Valparaiso (20-10, 6-0 Horizon)
Wednesday, April 4 - at Bowling Green (18-11, 3-1 Mid-American) - 2 p.m. CDT [DH] - Bowling Green, Ohio
Next Up in Crusader Softball: Valparaiso has a light schedule on the docket this week, as the Crusaders play just a single doubleheader, stepping out of league play for a twinbill at Bowling Green on Wednesday afternoon.
Previously: The Crusaders went 3-1 on a four-game homestand last week, opening play up with a narrow 4-3 defeat against Purdue, which is receiving votes in the national top-25 polls. Valpo then swept its second Horizon League series in as many weekends, downing Green Bay by scores of 8-0 (6 inn.), 17-0 (5 inn.) and 4-3.
Following the Crusaders: Live stats for the doubleheader at Bowling Green on Wednesday will be available through www.valpoathletics.com, which will also be hosting a live chat throughout the twinbill, starting at approximately 1:45 p.m. CDT.
Head Coach Jordan Stevens: Jordan Stevens is in 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 54-31-1 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 and Bowling Green have faced off just once before in the programs’ histories, in a single game on April 4, 2005 at the Valparaiso University Softball Field. The Falcons scored the game’s first five runs en route to a 5-1 victory. Allison Whitesell scored the Crusaders’ lone run on an RBI single from Maggie Seidel in the bottom of the seventh, while Chris Halstead took the loss in the circle despite giving up just one unearned run in 3.2 innings of work.
Crusaders Picked Fourth 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.
Great Start to League Play: The Crusaders’ three-game sweep of Green Bay last weekend pushed Valpo’s record in Horizon League play to a perfect 6-0, as it also had swept a three-game set from Detroit the previous record. Six straight wins to open league action matched the Crusaders’ best start to league play in program history, as the 2010 Valpo squad also won the first six games of its Horizon League slate.
Record Margin: Valpo’s performance in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader against Green Bay set a new program record for largest margin of victory in a single game. The Crusaders defeated the Phoenix by 17 runs, surpassing the previous mark of 16 set on April 2, 2010 when Valpo downed Detroit, 18-2.
Putting Up Runs: The Crusaders have boasted a high-octane offense all season long, but took it to the highest level in the 17-0 win over the Phoenix. Valpo’s 17 runs matches the third-most in a single game in program history (4/21/84 vs. Illinois Insitute of Technology; 3/30/11 at Northern Illinois) and was just one run shy of the single-game record. In addition, Valpo plated 12 runs in the fourth inning of that contest, the highest known single-inning tally all-time at Valpo.
See the Ball, Hit the Ball: The Crusader offense has continued its season-lnog success at the plate since returning from its spring break trip, scoring 75 runs in the last nine games, including 57 runs over their first six Horizon League contests. Valpo has now scored at least six runs in 17 of its 30 games, going 16-1 in those contests. The Crusaders are averaging 6.53 runs/game on the season, good for 10th nationally, and also rank among the nation’s top-20 offensively in doubles/game (1.77, 3rd), slugging percentage (.524, 13th), batting average (.331, 14th) and home runs/game (1.07, 19th).
Consistency in the Field: Alex Lagesse, Sam McGee and the rest of the Valpo pitching staff have taken the circle knowing they have one of the nation’s most consistent defenses behind them in the field all season long. The Crusaders’ team fielding percentage of .977 easily paces the Horizon League and ranks 10th nationally. Valpo had an errorless week last week, committing no miscues over its four games, and has recorded just one error in nine games since returning from its spring break trip.
A Warm Debut: Valparaiso played its earliest home opener in program history this season, hosting a twinbill against IUPUI at the Valparaiso University Softball Field on Tuesday, March 20. Despite being early in meteorological spring, however, it was the warmest temperatures the Crusaders have had for a home game since weather became a part of the official box score in 2009, as the first pitch temperature for game one was 83 degrees.
Rain, Really?: Valpo suffered its first weather-related game casualties of the season at the tail end of the spring break trip in San Diego, as three games over a two-day span were canceled due to inclement weather. Last season, the Crusaders didn’t have a game canceled until April 16 and eventually ended the year with four lost games.
Winning by Run Rule: The Crusaders won both their games last Saturday against Green Bay via run rule, ending the first on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the sixth before cruising to the shortened win in the nightcap. The victories were the fifth and sixth this season by run rule for Valpo, which has yet to be on the wrong end of a shortened victory. Last season, the Crusaders won eight games by run rule and lost three times. Since joining the Horizon League, Valpo boasts a 19-3 record in league games shortened via run rule.
A Rare Comeback: Valpo’s offense has been dominant enough for most of the season that the Crusaders haven’t had to come from behind for wins, but that’s what happened in the finale against Green Bay, as Valpo scored four in the bottom of the sixth to erase a three-run deficit. It was the Crusaders’ largest comeback of the year and just the fourth time they’ve trailed at any point in a victory this year, while also marking their first win after trailing through four and five innings.
Keeping a Clean Sheet: While the Crusaders’ pitching staff has been solid all year, boasting the second-best team ERA in the Horizon League, Valpo had recorded just one shutout in the season’s first 27 games. That changed last weekend when the Crusaders kept Green Bay off the board in both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader, however, as Alex Lagesse and Sam McGee combined to surrender just six hits over 11 innings in the pair of shutouts.
Best Start Ever: Valpo’s six-game winning streak early in the season pushed the club to a 10-2 record through 12 games, marking the first time in program history the Crusaders had suffered just two losses through their first 12 contests. While Valpo lost at UTEP to end its winning streak, the win at New Mexico State moved the Crusaders to 11-3 through 14 games for just the second time in program history, matching the 2010 squad which set the program record with a 35-win season.
League Honorees: Through seven weekends of play, the Crusaders already have tallied six Horizon League weekly award winners. Most recently, senior Jordan Rutkowski earned her third Player of the Week of the season on Monday for her performance last week against Purdue and Green Bay. Redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec received her second career Player of the Week honor on March 13, while freshman Brittany Duncan was named the Player of the Week and senior Alex Lagesse Pitcher of the Week (her sixth career award, fifth-most in league history) after the season’s opening weekend.
Caution, Falling Records: Senior catcher Jordan Rutkowski has already started to match or break Valpo and Horizon League single-season records despite there being more than 20 games remaining in the regular season. Rutkowski earned her third Player of the Week award from the league office on Monday, matching the most weekly awards to a position player in one year in HL history. She earned the honor after matching Valpo’s single-season home run record (11) with a round-tripper to cap the opener against Green Bay and breaking Valpo’s single-season RBI record (now at 43) with a 2-RBI double in the second game of the series against the Phoenix.
On the Career Charts: Rutkowski’s stellar campaign has propelled her towards the top of Valpo’s career charts in a number of categories. The senior already held Valpo’s all-time record for RBIs entering the season and now has 144 career driven in, 46 more than anybody else in Crusader history. She also has broken the career home runs (29) and total bases (331) records this year and ranks second all-time in batting average, slugging and on-base percentages, runs and hits; third in walks; and fourth in doubles and stolen bases.
Among the Nation’s Best: Rutkowski’s 8-for-14, 6 R, 9 RBI, 3 2B, 2 HR effort last week helped the senior maintain her spot among the national leaders in a number of categories. Rutkowski, who currently paces the Horizon League in seven different offensive categories, is hitting .484 on the year, good for third nationally, while she also ranks among the top-20 in the nation in RBIs/game (1.43, 6th), doubles/game (0.40, 6th), slugging percentage (.958, 7th) and home runs/game (0.37, 18th). In fact, Rutkowski is the only player nationally to rank among the top-20 in all five categories.
You’re Not Gonna K Me: Senior Sara Strickland has proven to be one of the nation’s most difficult players to strike out this season. Strickland went down swinging in the fourth game of the season against Drake, and then struck out swinging in her first at-bat at #5 Arizona State March 9, her only two Ks of the season. The senior’s average of 45.5 at-bats per strikeout ranks her 10th toughest to K nationwide. Impressively, Strickland is tied for the team lead in walks (13) and has also been hit by pitches three times while striking out just twice.
Freshman Lights Up the League: Freshman designated player Brittany Duncan has had a pair of huge weekends to open her career within the Horizon League. In the three-game sweep of Green Bay last weekend, Duncan went 4-for-6 with three walks, two doubles, two runs scored and a pair of RBIs. Through the first six league games, Duncan is now 12-for-17 (.706) with four extra-base hits and eight runs driven in.
Phalen Sets a New Mark: Senior Kelsey Phalen, who has served as Valpo’s regular first baseman the last three seasons, broke the Crusader career record for putouts over the weekend in the first game of the Green Bay series. Phalen enters this week with 1,051 career putouts, having broken Beth Adamski’s previous Crusader record of 1,038. The senior also ranks sixth on the Horizon League all-time chart in the category as well.
This and That: Redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec went 5-for-10 in the sweep of Green Bay and is hitting .405 on the season, good for fourth in the league ... junior Hayley Bridwell got a rare start in the lineup in game two of Saturday’s doubleheader and went a career-best 4-for-4, the fourth four-hit game by a Crusader this season ... senior Sam McGee tallied a season-best seven strikeouts while tossing her first shutout of the year in the nightcap Saturday ... senior Alex Lagesse picked up wins over Green Bay in Saturday’s opener and on Sunday, giving her a Horizon League-best 10 wins on the year.