Valparaiso (2-3, 0-0 Horizon)
Friday, Feb. 20-Sunday, Feb. 22 - at Samford Invitational (Birmingham, Ala.)
Next Up in Crusader Softball: After a weekend off, the Valparaiso softball team faces its second tournament field of the year as the Crusaders travel to Birmingham, Ala. for the Samford Invitational. Valpo will take on the host Bulldogs twice and is also scheduled to face Houston Baptist and Alabama State once apiece.
Previously: The Crusaders opened the 2015 campaign two weekends ago at the Mercer Invitational. Valpo came out of the weekend with a 2-3 record, but excelled offensively, hitting .367 and scoring 31 runs over the five games.
Following the Crusaders: All four games from this weekend’s tournament are slated to have live stats, while the pair of games against host Samford are also scheduled to have live video as well. Links for the live coverage will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Kate Stake: Kate Stake was hired as head coach of the Valparaiso softball program on July 23, 2014 and owns a 2-3 record in her first season as head coach. Stake arrived at Valpo with eight seasons of assistant coaching experience at the Division I level, most recently serving as an assistant at mid-major power Hofstra.
Series Notes: This weekend marks Valpo’s first meeting all-time with Houston Baptist (3-7 in 2015). The Crusaders will face Samford (8-2 in 2015) for the first time since 1987, as Valpo swept a twinbill from the Bulldogs, 14-1 and 1-0, to open that season. Current assistant coach Joylyn Ichiyama went 2-for-3 with a run scored in Valpo’s only previous matchup with Alabama State (3-6 in 2015), a 5-0 win for the Crusaders at Auburn in March of 2010.
Crusaders Picked Atop Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in third place in the Horizon League standings in 2015 in a very tight preseason poll, as picked by the league’s head coaches. Wright State, despite earning just one first-place vote, topped the polling with 40 points, while Green Bay picked up three first-place votes and 38 points. The Crusaders were just one point behind the Phoenix and tallied two first-place votes. Youngstown State recorded the other two first-place nods and finished fourth in the polling.
So Many Newcomers: It’s not just a new head coach that Crusader fans will notice this season, as they might need a program with all the newcomers on the squad. Eight of the 18 roster players this year are freshmen for Valpo. The group combined to go 13-of-36 at the plate on the opening weekend for play, while rookie Ashlyn Montgomery also tossed just shy of one-third of the weekend’s innings in the circle.
Raking Up and Down the Order: It was a total team effort offensively in the Crusaders’ first tournament of the year, as Valpo ended the weekend hitting .367 at the plate and averaging better than six runs per game. All six players who started each of the five games hit at least .313 for the weekend, while of the 13 players who earned at least two at-bats, all but two hit at least .286. The production was spread around as well, as no one player scored more than five runs or drove in more than five runs.
Starting Out With a Bang: Freshman Stephanie Moreno started her collegiate career about as well as one could open a career, going a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate against Jacksonville State with a double, a run scored and an RBI. While she wouldn’t finish the weekend perfect at the plate, Moreno did come out of her first tournament with a .429 batting average (6-for-14) and a team-best five RBIs.
Other Impressive Debuts: Moreno wasn’t the only freshman to open her career with a .429 batting average, as fellow rookie Brenna Boyle went 3-for-7 with three runs scored and three RBIs on the opening weekend. While she’s not a rookie, junior Sierra Pico played in the field for the first time as a collegian, hitting .444 (4-for-9) with a pair of runs scored while also handling 16 chances without an error at third base. Meanwhile, freshman Ashlyn Montgomery earned the win in the circle in her first collegiate start, going the distance versus IPFW and striking out six batters.
Returnees Make Their Mark: A number of returnees were strong as well in the first weekend of play. In fact, the top four in the Crusader batting order - sophomore Jorgi Calombaris, sophomore Taylor Lawson, junior Kaitlyn Ranieri and senior Tarah McShane - remained the same for all five games. Lawson led the way, going 10-for-20 with five runs scored, while McShane hit .400 (6-for-15) and Calombaris hit .316 (6-for-19) with four RBIs. Ranieri hit .313, scored five runs and hit a pair of home runs, while senior Lindsey Norway went 4-for-8 with four runs scored, four RBIs and a round-tripper of her own.
Moving Up the Charts: Ranieri drew three walks in the opening tournament, giving her 61 career free passes. The junior now ranks eighth in Valpo history in walks, just one shy of seventh and three away from a tie for fifth. With her two home runs, Ranieri has now gone yard 11 times in her career, just one away from cracking Valpo’s career top-10 list in that category as well. In addition, junior Taylor Weissenhofer struck out 10 batters in the first weekend of action, giving her 364 career punchouts and moving her into third place on the Crusaders’ career chart in that category, passing Erin Reiter (362).