Valparaiso run in the Horizon League Baseball Championships presented by the U.S. Army came to and end on Saturday afternoon as the Crusaders dropped an 8-3 decision to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Niles, Ohio.
The Crusaders, the number six seed, finished the tournament in third place, posting three victories in the double elimination event over five days. Valpo’s season concluded with a 21-35 record.
Valpo’s offense was jump-started in the opening inning with a lead-off single by Dan DeBruin (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly H.S.), extending his hitting streak to 16 straight games. With Brett Bivens (Battle Creek, Mich./Lakeview H.S.) at the plate, DeBruin stole second on a 1-2 count, giving the Crusaders an early runner in scoring position. Bivens fought off pitch after pitch before lacing the 10th toss off of the first baseman’s glove for a run-scoring single, putting Valpo in front 1-0 before Elliott Gibbs (Munster, Ind./Munster H.S.) even took to the mound.
Milwaukee answered with two in the bottom of the first, stringing together three hits and two hit batsmen. Shawn Wozniak had a run-scoring single through the right-side and Ben Long followed with another RBI hit through the same hole. After a hit batsman loaded the bases with one out, Gibbs induced Josh Groves into a double play ball.
The Panthers threatened again in the second, loading the bases. Alex Berry (Olney, Ill./East Richland H.S.) came on to strand the three runners, keeping the Valpo deficit at just one. Milwaukee left five runners in scoring position through the first three innings.
The Crusaders, as they had all tournament long, fought back again. Josh Wallace (Bellefontaine, Ohio/Bellefontaine H.S.) led off with a single into centerfield. Andrew Quinnette (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) followed with a hit through the hole at shortstop and Matt Lenski’s (Milwaukee, Wis./Marquette University H.S.) second hit of the day loaded the bases with one out. Designated hitter Jon Gulbransen (Appleton, Wis./Fox Valley Lutheran H.S.) ripped a single into left-center to plate both Wallace and Quinnette, putting Valpo on top 3-2.
Milwaukee again answered the Valpo run as Steve Wozniak doubled with one out. Ben Long singled past a diving Bivens at short to score Wozniak, tying the game at three after five innings of play. The Panthers took the lead in the sixth as Jesse Hart doubled into the leftfield corner to score Wes Munson and Cole Kraft added a run scoring single to plate Hart, giving Milwaukee a 5-3 lead. The Panthers added three more runs in the bottom of the seventh, including two on a double by Doug Dekoning for insurance.
The Panthers’ Brad Lusti (4-4) allowed just three runs on 10 hits in six innings of work while Craig Meier came on for the final three innings, allowing just a ninth inning single to DeBruin. Berry (1-6) suffered the loss for Valpo, allowing three runs and six hits in 4.2 innings of relief.
DeBruin and Lenski both finished with three-hit days for the Crusaders while Long went 3-for-3 with two runs batted in for Milwaukee (24-35).