For the first time this season, Valparaiso put together a late-game rally to earn a come-from-behind victory, scoring four runs in the bottom of the sixth to overcome a three-run deficit and defeat Green Bay, 4-3, Sunday afternoon at the Valparaiso University Softball Field, completing a three-game Horizon League series sweep of the Phoenix.
“I think Green Bay came out with a lot of energy today,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “They came out with a really good plan. I think their pitcher probably wanted some revenge from yesterday, and she threw really well. I feel the fact today’s game was tighter is more of a credit to what Green Bay did than about how our approach was.”
Neither team’s bats could get going early, as Crusader hurler Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) set down the first nine Phoenix hitters she faced in order, including four on strikes. Meanwhile, Green Bay pitcher Ashley Nannemann was nearly as dominant, as the only blemish against her in the first three innings was when senior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) reached on an error to lead off the third. Phalen would advance to third base with two outs, but couldn’t complete the journey as the game remained scoreless.
The shutout was snapped four pitches into the top of the fourth, as Green Bay’s Hailey Mohrfeld led off the frame with a solo shot off the scoreboard beyond the center-field fence to give the Phoenix its first lead of the series. Valpo threatened in its half of the fourth, getting its first hits of the game courtesy of back-to-back base knocks with one out from senior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) and freshman Brittany Duncan (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn), but a pop-up and a ground-out ended the threat.
Green Bay would add two insurance runs to its lead in the top of the sixth inning. Dani Peerenboom led off the inning for the Phoenix with a grounder back up the middle, and with two outs and Peerenboom on second, Alli Rivera took the first pitch she saw and hit a home run to straightaway center field to push the Green Bay advantage to 3-0.
“I think that home run really energized our team,” said Stevens. “It became the ‘uh-oh’ moment, where they knew that we better get something together. When it was a one-run game, we were just plodding along, and I think we felt comfortable with where the game was. But when the home run came, it really lit a fire.”
But the Crusaders, who had scored at least five runs in an inning three times the previous day in a doubleheader sweep, had one more big inning left in them. Sophomore Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) got the rally started with a base hit through the left side. Strickland then launched a fly ball to right center that nearly left the yard, falling for a long single, as the senior had to hold off behind Doerffler, waiting to see if it would be caught.
With runners on the corners, Duncan hit a fly to the warning track in left, where it was caught for a sacrifice fly, as Doerffler crossed the plate to get the Crusaders on the board. Senior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) followed with a grounder to the right side which was knocked down by the Phoenix second baseman, but the defense couldn’t turn it into an out, as it went for an infield single for Rutkowski to again put runners on the corners, still with just one out.
The big blow then came off the bat of redshirt junior Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union), who drove the first pitch she saw into the left-center gap, easily deep enough to plate both Strickland and Rutkowski to tie the game at three apiece. After pinch-runner Hayley Bridwell (Lemont, Ill./Lemont) was inserted at second following Ichiyama-Drewry’s two-bagger, Phalen stepped up and battled through an eight-pitch at-bat which culminated with a single right back through the middle, bringing Bridwell around to complete the four-run frame and give Valpo the lead it would not relinquish.
Lagesse hit a Phoenix batter with one out in the seventh to put the tying run aboard, but Ichiyama-Drewry made a nice lunging catch at a foul liner to record the second out and a soft looping liner to Doerffler at short closed out the Crusader win.
Lagesse improved to 10-6 on the season with the complete-game win, ending the day with seven strikeouts while surrendering just four hits. Nannemann fell to 6-5 for Green Bay (10-12, 0-3 Horizon). Strickland was the only Crusader to pick up multiple hits Sunday, as eight different batters combined for Valpo’s nine hits.
“Any win is a good win, whether it’s a run-rule win or a one-run win,” said Stevens. “You take something from every game, and we’ll take something from this one, move on and start to prepare for Bowling Green.”
Valparaiso (20-10, 6-0 Horizon) will step out of Horizon League play with a non-league doubleheader this Wednesday, April 4 at Bowling Green. First pitch of the opening game is slated for 2 p.m. CDT, and live stats will be available for both games through www.valpoathletics.com.