The Valparaiso softball team closed out the Ramada Inn UNI Dome Classic on a three-game winning streak, as the Crusaders defeated Drake on Sunday afternoon, 5-3, in Ames, Iowa.
"Yesterday and today, we just had a totally different approach than on Friday," said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. "The way we played the last two days really paid off with a couple of wins against quality programs, and today was a good win to close the weekend."
The Crusaders took it to the Bulldogs right away on Sunday, scoring three runs in the top of the first inning. The first two Valpo batters went down in order before senior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) drew a two-out walk. After Strickland stole second and advanced to third on an error, freshman Brittany Duncan (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn) tallied an RBI single to give Valpo the lead.
Two batters later, redshirt junior Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) picked up an RBI single to score Duncan. Then senior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) registered the Crusaders’ third two-out RBI base hit of the inning, recording a base knock which scored senior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) to give Valpo a 3-0 lead after just one-half inning.
Drake would cut the Crusaders’ lead to one run in the bottom of the first, scoring runs on a wild pitch and an RBI double to make it 3-2 after one frame. The teams would then go scoreless for the next four innings, with each team mounting just one threat over that time. A pair of walks loaded the bases with two outs for Valpo in the fourth, but a flyout ended the Crusaders’ threat. Meanwhile, Drake got a leadoff double in the fifth from Nicole Randel, who advanced to third with one out, but a groundout and a lineout squelched any chance of the Bulldogs tying the contest.
With just a one-run lead heading into the sixth inning, the Crusaders got a pair of key insurance runs. Rutkowski led off the inning with her third hit of the day, a single, setting the stage for Ichiyama-Drewry. The redshirt junior blasted her first home run since May 8, 2010, pushing the Crusaders’ lead up to 5-2. Drake scored one run on a Valpo error in the bottom of the sixth, but would get no closer, as the Bulldogs couldn’t do anything with a leadoff double in the seventh inning.
"Both teams came out strong today in the first inning and then both buckled down defensively," said Stevens. "Joy came up with a big hit to give us some separation in the top of the sixth. Drake came back and had opportunities, but Alex did a good job battling and keeping us in the game."
Valpo was led Sunday by Rutkowski, who registered her first four-hit day since March of 2010, going 4-for-4 with two runs scored in the winning effort. Duncan, Phalen and Ichiyama-Drewry each picked up two hits as well on Sunday. Senior Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) improved to 2-0 with the complete-game victory, surrendering two earned runs over the seven innings while giving up just five hits. Jordan Gronewald took the loss for Drake (2-2), falling to 1-1 on the season after going the distance on Sunday.
"It was a good weekend all around," said Stevens. "We got good performances from a number of different players. It was a good start to the season, and now we just have to keep working on things and head down to Chattanooga in two weeks."
Valparaiso (3-1) will start its spring break road trip in two weekends, as the Crusaders travel to Chattanooga, Tenn. to take part in the Frost Classic. Valpo’s first games in the tournament come on Friday, Feb. 24, when Valpo faces East Tennessee State and UT-Chattanooga.