Valparaiso scored five times in the top of the second, but Milwaukee answered with seven in the bottom of the inning as the Panthers posted a 10-7 victory over the Crusaders on Friday morning in an elimination game of the Horizon League Championships in Lorain, Ohio.
The loss ends Valpo’s season at 28-24, the Crusaders’ first winning season since 1999.
“We’re excited about our record,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “We got better this year and it gives us something to look forward to next year.”
Milwaukee struck first in the opening inning. After the first two hitters were retired, a walk and three straight singles, including RBI hits by Tim Patzman and Shawn Wozniak, gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead.
The top of the second was Valpo’s first offensive explosion of the tournament. With one out, three straight singles loaded the bases with Crusaders. After a fielder’s choice at the plate made it two outs, Dan DeBruin (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly H.S.) looped a single into left-center to score two runs and tie the game. Steven Scoby (Delton, Mich./Kellogg H.S.) followed, ripping a two-run single into right-center and advanced to second on a throwing error. Matt Lenski (Milwaukee, Wis./Marquette University H.S.) added a single up the middle to score Scoby and make it 5-2 Brown and Gold.
The Panthers answered with seven runs in the bottom of second, sending 11 batters to the plate. Two Crusader errors led to four unearned runs in the inning. Josh Groves had a two-run single to tie the game and an error on a double play ball with one out put Milwaukee on top. Lenski threw two runners out trying to steal in the inning though, to keep the Valpo deficit at 9-5 after two.
“We scored to take the lead and we gave it right back,” Woodson said. “It came down to who would make the most mistakes it seemed.”
The Crusaders got two unearned runs back of their own in the top of the fourth. With two outs, Scoby singled to right and Lenski followed with a doubled that just dropped fair down the leftfield line. Back-to-back errors on Panther middle infielders allowed both runners to score and bring Valpo back to within 9-7. The Crusaders threatened again in the fifth, putting runners on the corners with two outs, but a bouncer back to the mound ended the inning without any runs being scored.
As was the case in their tournament opener, Valpo struggled driving in runs with guys in scoring position. The Crusaders put runners on the corners again in the seventh, only to be turned away, and through seven Valpo had stranded 10 runners, including four in scoring position.
Alex Berry (Olney, Ill./East Richland H.S.) kept the Panthers at bay after coming in in relief in the second inning. He pitched 4.2 innings of scoreless ball until a double by Patzman and a single by Wozniak added a run for Milwaukee in the seventh, making it 10-7.
Brad Lusti went the distance for the victory (5-4) for Milwaukee (27-26), allowing just four earned runs and 14 hits. John Snelten (Ingleside, Ill./Antioch H.S.) suffered the loss, allowing six runs, five of which were earned, in just over an inning. Berry came on and allowed just one run in 6.1 innings of relief while fanning five.
Valpo outhit the Panthers 14-12 for the game, with DeBruin and Andrew Quinnette (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) each going 3-for-5.
Tournament Notes: Lenski’s double in the fourth was Valpo’s first extra base hit of the tournament … Valpo left 32 runners on base in three games, including 11 against the Panthers … Lenski finished the season hitting .406 after going 2-for-5.