The Valparaiso University softball team kicked off its three-game series with Youngstown State Friday from the Valparaiso University Softball Field with a big win, taking down the Penguins by a 9-7 final in the series opener.
"I feel like our players had good mindsets coming into today’s game,” said Crusader head coach Kate Stake. “They were loose and having fun with each other throughout warmups. We play our best when we’re loose and when we’re having fun – just playing a game instead of making it work.”
The Crusaders got it going in the bottom of the first, with senior Tarah McShane (Streamwood, Ill./St. Edward) providing the big hit to kick off the final home series of her career. Sophomore Jorgi Calombaris (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) was hit by a pitch with one out, and junior Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) watched five pitches go by for a walk to put two runners on. After a fielder’s choice, McShane stepped in and lined a double to the wall in right-center, easily enough to score both baserunners and make it 2-0 Valpo.
"Tarah’s a competitor and she’s always one of the people we want in the batter’s box,” said Stake. “Her first at-bat definitely sparked our team for the rest of the game, and that’s what a senior should do.”
YSU answered with two runs in its half of the second on a two-run single from Maria Lacatena, but the Crusaders responded in the third by batting around, putting a five-spot on the scoreboard to take control. Back-to-back singles by Ranieri and freshman Taylor Nadler (New Haven, Mo./St. Francis Borgia) and a walk to McShane loaded the bases with nobody out. Ranieri would scoot home on a passed ball to give Valpo a 3-2 edge. Two batters later, senior Lindsey Norway (Chicago, Ill./Chicago Christian) hit a ball into the 5-6 hole which the YSU shortstop fielded, but Nadler slid in ahead of the throw home to make it 4-2 Crusaders.
After a groundout put two runners in scoring position with one out, junior Sierra Pico (Las Vegas, Nev./Legacy) delivered a key hit, knocking a single back through the circle to score both McShane and Norway. Pico moved up to second on the throw home, a baserunning play that proved to be clutch, as she would come all the way around to score as sophomore Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) reached on a YSU error to extend the lead to 7-2.
The Penguins sliced three runs off the lead in the top of the fourth on a two-out, three-run homer by Sarah Dowd to make it a 7-5 ballgame. Facing a new YSU pitcher, however, Valpo again answered, plating a key insurance run in the home half of the inning. Nadler and McShane each worked walks off Caitlyn Minney to lead off the inning, and freshman Stephanie Moreno (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley) followed by laying down a well-executed sacrifice bunt. The throw to first was dropped by the YSU second baseman and the ball squirted away, allowing Nadler to find her away across the plate and make it 8-5.
“I think our baserunning won us the game today,” said Stake. “Our trail runners did a good job putting themselves into scoring position, and our lead runners stayed heads-up on the bases and continued to look to advance, which allowed us to capitalize on a couple errors.”
Crusader starting pitcher Mollie Lindeman (Hebron, Ind./Hebron [PNC]) worked her way around a leadoff error in the top of the fifth, and then got another insurance run in the bottom half of the frame, as Ranieri drilled a no-doubt home run to straightaway center field to push the lead to 9-5. For Ranieri, it was her 11th round-tripper of the season – tied for third-most in a single season in Valpo history – and the 20th of her career.
Lindeman had to work out of trouble in the sixth inning, as YSU loaded the bases with one away on two singles and an error. The junior was up to the task, though, inducing an infield fly and then a groundout back to the circle to keep it a four-run lead. The Penguins would push across two runs in the seventh and brought the potential tying run to the plate, but a ground ball to Moreno at short was flipped to second for the force to close out the win.
“Mollie did a great job today getting us out of innings where we put ourselves in a bad position because of errors,” said Stake. “It was good to see her step up and take the team on her shoulders in those instances.”
Lindeman went the distance in the circle to improve to 6-11 on the year, striking out a season-high seven batters. Kayla Haslett took the loss for Youngstown State (18-29, 7-11 Horizon), falling to 5-11 as she allowed seven runs, six of which were earned, in her three innings of work. Ranieri and Pico each posted multi-hit games, while Ranieri and Nadler crossed the plate three times apiece. McShane reached base three times as well, drawing a pair of walks in addition to her two-run double in the first.
Valpo (13-33, 7-11 Horizon) closes out the regular season on Saturday morning at home with a doubleheader against Youngstown State. The Crusaders need to take at least one of the two games from the Penguins to secure a spot in the Horizon League Championship field. First pitch of game one is slated for 11 a.m., but get to the field early, as Valpo will hold its annual Senior Day ceremony prior to the doubleheader, honoring McShane and Norway in advance of the final home games of their career. The games can be heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) and online at ValpoAthletics.com, which will have links for live stats as well.
“We’re not going to treat Senior Day like it’s any other day, because it’s not,” said Stake. “We have two great players who are playing their last two home games at the field tomorrow. We honor them throughout this series by having fun and playing the game the right way. Tomorrow, we go out and give them the best 14 innings they have left at this field.” ts annual Senior Day ceremony prior to the doubleheader, honoring McShane and Norway in advance of the final home games of their career. The games can be heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) and online at ValpoAthletics.com, which will have links for live stats as well.