Valparaiso closed out the 2010 regular season on Saturday afternoon, splitting a doubleheader with UIC at Les Miller Field in Chicago, Ill. The Crusaders won the opener 9-8 before the Flames took the nightcap 10-5.
The win in game one of the doubleheader was the first for Valpo against UIC since 2002, ending a 15-game losing streak against the Flames.
“Getting the win in the first game was big as we were able to solidify fourth place,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. We were also able to get that monkey off our back by finally beating them.”
Valpo jumped on top quickly in the opener. Four straight singles plated a pair of runs. Ryan O’Gara (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) served a hit into left to plate Steven Scoby (Delton, Mich./Delton Kellogg H.S.) with the game’s first run. Robbie Robinson (Brea, Calif./Olinda H.S.) followed with a hit through the left side to score Kyle Gaedele (Arlington Heights, Ill./Rolling Meadows H.S.). Will Hagel (Arlington Heights, Ill./Prospect H.S.) was then hit with a pitch to load the bases with one out, but a line drive double play allowed the Flames to get out of the inning, yielding just the two runs.
UIC answered just as quickly in the first. Two singles, including a RBI hit by Matt Serna, along with two hit by pitches loaded the bases. Ryan Boss then gave the Flames a 5-2 lead with a grand slam it deep beyond the leftfield wall.
The Crusader bats continued to stay hot in the third inning, as the offense batted around. A one out walk to O’Gara and a single by Robinson put two runners on for Hagel. He laced a single up the middle to plate O’Gara, pulling Valpo within three. Billy Cribbs (Rochester, Mich./Rochester H.S.) followed with a single into shallow left, loading the bases. Karch Kowalczyk (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru H.S.) added a RBI single through the left side, making it a one run game, and chasing UIC starting pitcher Tim Suminski with the bases still loaded. Matt Salemi entered for the Flames and threw a wild pitch on his first toss, allowing Hagel to score and moving the other runners up 90 feet. Andrew Bain (Huntertown, Ind./Carroll H.S.) plated Cribbs with a sacrifice fly, giving Valpo the lead. Kyle Muhlsteff (Yorba Linda, Calif./Esperanza H.S.) kept the inning going with a single up the middle, scoring Kowalczyk. Muhlsteff’s single was Valpo’s 10th in the first three innings, giving every Crusader at least one hit in the game.
The Flames looked to get a run back in the bottom of the third. With Chris Rutta on first, Boss ripped a double down the leftfield line, but Scoby got to it quickly, fired the ball to Muhlsteff, who then gunned Rutta down at the plate for the final out of the inning.
O’Gara quickly tacked on another run to the Valpo lead in the top of the fourth, launching a solo blast over the scoreboard in left-centerfield, making it 8-5 Crusaders. In the bottom of the inning UIC answered with two runs, one on a triple by Steve McGuiggan and another when Jason Ganek reached on a Valpo throwing error.
Valpo increased the lead to 9-7 in the sixth inning, taking advantage of three walks. A two out wild pitch by Brad Riegler then allowed Gaedele to scamper home from third.
Damon McCormick (Louisville, Ky./Saint Xavier H.S.) settled down after the opening inning, working into the eighth inning. In the eighth he got the first two outs before a pop up was dropped by Bain putting two runners on base. Ganek followed with a double down the leftfield line, scoring Andy Leonard, pulling UIC within 9-8, and ending McCormick’s day. Austen Siwiec (Aurora, Ill./Marmion Academy) came on and induced a ground ball by Serna to get out of the inning.
“Damon battled today,” Woodson said. He didn’t have his best stuff but he didn’t back down. He pounded the strike zone.”
The Flames made things interesting in the ninth as Boss tripled high off of the wall in right-center with two outs, but Siwiec got Joe Betscher to fly out to end the game and record his first save since 2007.
“Austen came in very composed which is a big thing, Woodson added. “He got the job done today.”
McCormick earned the win (6-1) for the Crusaders, working 7.2 innings and allowing eight runs, six of which were earned, and 10 hits. He struck out four but did not walk a batter. Suminski suffered the loss (3-6) for UIC, allowing seven runs and nine hits in 2.1 innings of work.
O’Gara finished with three hits for Valpo in the opener as part of the team’s 13-hit attack. Boss finished 3-for-4 for the Flames with four runs batted in as UIC had 11 hits.
Game two saw UIC score first in the opening inning. A one out double by Serna to the gap in right-centerfield scored Ty Rubio, who led off the game with a walk.
The Flames added to the lead in the second as Leonard’s ground out scored Ryan Meehan.
The Crusaders fought back in the third to take the lead. Bo McClendon (Chesterton, Ind./Merrillville H.S.) delivered a three run triple that eluded a diving Rutta in left. The senior then scored on a double by O’Gara, putting Valpo on top 4-2 heading into the bottom of the third.
A fielder’s choice off of the bat of Boss in the bottom of the third allowed the Flames to cut the deficit in half, pulling UIC within 4-3. A RBI ground out by Serna with the bases loaded one inning later tied the game at four.
UIC took the lead in the bottom of the seventh as Meehan doubled to deep centerfield, scoring Boss who led off the inning with a single. Leonard added to the advantage with a two run double down the leftfield line. After a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly scored two more runs, a single by Boss plated the sixth run of the inning as the Flames took a 10-4 lead into the eighth inning.
Valpo added a run in the top of the eighth as Kowalczyk dropped a single into left which plated O’Gara, but that would be as close at Valpo would get.
Charlie Weinberg earned the win (2-0) for UIC (22-28, 15-9 Horizon), pitching two innings of scoreless relief after Eric Wyman struck out 10 in five innings of work. Andy Parker (Ottawa Hills, Ohio/Ottawa Hills H.S.) suffered the loss (0-1), not retiring a batter in the seventh inning while allowing five runs.
O’Gara and Kowalczyk led the Valpo offense with two hits each as the Crusaders managed just seven hits in game two. Serna, Steven Humble, and Leonard paced UIC with three hits each as the Flames tallied 16 for the game.
Valparaiso (22-30, 9-10) finished the regular season in fourth place in the conference and will begin Horizon League Championship play on Wednesday. The Crusaders are hosting the tournament at U. S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Pairings and start times will officially be announced on Sunday or Monday.