Valparaiso (7-2, 0-0 Horizon)
at UTEP Invitational (El Paso, Texas)
Friday, March 2 - vs. Iowa State (4-9) - 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 3 - vs. Brown (0-0) - 3 p.m.
vs. UTSA (5-8) - 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 4 - at UTEP (4-10) - noon
Next Up in Crusader Softball: Valparaiso looks to continue its strong start to the 2012 season at the UTEP Invitational in El Paso, Texas this weekend. The four-game, three-day event sees the Crusaders face off against Iowa State, Brown and UTSA in addition to the host.
Previously: Valpo posted a 4-1 mark last weekend at the Frost Classic, hosted by UT-Chattanooga. The Crusaders opened with an extra-inning win over East Tennessee State before falling to the host Mocs. Valpo closed the weekend with three straight wins, downing UT-Martin, Niagara and Belmont.
Following the Crusaders: Live stats from all four of the Crusaders’ games this weekend from El Paso will be available through www.valpoathletics.com.
Head Coach Jordan Stevens: Jordan Stevens enters his second season at the helm of the Valparaiso University softball program in 2012 after leading the Crusaders to a successful season in his first year in charge in 2011. Stevens, who now owns a record of 41-23-1 at the helm of the Crusaders, guided Valpo to 34 victories in his debut campaign, just one win shy of the program's single-season record. Valpo finished Horizon League play with a 15-7 record, finishing just one-half game out of the regular season championship, and was within one run of advancing to the league tournament championship.
Series Notes: Valpo has faced just one out of its four foes this weekend previously in program history. The Crusaders have taken on Iowa State on six occasions, owning a 2-4 record, including an 11-5 victory over the Cyclones earlier this season in Ames. Brittany Duncan drove in four runs in the winning effort, while four different players scored two runs apiece. Valpo has never met Brown, UTSA or UTEP in softball action.
Crusaders Picked Fifth in Preseason Poll: The head coaches selected Valparaiso to finish fourth in the Horizon League this season according to the preseason poll. UIC topped the polling with 60 points and six first-place votes, while Butler had two first-place votes and 55 points to place second. The Crusaders, who totaled 45 points, finished just behind Loyola in the voting.
Plenty of Experience Returns: For the second straight year, the Crusaders bring back the vast majority of their team from a season ago. Of last year’s 18 letterwinners, 15 are back on the Valpo roster for 2012, including seven of the nine regular position players, as well as all four pitchers.
Best Start Ever: Valpo’s 7-2 record through the season’s first nine games matches the best nine-game opening stretch in program history. The Crusaders previously started off with a 7-2 mark in the 1983 and 1989 seasons, meaning it has been 23 years since Valpo has started a season this strong.
Walks vs. Strikeouts: Last season, the Crusaders struck out more than twice as often as they drew walks (317 Ks, 146 BBs), but this season so far, they have been much more efficient at the plate. Valpo batters have struck out just 33 times through the season’s first nine games, an average of just 3.7 Ks/game, and have walked 21 times. Meanwhile, Valpo pitchers are averaging better than three strikeouts for every walk, registering 54 strikeouts against just 16 walks through nine games.
League Honorees: Through two weekends of play, the Crusaders already boast three Horizon League weekly award winners. Most recently, senior Jordan Rutkowski earned her second career Player of the Week accolade from the league office. Following the first weekend of action, freshman Brittany Duncan was named the Horizon League Player of the Week (her first career honor), while senior Alex Lagesse earned HL Pitcher of the Week accolades, her sixth career award, fifth-most in league history.
Rutkowski Raked Last Weekend: Senior Jordan Rutkowski had a monster weekend at the plate at the Frost Classic, helping Valpo to a 4-1 record. The senior earned Player of the Week honors after hitting .533 (8-of-15) over the five games last weekend and slugged at an impressive 1.267 clip, picking up two doubles and three home runs. In Valpo’s win over UT-Martin Saturday, Rutkowski went 2-for-3 with a home run, two runs scored and three RBIs, and followed in a run-rule victory over Niagara by hitting her second career grand slam as part of a career-high six-RBI game, going 2-for-3 with a pair of round trippers.
Returning to the Lineup: Redshirt junior Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry sat out last season and got off to a slow start this year, going hitless in her first seven at-bats of 2012. Since then, however, the Crusader third baseman has gone 9-for-18 with four runs scored and six RBIs, including a pair of home runs. Ichiyama-Drewry has tallied hits in five of the last six games, including three multi-hit efforts, and had a monster effort in Valpo’s win over UT-Martin, going 3-for-3 with two runs scored and four RBIs.
Jansen Mows Them Down: Senior Shaleigh Jansen didn’t pitch in the Crusaders’ first weekend of the season, but had a pair of stellar efforts last weekend. Jansen, who pitched the final 5.2 innings of Valpo’s loss to UT-Chattanooga, came in against UT-Martin in the fourth inning and threw 3.1 shutout innings to register her first victory of the year. She then closed out the tournament with a pair of scoreless innings in Valpo’s win over Belmont for a save.
Strickland Holds Another Record: Senior Sara Strickland has completely white-washed the Valpo record books over her four-year career, and found yet another career mark to set in the first weekend of play. The center fielder, who entered her final season already holding six Crusader career records, drew a pair of walks in the first four games. With two more walks last weekend, Strickland now has 73 career walks, bettering the previous program record of 70, set by Karen Ingram (1991-1994).