Valparaiso’s Jon Gulbransen (Appleton, Wis./Fox Valley Lutheran H.S.) and Milwaukee’s Chad Pierce battled one another with both tossing complete games on Thursday afternoon, but it was Pierce that came out on top as the Panthers defeated the Crusaders 3-1 at U. S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. in a winner’s bracket game of the 2010 Horizon League Baseball Championship presented by U.S. Army.
Gulbransen allowed just three runs and nine hits while striking out six in his eight innings of work, but it was not enough as he suffered the loss (4-6). The junior did not walk a hitter while throwing just 98 pitches, 74 of which were strikes. Pierce, who was named the U.S. Army Player of the Game, threw 150 pitches, scattering six hits and the one run, striking out four and walking one.
“Both guys pitched extremely well today,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “Jon had some really good stuff for us.”
Like in the first game of the tournament, Valpo fell behind early. A pair of singles by Jonathan Capasso and Shaun Wegner, along with a sacrifice bunt, put two runners in scoring position in the bottom of the first. Dan Buchholz came through with a two-run single to give the Panthers the early advantage.
The Panthers added a third run in the fourth inning when Ben Long led off with a double and went to third on a single by Sam Sivilotti. Doug Dekoning followed with a ground ball to short that scored Long on the fielder’s choice.
Valpo got on the scoreboard in the sixth. Kyle Muhlsteff (Yorba Linda, Calif./Esperanza H.S.) led off the inning with a homerun to right that the wind carried just inside the foul pole. For the senior, it was his sixth round-tripper of the season and 28th run batted in of the year.
The Crusaders threatened again in the eighth with two outs. Back-to-back singles by Steven Scoby (Delton, Mich./Delton Kellogg H.S.) and Kyle Gaedele (Arlington Heights, Ill./Rolling Meadows H.S.) put runners at the corner. Ryan O’Gara (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) the ball sharply on the ground, but right to second baseman Paul Hoenecke who retired Gaedele on the force at second to end the inning.
“We didn’t have many opportunities today,” Woodson said. “When we did have them, we just couldn’t get the big hit.”
The tying run came to the plate again in the ninth inning, but Pierce struck out pinch hitter David Klein (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East H.S.) on pitch number 150 to end the game.
Muhlsteff and Gaedele each accounted for two of Valpo’s six hits on the afternoon while Buchholz, Capasso, and Ben Long had two hits a piece for the Panthers.
With the win, second-seeded Milwaukee (30-23) advances to Friday night’s winner’s bracket final against either Wright State or Youngstown State at 7 p.m. Valparaiso (23-31) returns to the diamond at 3 p.m. on Friday in an elimination game against Wright State, Youngstown State or UIC. Friday is Military Appreciation Day at U. S. Steel Yard, with all members of the military showing valid ID or appearing in uniform being admitted for just $4.