Supplied with ideal weather, Valpo's Fall World Series ended last week with a 2-0 sweep by the Grey team. While numbers and results in the abbreviated competition occupy a small sample size, pitchers were able to showcase their arms while batters put their swings on display. Technique and fundamentals weren't the only points driven home in the fall by head coach Brian Schmack. The skipper reiterated the importance of mental toughness and a focused, disciplined approach.
"I thought the fall went great. We really stressed style of play and going about our business the correct way. The guys are buying into it and are seeing the benefits of playing hard while also paying attention to detail," Schmack said.
Ellis Foreman (Round Rock, Texas, Stony Point), who redshirted last season while undergoing rehab following Tommy John surgery, allowed just one earned run in 4 2/3 innings during two relief appearances in the World Series. Freshman pitcher Mario Losi (Anaheim, Calif./Canyon) started for the Black team in Game 2 and while his line of 3 2/3 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K in Monday's intrasquad doesn't jump off the page, an advanced comfort level with the changeup and consistent mechanics did impress.
Sophomore Dalton Lundeen (Streamwood, Ill./Streamwood), who was the winning pitcher in the 2013 Horizon League Tournament Championship Game, tossed five innings of two-run ball in Game 1 to earn the victory. Equipped with an improved frame, Lundeen has seen a slight boost in velocity from a year ago.
Entering the fall, few question marks lied in the grass, but plenty of mysteries were present on the dirt. Shortstop Spencer Mahoney (La Grange Park, Ill./Lyons Township) is the only current player with extensive D-1 experience on the infield. With the catcher, first, second, and third base jobs all up for grabs, returnees, transfers, and freshmen are all making auditions.
"We knew replacing the guys we lost would be a huge task so I think the biggest factor was the unknown. Obviously, you recruit guys that you think can step in and play right away, but you are never sure until they are on campus and competing against other college players. Throughout the fall we have had guys step up and begin to fill those roles and we're confident our lineup on February 14th will be very competitive," Schmack said.
Freshman infielder Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) hit a two-run homer in Game 1 as part of a 3-for-8 World Series. Sophomore infielder Jeff Edwards (Massillon, Ohio/Jackson) had a pair of doubles, two runs, and three RBIs in Game 1. Sophomore catcher Jake Hanson (Yorkville, Ill./Aurora Christian) recorded three runs batted in, a double, and a run scored in his three-hit World Series performance.
Last season's Horizon League Relief Pitcher of the Year Karch Kowalczyk (Peru, Ill./LaSalle-Peru) had a 4-for-8 World Series at the plate with a pair of doubles. Kowalczyk possesses the most power of any Crusader on the roster, but his role as closer makes it difficult to get his bat in the lineup anywhere but at designated hitter.
While continuity exists at the head coach position, it also ends there. A coaching staff that had been in place for three straight seasons underwent a significant makeover. However, as the fall progressed, so did relationships.
"This was probably the biggest adjustment for our team (the coaching staff). What I did like to see was everyone loosening up and getting more comfortable with each other. The more time we spend together, the more the guys will realize we're all in this together and working towards common goals. That's when we'll see the fruits of our labor," Schmack concluded.