Valparaiso will need to travel a mere 27 miles to U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. for its first NCAA Division I Regional appearance since 1968 as the Crusaders will face Purdue on Friday evening.
“I think there are a lot of advantages to being in this regional,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “We are close to home, our families, friends, and alums can all come out and support us. I think we could potentially have the most fans of any team in the region. We’ve played at U.S. Steel Yard numerous times, having hosted the Horizon League Tournament there in 2010. I know kids at this age want to get on a plane and take a trip somewhere, but we have a great chance to be successful playing right here in Northwest Indiana.”
The Horizon League regular season and tournament champion Crusaders enter the NCAA Championship with a 35-23 record overall, tying a school record for victories in a season. Valpo has won 27 of its last 32 games dating back to April 5, and earned the automatic bid to the tournament on Sunday afternoon with a 14-5 victory at UIC in the Horizon League Tournament championship game.
Valpo is the fourth seed in the four-team regional. Host Purdue is the top seed with Kentucky serving as the second seed and Kent State the third seed. The regional is a double-elimination format with two games taking place each day Friday through Sunday with the “if necessary” game being contested on Monday.
“I think when you go into the regional as the fourth seed you have three other teams there that people think are supposed to be better than you,” Woodson added. “That said, I don’t think our guys will be intimidated at all. We’ve already played some great teams on our schedule this year. We’re going to do everything we can to give ourselves the opportunity to win.”
The Crusaders are 3-5 all-time at U.S. Steel Yard, not including an exhibition game Valpo played against the Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2010. The Brown and Gold won a pair of games in the Horizon League Tournament at the facility in 2010 before finishing third in the event.
Purdue (44-12, 17-7 Big Ten) won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. The Crusaders and Boilermakers have met 81 times dating back to 1949, with Purdue holding a 63-18 all-time advantage. The two schools have not met since 2010 when Purdue downed Valpo 14-5. The Crusaders’ last win against the Boilermakers came at U.S. Steel Yard, a 5-3 triumph on May 11, 2005.
Kentucky (43-16, 18-12 SEC) was an at-large selection out of the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats tied for second place in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division. Valpo and Kentucky have never met on the baseball diamond.
Kent State (41-17, 23-3 MAC) won the Mid-American Conference’s regular season and tournament crowns. The Golden Flashes enter the regionals having won 17 straight games. The Crusaders and Golden Flashes have never met on the diamond.
The winner of the Gary regional will face the winner of the Eugene, Ore. Regional (which consists of Oregon, Cal State Fullerton, Indiana State, and Austin Peay) in the Super Regionals for the right to advance to Omaha and the College World Series.
Valpo was 1-4 against NCAA Tournament teams this season, with a 10-9, 10-inning victory at then #4-Arkansas back on Feb. 26.
Game times and ticket information will be available early in the week.