A bases loaded balk in the opener and a two-run first inning triple by Dan DeBruin (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly H.S.) in the first inning of game two helped propel Valparaiso to a doubleheader sweep of Southern Utah 3-2 in 10 innings and 4-2 on Saturday afternoon at Emory G. Bauer Field, clinching the Crusaders first Mid-Continent Conference Tournament berth since 2003.
The wins also ensured Valpo at least a share of third place in the Mid-Con, the Crusaders highest league finish since also finishing third in 2001.
In the opener, an unearned run gave Southern Utah an early 1-0 lead in the third following Cameron Nelson's RBI single. Valpo immediately tied the contest in the bottom of the inning as Josh Wallace (Bellefontaine, Ohio/Bellefontaine H.S.) led off the inning and scored on John Giusti's (Coventry, R.I./Coventry H.S.) single.
A two-out single by Brian Rzepka (South Bend, Ind./Penn H.S.) and a steal of second base in the fourth inning set the stage for Josh Piazza's (Glenview, Ill./Notre Dame H.S.) go-ahead single. Bucky Aona tied the game in the sixth for the Thunderbirds, and the visitors had the bases loaded, but Harvey Yergin (Akron, Ohio/Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy) worked out of the jam.
Valpo had a chance to win in the ninth, putting the first two runners on, but Southern Utah starter Dustin Wittwer retired the next three to force extra innings.
In the tenth, Jeff Rickert (Hamilton, Ohio/Fairfield H.S.) led off with a single and advanced to third as Michael Arensdorff's (Eldridge, Iowa/North Scott H.S.) followed with a hit of his own. After a groundout advanced Arensdorff to second, Wittwer, who went the distance, intentionally walked the bases loaded with one out. A balk was then called, allowing Rickert's winning run to cross home plate.
Yergin went 8.2 solid innings for the Crusaders, allowing just one earned run and eight hits while striking out four. Dallas Cawiezell (Long Grove, Iowa/North Scott H.S.) came on for the final four outs, all strikeouts, to earn the win and improve to 2-2 on the year. Wittwer (1-7) struck out eight and allowed nine hits in the complete game loss for Southern Utah.
Two pitches into game two Southern Utah already had a 2-0 lead as Kelii Zablan led off with a single and Nelson followed with a homer off of the scoreboard on the next pitch.
The Crusaders answered immediately in the bottom of the first as Rickert led off with a double and Arensdorff followed with a walk. Ryan Manthei (Kenosha, Wis./Tremper H.S.) drove in Rickert with a single to left. Two batters later DeBruin found the right-centerfield gap for his first career triple to put Valpo in front 3-2.
Valpo added an insurance run in the sixth on a squeeze bunt off the bat of Rickert to plate Wallace.
Matt Evans (Brighton, Mich./Brighton H.S.) tossed four scoreless innings to keep the lead before turning the ball over to Austen Siwiec (Aurora, Ill./Marmion Academy) for his first career save, getting the final six outs. Evans (3-2) struck out five and scattered seven hits in the victory. Alec Reichle (3-3) suffered the loss for Southern Utah, pitching five innings and allowing three runs on four hits.
Valparaiso (20-32, 9-10 Mid-Con) and Southern Utah (11-44, 6-13) will wrap up the 2007 regular season Sunday morning with a 9:30 a.m. start. The game will be carried live on www.sportsjuice.com.