Wins weren't this easy to come by last year for Cole Webb (Tulsa, Okla./Union [Coffeyville CC]).
Webb, who received 15 runs from the offense in his first eight starts of 2013, had plenty of breathing room after Valpo rattled off four runs before the senior even tossed a pitch. The Crusaders plated two more runs in their half of the fourth Friday as they hung on for a 6-5 season-opening win over Samford.
"It's a great win. This is our first time out on dirt so I was really happy with how our guys made adjustments and competed," head coach Brian Schmack said. For Schmack, it was his first career win as head coach.
The Crusaders got the action rolling in the first when their first two batters reached. Spencer Mahoney (La Grange Park, Ill./Lyons Township) drew his first of two walks on the day before Chris Manning (Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro) was hit by a Chase Traffica delivery. With one away, Michael Morman (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) ripped a ball to the left side that gave the Samford shortstop fits. Mahoney scored on the miscue and Manning advanced to third.
Morman subsequently stole second before Karch Kowalczyk (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru) loaded the bases after he was issued a walk. Andy Burns (Edwardsville, Ill./Edwardsville [Heartland CC]) put the Brown and Gold ahead 2-0 with a single to right field that brought in Manning.
Sophomore Jake Hanson (Yorkville, Ill./Aurora Christian) provided the exclamation point when he rifled a two-run double to left. The two-bagger gave Valpo a 4-0 advantage.
Armed with a comfortable cushion, Webb quickly dispatched the Bulldogs in order in their half of the first.
Samford pushed a run across in the 2nd inning thanks to a two-out single from Tyler Filliben.
Valpo added two insurance tallies in the 4th when the first three batters reached. Burns walked before Hanson deposited a single to left. Freshman Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) chased Traffica with an opposite-field single to load the bases.
Bulldog reliever Parker Curry induced a 1-2-3 double play off the bat of Mark Johnson (Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township). Mahoney picked up Johnson with an RBI single that scored Hanson. Manning followed with a bunt single. With the sacs jammed, Andrew Bynum (Huntington Beach, Calif./Ocean View [Orange Coast CC]) drew a walk to extend Valpo's lead to 6-1.
The Samford bullpen did a remarkable job shutting down the Crusader offense the rest of the way. Valpo managed just one hit over the final five frames.
The Bulldogs cut into the deficit in the home half of the 7th. Webb walked the first two batters before giving way to Ben Mahar (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein). Danny Rodriguez scored on a fielder's choice off the bat of Heath Quinn.
Mahar worked a rocky eighth that began with a Drew McWhorter solo shot to left. The righty issued back-to-back walks before settling in to get two groundball outs. Samford made it a 6-4 tilt on an RBI groundout from Hunter Swilling.
Mahar got Valpo out of the jam when he caught Brandon Powell looking at strikes.
Kowalczyk, last season's Horizon League Pitcher of the Year, retired the first man in the bottom of the 9th before allowing a single then an RBI double by Quinn. McWhorter got under a delivery for the second out before Swilling was rung up for the final out of the game.
Mahoney reached base four times in five plate appearances. Hanson's two RBIs led the Crusader offense. Valpo scored six runs as six different players touched home plate.
"Cole didn't necessarily have his best stuff today, but he competed and made big pitches when he needed to," Schmack said. Webb, the winning pitcher, finished with a line of six-plus innings, eight hits, two earned runs, three walks, and four strikeouts. The right-hander recorded Valpo's first win of the season last year with eight shutout innings over Ohio University in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Crusaders (1-0) look to take the series tomorrow afternoon. Sophomore Drew Hasler (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka Marian) will oppose Alex Ledford in a 2:00 pm CT first pitch. Ledford, a righty, will be making his Bulldog debut after transferring to Samford from Louisburg College.