UIC scored five times in the bottom of the seventh inning without hitting the ball out of the infield, rallying from a three-run deficit to defeat Valparaiso 8-5 on Thursday evening in the Horizon League Baseball Championships presented by the U.S. Army held in Niles, Ohio.
Valpo, the tournament’s sixth seed, had rallied late in each of its first two victories in the tournament, but managed just one eighth inning run.
“We played well tonight except for one bad inning,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “We got the first two outs but could not close the door.”
UIC (32-19) scored first with a sacrifice fly in the third inning off of Valpo starter John Snelten (Ingleside, Ill./Antioch H.S.). The Flames threatened for more loading the bases in the inning, but Jay Clites (Ann Arbor, Mich./Pioneer H.S.) came on to retire the side.
The Crusaders answered in the top of the fourth as Josh Wallace (Bellefontaine, Ohio/Bellefontaine H.S) continued his hot hitting in the tournament with a lead-off single and Jason Brunelli (Greenfield, Wis./Greenfield H.S.) followed with a base hit of his own. With one out, Matt Lenski (Milwaukee, Wis./Marquette University H.S.) was hit by a pitch and Ryan O’Gara (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) was walked to force home Wallace. A double play ball ended the threat with just the one run scored.
Valpo took the lead in the fifth as Dan DeBruin (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly H.S.) led off with a single to extend his hitting streak to 14 straight games. After a fielder’s choice, Zach Rodeghero (New Lenox, Ill./Providence Catholic H.S.) singled to put runners on first and second. A Wallace single to right-center put Valpo in front 2-1. Two strikeouts followed though, as Valpo left two runners on again, and seven total from the third through fifth innings.
Lenski reached on an error to lead off the sixth and O’Gara followed with a walk. After a sacrifice bunt, DeBruin singled home Lesnki and another error allowed O’Gara to score, giving Valpo a 4-1 lead.
“We tried to chip away with one or two runs every inning,” said Woodson.
UIC answered with one in the bottom of the sixth before posting five in the seventh, all after two were out. Back-to-back walks and a bad hop single loaded the bases. A wild pitch, hit batter, and walk scored two and Jason Granek followed with an infield single to plate another. A second hit and an error allowed two more runs to score, giving the Flames a 7-4 lead.
The Crusaders tried to fight back in the eighth as DeBruin reached on an error and Brett Bivens (Battle Creek, Mich./Lakeview H.S.) followed with a single. With a 2-2 count on Rodeghero, UIC went to the bullpen, relieving starter Mike cool with Don Phillis. Rodeghero laced a single up the middle to score one, cutting the deficit to two. An inning ending double play ended the threat though.
The Flames got the run back in the eighths without a hit as a hit batter, walk, sacrifice bunt, and sacrifice fly plated the final run of the game.
Kool (6-4) earned the victory throwing 128 pitches in 7.1 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs, only two of which were earned. Phillis finished up earning his third save of the season. Steve Godawa (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) suffered the loss (3-3) in relief for Valpo, allowing three runs without retiring a hitter in the seventh.
Valparaiso (20-34) will face the winner of the Friday morning’s elimination game between Cleveland State and Wright State on Friday at 2 p.m. CDT in an elimination game. The contest can be seen live on the Horizon League Network as well as hear online at www.sportsjuice.com.
“We’ll have everyone available to play and pitch tomorrow,” concluded Woodson.