Valparaiso scored three times in the ninth inning with two outs and had both the tying and winning runs on base, but could not knot the score on Thursday afternoon in the Crusaders’ home opener, falling to Milwaukee 6-5 at Emory G. Bauer Field.
Trailing 5-2 heading into the bottom of the eight, Valpo left the bases loaded without scoring in the frame and surrendered a run in the ninth before trying to mount its comeback.
Steven Scoby (Delton, Mich./Kellogg H.S.) led off with a walk and Ryan Shober (Inverness, Ill./Fremd H.S.) followed suit with a one-out free pass before Dan DeBruin (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly H.S.) hit into a fielder’s choice in the hole at short that retired Scoby at third. With two outs, Kyle Muhlsteff (Yorba Linda, Calif./Esperanza H.S.), who went 3-for-5 on the day, laced a two-run triple off the leftfield wall to bring the Crusaders within two, 6-4.
Matt Lenski (Milwaukee, Wis./Marquette University H.S.) followed with a single up the middle to plate Muhlsteff and keep the inning alive. Josh Wallace (Bellefountaine, Ohio/Bellefountaine H.S.), the potential winning run, walked to put runners on first and second. Milwaukee went to the bullpen to bring in Lucas Annen, who retired pinch hitter Ranko Ivetic (Highland, Ind./Andrean H.S.) on a long foul fly out down the leftfield line.
“We got the right guys up in the eighth and ninth with Lenski and Wallace,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “We knew we had a chance. We just have to find other avenues for big hits now.”
Valpo struck first in the opening inning as Wallace doubled high off the right-centerfield wall to plate Muhlsteff, who reached on a one-out single. The Panthers tied the game on a Tim Patzman RBI single in the top of the second and took the lead in the fourth. Following a single and a balk, Josh Groves hit a sharp single up the middle to plate Cole Kraft and eventually scored on a Shaun Wegner single into right. Groves added the fourth run for Milwaukee in the fifth with a double to left, giving the Panthers a 4-1 lead.
Panther starter Brad Lusti retired nine straight from the second through fourth innings before giving up back-to-back hits in the fifth. Valpo touched him for another run in the sixth as Lenski doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a Ryan O’Gara (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) ground out.
Milwaukee added a run in the seventh on a Kraft sacrifice fly and tacked on the final insurance run in the ninth on a single up the middle by Doug Dekoning.
Lusti earned the win (1-2) for Milwaukee, working 7.1 innings and allowing just two runs and seven hits. He struck out six and walked just one, his final batter of the game.
“He (Lusti) hit his spots and got ahead of hitters,” Woodson said. We weren’t aggressive enough against him early at the plate.”
Jon Gulbransen (Appleton, Wis./Fox Valley Lutheran H.S.) allowed five runs and nine hits in 6.1 innings to suffer the loss (3-3), but did fan six and walk just one.
Besides Muhlsteff, Lenski was the only other Crusader with two hits as Valpo had 10 on the afternoon.
Valparaiso (7-12, 2-2 Horizon) and Milwaukee (5-13, 1-0) will wrap up their weekend series on Friday with a doubleheader at Emory G. Bauer Field. The start time for game one has been moved up to 11 a.m. with Alex Berry (Olney, Ill./East Richland H.S.) and Bryce Shafer (Wabash, Ind./Wabash H.S.) slated to pitch for the Crusaders against Kyle Schmidt and Andy Hetebrueg.
Game Notes: Lenski now leads Valpo in batting with a .426 average … Wallace and Kyle Gaedele (Arlington Heights, Ill./Rolling Meadows H.S.) each extended their hitting streak to six straight games … this was Muhlsteff’s second three-hit game of the season and fifth multi-RBI contest … Wallace now leads the team with 17 runs batted in … the Crusaders did not commit an error for the ninth time in 19 games this season.