Zach Rodeghero (New Lenox, Ill./Providence Catholic H.S.) became Valparaiso’s single season hit record on Saturday afternoon, going 5-for-10 on the afternoon, but the Crusaders dropped a pair of one-run decisions 8-7 and 7-6 to UIC in Chicago, Ill.
With the wins, UIC (31-19, 17-6 Horizon League) won the regular season title in the Horizon League while Valpo (18-33, 8-13) will to open the league tournament on Tuesday as the sixth seed.
Valpo got a quick jump in game two as Dan DeBruin (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly H.S.) led off the game with a double and scored on single up the middle. Josh Wallace (Bellefontaine, Ohio/Bellefontaine H.S.) added his team-leading 10th homerun of the season and the Crusaders were up 3-0 before Jon Gulbransen (Appleton, Wis./Fox Valley Lutheran H.S.) took the mound.
A Jake Carr sacrifice fly and a double by Brett Schaefer scored a pair of runs for UIC in the bottom of the opening inning to cut the Crusader lead to one.
The Crusaders added to the lead in the third, knocking UIC starter Chris Kovacevich out of the game in the process. John Giusti (Coventry, R.I./Coventry H.S.) led off with a double and moved to third on a Rodeghero single. A sacrifice fly off the bat of Rodeghero increased the Valpo advantage to 4-2 before Andrew Quinnette (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) singled to put runners on first and second, chasing Kovacevich from the game. Justin Frane (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll H.S.) greeted Don Phillis with a single to score Rodeghero and increase the Brown and Gold’s lead back to three.
UIC answered in the bottom of the inning with a single by Schaefer that scored Rubio. The Flames continued to threaten with runners on second and third and out but a Kevin Coddington liner was hauled in by a leaping Damon McCormick (Louisville, Ky./Saint Xavier H.S.), saving two runs and doubling off Schaefer from second to end the inning.
The Flames cut Valpo’s lead to one in the fourth as Andy Leonard singled home Rafael Garcia, who doubled with one out in the inning. Another defensive gem in the fifth kept UIC from tying the game as Rodeghero made a diving grab with a runner on second to rob another hit from Coddington and save a run.
Rodeghero led off the seventh with a triple that just fell fair down the rightfield line and scored one batter later on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Wallace, his fourth RBI of the game.
Gulbransen left after six innings of work for the Crusaders, allowing the four runs on nine hits while striking out five. He retired six of the final seven hitters he faced. Steve Godawa (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and retired the first batter in the eighth before giving up a double and single to put runners on the corners. Closer Jarad Miller (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll H.S.) came on with the one out and hit a batter to load the bases. A fielder’s choice off of the bat of Leonard scored Coddington to cut the lead to 6-5, but Miller struck pinch hitter Brandon Harwell out looking to send the game to the ninth.
Miller struck out the first hitter in the ninth, and after hitting a batter, recorded a ground out to put a runner on second with two outs. Schaefer then blooped a hit into centerfield that DeBruin dove for, had in his glove, but the ball bounced out when he landed, tying the game with a triple. Coddington then followed with a chopper over the mound for an infield single to win the game.
Phillis (6-1) earned the win in relief for the Flames, working the final 6.2 innings allowing just one run on eight hits while Miller (3-2) suffered the loss. Rodeghero finished the game 3-for-5 and heads into the tournament with 86 hits on the season. Shaefer and Rubio had three hits each for UIC.
Valpo jumped out to an early lead in the opener, scoring in the top of the second inning. The Crusaders loaded the bases with two outs when Giusti hit a slow roller to shortstop. Garcia charged the ball, but bobbled it for an error, allowing Jason Brunelli (Greenfield, Wis./Greenfield H.S.) to score an unearned run to open the scoring.
Garcia put UIC on top in the bottom of the inning hitting a two-run homer to leftfield after Ryan Schweikert reached on a pop fly single that the Crusaders lost in the high sky. Following a walk and a double, a Steve McGuiggan groundout scored Brandon Harwell to increase the Flames advantage to 3-1 after two innings of play.
Rodeghero (laced a single up the middle with one out in the third inning to tie Mark Pedersen’s (2001) single season hit record with his 82nd of the year. Wallace followed with a long single to the right-centerfield gap to put runners on the corners. Brunelli then came through with a single through the right side to cut the Crusader deficit to one.
UIC again answered the Valpo run in the bottom of the frame as Garcia drove home his third run of the game with a single up the middle to plate Kevin Coddington. The Flames threatened again in the fifth, loading the bases before Crusader reliever Austin Siwiec (Aurora, Ill./Marmion Academy) retired the side without any damage.
UIC starter Derrick Miramontes retired eight Crusaders in a row before a one out walk to Brunelli in the sixth. The fifth-year senior stole second and came home on Quinnette’s RBI single through the right-side of the infield, cutting the Flames lead to 4-3.
The Flames continued the trend of answering Valpo scores in the bottom of the sixth as Jake Carr singled with two outs to score McGuiggan and Brett Schaeffer followed with a two-run homer to center, putting UIC in front 7-3. The hosts tacked on an unearned run in the seventh on a Harwell single.
Valpo added a run in the eighth as Matt Lenski (Milwaukee, Wis./Marquette University H.S.) singled to right-center to score Wallace with two outs. The Crusaders continued their rally in the ninth. Two straight singles started the inning and with one out Rodeghero set the single season hit mark with a single to plate Giusti. Another error by Garcia scored DeBruin. A walk to Brunelli loaded the bases and Quinnette cut the UIC lead to 8-7 with a single to right-center scoring Rodeghero. Lenski then hit a ball in the hole that the first baseman field, threw out Quinnette and second and the relay to first was originally called safe. Upon appeal, the call was reversed, ending the game.
Miramontes (6-2) earned the win for UIC working 6.1 innings allowing seven hits and just two earned runs while striking out seven. John Snelten (Ingleside, Ill./Antioch H.S.) suffered the loss (2-3) for the Crusaders, working 4.2 innings allowing four runs and seven hits. Quinnette finished the contest 3-for-5 at the plate for Valpo while every Flame starter had at least one hit.
Valparaiso will now head to Niles, Ohio for the Horizon League Tournament beginning on Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. CDT against seventh seeded Butler in a single elimination game. The winner advances to the double elimination portion of the tournament beginning on Wednesday.