied for third in runs scored (16).  Overall this season, the senior has tallied nine home runs and 34 RBIs, both tied for fifth-most among league athletes.
 
Alex Lagesse - The junior earns a spot on the Second Team for the first time in her career after excelling both in the circle and at the plate.  Lagesse posted 12 wins overall this year with 100 strikeouts and a 2.71 ERA in 29 appearances at pitcher, picking up seven of those victories and 67 of those strikeouts against Horizon League foes, whom she held to a .240 batting average against on the year.  Lagesse also saw some action at the plate in league play, going 11-for-27 (.407) at the dish in ten games against HL opposition, including three doubles and her first career home run.
 
Angie Doerffler - Doerffler received a spot on the All-Newcomer Team after starting every game of the regular season at shortstop as a freshman for the Crusaders.  Doerffler has crossed the plate 38 times this season, already tied for fourth-most in a single season in Valpo history and tied atop the Horizon League charts.  17 of those runs have come in HL play, also tied atop the league leaders as well.  Defensively, the freshman has tallied 124 assists this season, leading the league and third-most in a single year all-time at Valpo.
 
Amanda Wisniewski - Wisniewski earns her selection to the All-Newcomer Team as well after a freshman year in which she has started most of the season for Valpo at second base.  Wisniewski is hitting .286 on the season with 20 RBIs and 20 runs scored.  The freshman has also picked up 16 walks en route to a .377 on base percentage, fourth-best among Crusader regulars, and is slugging at a .464 clip on the year, thanks in large part to five home runs.