With a 7-1 lead, the Crusaders were nine outs away from their first road sweep to open a season since 1969, but the Samford Bulldogs defended their territory as they rallied for eight runs in the final two innings in a 10-7 win at J.L. Griffin Field in Alabama.
"It's a tough loss to take obviously. But all in all, to take two games in our first three days outside we're pretty happy," head coach Brian Schmack said.
Crusader pitcher Mario Losi (Anaheim, Calif./Canyon) met a high level of expectations when he surrendered just two runs in seven innings on the hill. The freshman walked only one and struck out one while keeping his pitch count low.
Valpo jumped out to a multi-run lead for the third time with a run in the third and three in the fourth.
Andrew Bynum (Huntington Beach, Calif./Ocean View [Orange Coast CC]) recorded his fifth RBI of the season via a bases-loaded walk that forced in freshman Ray Bartolomucci (Concord, Calif./De La Salle).
Valpo opened its lead to 4-0 in an action-packed fourth frame. Karch Kowalczyk (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru) deposited a Milazzo delivery over the left field fence for his second career home run. The solo shot put the Brown and Gold ahead 2-0.
Spencer Mahoney (La Grange Park, Ill/Lyons Township) singled in Mark Johnson (Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township) later in the inning after Johnson reached base on a walk. A perfectly-executed double steal allowed Mahoney to come home while Johnson safely slid into second. The 4-0 Crusader lead stood after four innings.
Samford got a run back in its half of the fifth when Caleb Bryson drove in Tyler Filliben.
Valparaiso tacked on a pair of runs in the sixth when Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Chrisitan) stroked the first home run of his Crusader career, a two-run shot that brought in Bartolomucci as well.
Chris Manning (Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro) ripped a double after a Mahoney walk that allowed the shortstop to race home to give Valpo a 7-1 lead.
The Bulldogs made it 7-2 right after the stretch. Bryson scored Filliben again, this time on a sac fly.
Losi gave way to sophomore Trevor Haas (Mt. Prospect, Ill./Hersey) after seven strong frames. Back-to-back RBI singles off the righty created a 7-4 save situation in the final inning.
With Kowalczyk having thrown the last two days, Schmack pointed for Ben Mahar (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein) to seal the deal.
The first two Samford batters singled before Tripp Martin walked to load the bases. Heath Quinn drew a pass that forced in the fifth Samford run. The Crusaders were unable to turn a 4-6-3 double play ball off the bat of Evan McWhorter. The fielder's choice brought in Jared Watson to make it a 7-6 tilt.
Mahar painted the outside corner with a fastball to sit Hunter Swilling down on strikes for the second out.
But with the bases loaded and two away, Bryson came back to kill the Crusaders with a walk-off grand slam giving Samford the 10-7 victory.
Valpo (2-1) will return to Alabama to face Jacksonville State in a three-game series next weekend. First pitch Friday is set for 3:00 pm.
Links to the live stats will be available at valpoathletics.com.