For the first time in school history Valparaiso has advanced to the championship game of the Horizon League Baseball Tournament with an 8-6 victory over Youngstown State on Saturday night at Nischwitz Stadium in Dayton, Ohio.
The Crusaders rallied from a run down, scoring three times in the bottom of the seventh inning to advance to Sunday’s championship round against tournament host, and top-seeded, Wright State (35-17) beginning at 10 a.m. CDT. Valpo has to defeat the Raiders twice on Sunday to win the title while Wright State needs just one win over the Brown and Gold.
“It’s exciting to be in the championship,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “I definitely think we deserve to be there and we’ll see what happens tomorrow. We hope for good things and to play twice.”
Trailing by a run heading into the bottom of the seventh, Kyle Gaedele (Arlington Heights, Ill./Rolling Meadow s H.S.) led off with a double and moved to third on a fly out. Bobby Martin (Crystal Lake, Ill./Prairie Ridge H.S.) was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners with one out. Steven Scoby (Delton, Mich./Delton Kellogg H.S.) hit a grounder to first in which the fielder threw home to the plate. The throw was high and into the stands, scoring Gaedele with the tying run and putting runners on second and third.
Corey Thibault (Tustin, Calif./Foothill H.S.) was walked intentionally and Michael Morman (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic H.S.) made the Penguins pay with a run-scoring single to right, putting Valpo on top. Andrew Bain (Indianpolis, Ind./Park Tudor H.S.) added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly and the Crusaders had an 8-6 lead.
Kevin Wild (Brown Deer, Wis./Brown Deer H.S.) pitched a scoreless eighth, but not before working around a walk and a pair of wild pitches which put a runner on third with one out. He ended up with the victory (2-2) in 2.1 innings of work. Steve Godawa (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) came on in the ninth to earn his first save of the season. After a lead-off walk, he induced a comebacker to start a double play before Martin made a nice diving stop to end the game.
Youngstown State (14-41), the tournament’s sixth seed, struck first in the game with a pair of unearned runs in the opening inning, taking advantage of two Valpo errors. The Penguins extended their lead to 3-0 in the third on a Joe Iacobucci RBI single.
Five straight hits to start the third inning allowed Valpo to rally and take the lead. Morman and Bain led off with singles and Chris Manning (Lake Forest, Ill./El Toro H.S.) loaded the bases with a bunt hit. Will Hagel (Arlington Heights, Ill./Prospect H.S.) pulled Valpo within one with a two-run single. Gaedele followed with a two-run double to the right-centerfield gap and the Crusaders had a 4-3 lead.
Valpo added to the lead in the fourth as Thibault walked, was sacrificed to second, moved to third on a bunt single by Bain, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Manning, chasing Penguin starter Cody Dearth.
The Penguins took advantage of a walk, a wild pitch, a passed ball, and a single to pull within 5-4 in the fifth inning, and the game stayed that way until the seventh. Drew Dosch led off the Penguin seventh with a single and Neil Schroth was hit by a pitch. After Jeremy Banks walked to load the bases, Chris Mitko had a two-run single to put the Penguins on top 6-5, setting the stage for Valpo’s game-winning rally in the bottom of the frame.
Kevin Upp (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte H.S.) started and worked 5.2 innings in a no decision. The freshman allowed just four runs, only two of which were earned, and seven hits while walking two and striking out one. Erik Okleson suffered the loss (1-3) in relief for the Penguins, allowing three runs, only one of which was earned, in three innings of work.
“Upp was good for us and gave us the start we needed,” Woodson stated. “We committed a couple of errors behind him and they had a couple of bloop hits, but he threw strikes for the most part and that was big.”
Bain and Hagel each had three hits for Valpo while Manning, Gaedele, and Morman had two hits a piece for the Brown and Gold, as the Crusaders tallied 14 for the game. Valpo has had at least 11 hits in each game of the tournament and has 62 through four games in the championship.
“This is the best stretch we have had swinging the bats all year,” Woodson added. “Even some of the outs we are making we are hitting hard.”
Schroth reached base and scored four times for Youngstown State and had two hits along with Iacobucci and Mitko to pace the Penguins’ nine-hit attack.
“It’s hard to bounce back when you lose a game like we did earlier in the day,” Woodson concluded. “I was proud of how we responded. It took us about three innings to get going, but we battled.”
Valparaiso (25-31) will look to defeat the Raiders on Sunday after suffering a tight 4-3 setback earlier on Saturday, forcing the Crusaders to face the Penguins. First pitch of the championship is set for 10 a.m. CDT with the if necessary game to follow 50 minutes after game one’s completion.