Will Hagel’s (Arlington Heights, Ill./Prospect H.S.) single in the top of the 10th inning drove home Tanner Vavra (Menomonie, Wis./Menomonie H.S.) with what proved to be the winning run on Sunday afternoon as Valparaiso shocked fourth-ranked Arkansas 10-9 in front of more than 5,000 fans at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark., handing the Razorbacks their first loss of the season.
The victory marked the highest ranked team Valparaiso has defeated on the diamond since a 4-2 victory at #1 Notre Dame back on April 25, 2001 in the second game of a doubleheader.
“This team just won’t quit,” head coach Tracy Woodson said. “They never give up and came up with some clutch two out hits today. They just keep battling and believing in one another.”
Vavra led off the 10th inning with a double down the right field line and was still on second base when Hagel came to the plate with two outs. The fifth-year senior, who had a huge game, going 4-for-6 at the plate, delivered the game-winning single the opposite way to left, scoring Vavra.
The Razorbacks (7-1) threatened in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases against Crusader closer Jarad Miller (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll H.S.), before he struck out Arkansas clean-up hitter Mark Reynolds to secure the victory.
The Crusaders had to rally in the game though, as the Brown and Gold trailed 5-0 after four innings. Arkansas scored three times in the opening inning and added single runs in the second and fourth.
Valpo started its comeback in the fifth. Billy Cribbs (Rochester, Mich./Rochester H.S.) and Steven Scoby (Delton, Mich./Delton Kellogg H.S.) led off with back-to-back singles and Mark Johnson (Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township H.S.) produced the Crusaders’ first run with a RBI hit to left. Vavra followed with another run-scoring single and the four straight hits chased Arkansas started Randall Fant. Johnson scored on a wild pitch, which moved Vavra to third, and a Chris Manning (Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro H.S.) sacrifice fly pulled the Crusaders within one.
Arkansas increased the lead to 7-4 with two runs in the bottom of the fifth utilizing four hits, but Kevin Upp (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte H.S.) came on in relief of starter Kevin Wild (Brown Deer, Wis./Brown Deer H.S.) to end the inning. Upp would stay on and pitch four innings, allowing just one unearned run and one hit.
“Upp was huge for us out of the pen,” Woodson added. “He kept the game where it was and allowed us to come back.”
That is exactly what the Crusaders did in the sixth. Valpo scored five times, all with two outs. With Scoby on first, Vavra was hit by a pitch. Andrew Bain (Indianapolis, Ind./Park Tudor H.S.) followed with a single to center, scoring two runs. He moved up to second on a fielding error which also allowed Vavra to score. Manning walked and Hagel picked up an infield single loading the bases for Elliott Martin (Irvine, Calif./University H.S.). The junior college transfer delivered with his biggest hit to date as a Crusader, a three-run double to the gap in left-centerfield, putting Valpo on top 9-7.
The Razorbacks got an unearned run back in the bottom of the sixth, and the game stayed 9-8 until the ninth as Upp sent the hosts down in order in both the seventh and the eighth.
In the ninth, Dominic Ficociello led off with a double and moved to third on a wild pitch. After a walk put runners on the corners, Matt Vinson lifted a sacrifice fly to tie the game and moved pinch runner Brian Anderson into scoring position. Miller induced a foul out from Jacob Morris to force extra innings.
“We got a bit of a reprieve going to the 10th inning,” Woodson said. “We made sure to take advantage of it. It’s tough against teams of this caliber and you have to play your best inning after inning.”
While Hagel finished the game 4-for-6 for the Crusaders, Vavra and Scoby each had three hits as well as part of a 14-hit attack on the afternoon. Vavra scored three times and Scoby crossed the plate twice.
Miller earned the victory (1-0) in relief, working the final two innings. Nolan Sanberg, Arkansas’ closer, suffered the loss (1-1), despite striking out eight in three innings of work.
“We saw some tremendous arms again today, just like was have all series long,” Woodson concluded.
Valparaiso (3-3) will return to action on Saturday afternoon, facing Gardner-Webb in Boiling Spring, N.C. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m. CST.
Game Notes: The win was Valpo’s first in five tries against Arkansas and their first ever against a Southeastern Conference school … the Crusaders are 2-0 in extra innings this season after having not won an extra inning game in all of 2011 … Arkansas had not given up more than seven runs in a game all season.