A two-run seventh inning proved to be the difference for Valparaiso on Tuesday afternoon as the Crusaders defeated Butler 6-5 at Eastwood Field in Niles, Ohio on day one of the 2008 Horizon League Baseball Championships presented by the U.S. Army.
With the victory, Valparaiso (19-33), the tournament’s sixth seed, advances to face third-seeded Youngstown State, the tournament host, on Wednesday afternoon beginning at 2 p.m. CDT. The game will be carried live on sportsjuice.com and on the Horizon League Network.
“For us this was a big win,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “We didn’t want to drive all the way out here to play just game. This gets us at least two more games.”
Butler threatened putting two runners on in the top of the first, but Elliott Gibbs (Munster, Ind./Munster H.S.) caught Nate Hart looking to end the threat. He continued his mastery of the strike zone in the second, fanning the side to give him five strikeouts through two innings of work.
Valpo had a runner in scoring position in the opening inning as Dan DeBruin (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly H.S.) reached on an error and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Zach Rodeghero (New Lenox, Ill./Providence Catholic H.S.) looked to drive in the run with a soft liner to shallow right, but second baseman Jason Jamerson made a diving grab.
The Bulldogs found the scoreboard in the top of the third as Kyle Schultz hit a three-run homer to deep rightfield after Butler had the first two batters of the inning single.
The Crusaders immediately answered with three of their own in the bottom of the inning. Brett Bivens (Battle Creek, Mich./Lakeview H.S.) led off with an opposite field single to left and DeBruin walked. After a groundout moved the runners up 90 feet, Rodeghero blooped a double into left to score Bivens and put Valpo on the board. For Rodeghero, it was his 21st double of the season, tying the school’s single season mark set by Rob Hadrick in 1997 and matched by Mark Pedersen in 2001. Josh Wallace (Bellefontaine, Ohio/Bellefontaine H.S.) then tied the game at three with a two-run single up the middle.
Gibbs again worked out of a jam in the fifth as the Bulldogs loaded the bases with two outs. The sixth-year senior recorded his eighth strikeout of the game to end the threat.
Butler retook the lead in the top of the sixth without a hit. A lead-off walk to Michael Letzter and a fielder’s choice put two runners on and no one out. After a sacrifice bunt, Jay Clites (Ann Arbor, Mich./Pioneer H.S.) came on to relieve Gibbs and Rick Betsch laid down a squeeze bunt to plate Letzter and put the Bulldogs on top 4-3.
Gibbs finished the game working 5.1 innings and allowing the four runs and four hits while striking out eight. He did walk five.
“Gibbs was good today,” said Woodson. “He was very gutsy.”
Valpo again answered the Bulldogs’ run with one of its own in the sixth. Jason Brunelli (Greenfield, Wis./Greenfield H.S.) doubled to the gap in left-center and scored two batters later on a Ryan O’Gara (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) single through the right side of the infield.
Butler starter Jeff Sinkiewicz departed after six innings, allowing four runs and seven hits while striking out two and walking one. He, like Gibbs, left with a no decision. Jared Wagoner came on in the seventh and gave up a lead-off single to DeBruin. John Giusti (Coventry, R.I./Coventry H.S.) laid down a sacrifice bunt to move DeBruin into scoring position and Wagoner intentionally walked Rodeghero, the league’s leading hitter. Wallace made the Bulldogs pay, lacing a single through the right-side to put the Brown and Gold on top. Brunelli followed with a sacrifice fly to center giving the Crusaders a 6-4 lead heading into the eighth.
Steve Godawa (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.), who came on in the seventh to retire the side, induced a double play ball in the eighth following a lead-off single and the Crusaders took the two-run advantage into the ninth.
Godawa got the first two hitters on a weak groundout to Giusti at second and a strikeout before Joe Pauley went the opposite way with a homer to right to keep things interesting, and bring the Bulldogs within one at 6-5. After a walk to Kyle Schultz, Jarad Miller (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll H.S.) came on to strikeout Nate Hart looking to secure his Horizon League-leading eighth save of the season.
“Godawa has been a big surprise for us out of the pen this year as a freshman,” said Woodson. “He gives us a huge link to get to Miller.”
Godawa earned the victory (3-2) while Wagoner (0-1) suffered the loss. Wallace finished the game 2-for-4 with three runs batted in while Bivens also had a two-hit day.
“Josh came up with some big hits with men in scoring position,” said Woodson.
Valpo now advances to the double elimination portion of the tournament. The Crusaders went 2-3 against Youngstown State during the regular season. Butler sees its season come to an end with a 12-34 record.