After a stretch where they dropped four of five games and experienced frustrating defensive struggles, the Crusaders got back to the fundamentals with a pair of well-pitched, well-defended games in a doubleheader sweep over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Saturday.
Sophomore Dalton Lundeen (Streamwood, Ill./Streamwood) stymied the Islanders all afternoon, making big pitches when he needed to, and working efficiently.
Armed with a 1-0 lead thanks to a Jeff Edwards (Massillon, Ohio/Jackson) squeeze in the top half of the third, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi had a golden scoring opportunity in its ensuing at-bat. Cody Stephens sacrificed Josh Garza and Lukas Hermanson into scoring position with one out. Facing the two and three-hole hitters, Lundeen coaxed Jordan Lee into a foul out to third base before inducing an inning-ending ground out from Kyle Danford.
The Islanders experienced deja vu in the fourth inning when senior Karch Kowalczyk (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru) touched them all with a solo home run, his third of the season. Kowalczyk lifted an opposite-field home run in his second at-bat in Friday evening's game.
The Crusaders weren't finished in the inning, as Jake Hanson (Yorkville, Ill./Aurora Christian) drove Michael Morman (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) in with a sacrifice fly to right field. Hanson's fifth run batted in of the year put the Brown and Gold ahead 3-0.
Hanson added to his stat sheet with a run-scoring double in his next at-bat. After Morman led off the top of the 6th with a double to the left center gap, the sophomore catcher went back to the gap with a double of his own. The extra-base hit extended Valpo's lead to 4-0.
Four runs were plenty for Lundeen as the left-hander needed just 80 pitches to record his first career shutout. He surrendered just four hits on the day, walking none and punching out three.
With the win in the first game, Valpo (6-7) inched closer to the .500 mark.
Freshman Mario Losi (Anaheim, Calif./Canyon) did his best to match Lundeen's performance in game two of the twinbill. The righty had pitched much better than his lines had indicated in previous outings, but Losi finally got his first career win today.
He lasted eight innings, yielded five hits, three walks, and struck out four. The Islanders managed just one run off Losi,
It was Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's turn to put up a crooked number in the error column. The first two Crusaders of the game reached on Islander errors. Spencer Mahoney (La Grange Park, Ill./Lyons Township) came in to score on a Morman sac fly. Mahoney got on first base after a Stephens miscue. Edwards made it 2-0 when touched home after Russell Vaughan committed the third blunder of the frame.
The Crusaders threw up a three-spot in the third inning to push their lead to 5-0. Garza booted a ball off the bat of Morman that allowed Mahoney to race home from second. Mahoney got things started in the inning with a walk.
Andrew Bynum (Huntington Beach, Calif./Ocean View [Orange Coast CC]) broke the game wide open later in the third with a two-run single to left field.
Losi retired the next ten batters as he cruised through seven innings unscathed. Valpo's 16 2/3-inning scoreless streak came to a close in the bottom of the eighth when Zacarias Hardy poked a single to left that brought in Vaughan.
Ben Mahar (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein) worked a scoreless ninth as the Brown and Gold seized the back end of the doubleheader 5-1 to clinch the series.
"This was a great series win. We took advantage of some miscues and pitched and played defense exceptionally well today," head coach Brian Schmack said.
Valpo (7-7) will conclude its spring trip Tuesday with a game under the lights against Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Ellis Foreman (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point) will get the ball in the 6:30 pm tilt. Foreman seeks to build upon his best start as a Crusader Wednesday when he limited Texas State to an earned run over seven innings of work.
Links to the audio, video, and live stats will be available at valpoathletics.com.