Playing their annual exhibition game against the Gary SouthShore RailCats on Wednesday evening, the Valparaiso Crusaders came up on the short end of an 11-2 decision at U. S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. in a contest designed to raise money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana.
After needing a hit in the bottom of the ninth to win last year’s game, Gary jumped out quickly this year, scoring six times in the opening inning. Back-to-back singles by Tanner Townsend and Jeff Beachum plated the first two runs and Crusader alum Zach Rodeghero (2005-2008) plated the third with another hit. Another single and an error later and the RailCats had a 6-0 lead.
Gary added to the advantage in the second as Rodeghero singled up the middle to score two more runs.
After former major leaguer Brad Halsey tossed three perfect innings for the RailCats, the Crusaders finally broke through against another former major leaguer. Kyle Gaedele (Arlington Heights, Ill./Rolling Meadows H.S.), using a wooden bat like all of the Crusaders on Wednesday, launched a blast high off the netting behind the leftfield wall for a solo homer against Zach McClellan, pulling Valpo within 8-1.
“That was good to see from Kyle,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “This (hitting with wood bats) is something he has to learn. He took the 2-0 pitch and crushed it.”
Valpo pitchers held the RailCats scoreless from the third through the seventh before Gary struck for three more runs in the eighth. Mike Rhode, who went 3-for-6 on the evening, delivered a two-run double, the only extra base hit for the hosts on the day.
“I figured from last year’s game we wouldn’t score many runs,” Woodson added. “We got behind early but for the next five to six innings the guys did a good job.”
The Crusaders plated one final run in the ninth. David Klein (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East H.S.) reached on an error and with one out Robbie Robinson (Brea, Calif./Olinda H.S.) singled to left-center, his second hit of the game. Following a two out walk to Karch Kowalczyk (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru H.S.) to load the bases, Ben Olejniczak (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso H.S.) drew a walk to force home Klein.
Robinson was the only Crusader with a multi-hit effort as Valpo managed just five on the night. Rodeghero went 3-for-4 with a walk, two runs, and three RBIs against his former team to pace Gary. The RailCats finished with 14 hits.
Halsey earned the win with three shutout innings while Steve Godawa (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) started and suffered the loss for the Brown and Gold.
Valparaiso alum Matt Lenski (2008-2009) also started at catcher for Gary on Wednesday, going 0-for-2.
Valparaiso (20-27) will return to Horizon League action on Friday afternoon as the Crusaders host Youngstown State. Senior Day activities will take place between games of the 12 p.m. doubleheader at Emory G. Bauer Field.