Staring a four-run deficit in the face with its perfect record in Horizon League play on the line, Valparaiso stormed from behind with a five-run fifth inning to claim the lead and added an insurance run in the sixth to complete a three-game sweep of Wright State, 8-6, in Fairborn, Ohio on Thursday afternoon. The Crusaders have now won 13 of their last 14 games.
“Wright State came out very aggressive on us and had a good approach today,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “They jumped on us early, but I was pleased with the way we didn’t get down. Our mindset didn’t change, and we just continued to chip away at it and eventually earned the win.”
The game got off to an inauspicious start for the Crusaders, as three straight singles loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the first for the Raiders. Two batters later, a bases-loaded walk gave WSU a 1-0 lead, and a Crusader error added another run to the Wright State lead. An RBI groundout pushed the Raiders’ third run of the frame across the plate as WSU led 3-0 after just one inning.
Valpo cut a run off its deficit in the top of the third, as redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist) continued her hot hitting with a leadoff double down the right field line. A single by sophomore Amanda Wisniewski (Lake in the Hills, Ill./Huntley) put runners on the corners with nobody out, and junior Tori Brown (Harrison, Ohio/Harrison) connected on a sacrifice fly to cut the WSU lead to two runs. But the Raiders got that run right back in the bottom of the third with a solo homer from Chelsea Archer, prompting Stevens to go to the bullpen and call on senior Shaleigh Jansen (Ottawa, Ill./Ottawa Township) in relief.
The Crusaders responded with a run in their half of the fourth, as senior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) led off the inning with a walk, moved to third on a single by redshirt junior Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) and scored on an infield grounder from senior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia). But again Wright State answered, this time scoring two runs in the bottom of the fourth on back-to-back one-out RBI singles to push its advantage to 6-2 with just three innings to play.
As the Crusaders have all season long, however, they had one big inning in them, this time putting the five-spot on the scoreboard in the fifth. Sophomore Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran), who had reached on a fielder’s choice, moved up to third on a one-out double by senior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon). With two in scoring position, freshman Brittany Duncan (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn) knocked a single back up the middle, enough to score both runners to cut the deficit to 6-4.
With Duncan advancing to second on a throw home, Rutkowski was intentionally walked by the Raiders to set up a possible force play with one away. But Ichiyama-Drewry, seeing Rutkowski walked in front of her for the sixth time in the series and the fourth intentionally, stepped up and delivered the big blow, cranking a three-run homer over the left-center fence to flip the Crusaders into the lead, 7-6.
“I just attribute it to us sticking with it and understanding the flows of the game,” said Stevens on the big inning “We understand that we have to continue to do what we’re good at, and that’s taking good at-bats. We again made some good adjustments on DeWitt, who really came out strong in the first few innings, but we were able to maintain a good offensive mindset throughout the game.”
Valpo would add an insurance run in the sixth as well, getting that frame going with a leadoff infield single by Doerffler. Strickland successfully sacrificed the sophomore into scoring position, and Duncan did all the rest, picking up another base knock back through the middle to score Doerffler and make it 8-6 Valpo. Jansen made sure the Raiders wouldn’t threaten to tie or re-take the lead, setting Wright State down in order in each of the final three innings.
“Shaleigh’s pitching was really clutch for us today,” said Stevens. “She hasn’t thrown more than an inning in quite some time, but when she came in to a situation where she had to keep us in the game, she was able to do that. Then, when we took the lead, she was light outs the rest of the way - her fifth and seventh innings were just phenomenal.”
Jansen picked up her first decision in Horizon League play, going five innings to earn the win and improve to 3-1 overall. Krystian DeWitt took the loss for Wright State (17-23, 5-7 Horizon), suffering the defeat for the third time in the series as she falls to 11-20. Marinec went 3-for-4 for the Crusaders, her eighth multi-hit game in Valpo’s last 12 contests, while Duncan and Ichiyama-Drewry each picked up two of Valpo’s 11 hits. Doerffler and Rutkowski each scored two runs as well.
Valparaiso (25-10, 9-0 Horizon) returns home to put its unblemished mark in Horizon League play on the line Saturday afternoon with a twinbill against Youngstown State beginning at 1 p.m. at the Valparaiso University Softball Field. Every pitch of the doubleheader can be heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats.