A seven-run top of the third that saw plenty of pomp and circumstance propelled the Crusaders to a 9-1 victory over Youngstown State Saturday. In the process, Valpo collected its first weekend sweep of the season in Horizon League play.
Rain pushed back first pitch a little more an hour. Once the teams got underway, the Penguins jumped out to an early 1-0 lead courtesy of an RBI single from Brent Gillespie. The base hit scored Phil Lipari, who led off the contest with a double to right center.
Following a 38-minute rain delay, Valpo evened things up in its half of the third. Mark Johnson (Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township) summoned a leadoff walk before advancing to second on a Spencer Mahoney (La Grange Park, Ill./Lyons Township) ground out. Senior Bryce Hara (Irvine, Calif./Northwood [Irvine Valley College]) roped a Jeremy Quinlan delivery down the right field line that scored Johnson. The RBI was Hara's 10th of the season.
The Crusaders sent ten men to the plate in a lengthy fourth inning. Jake Hanson (Yorkville, Ill./Aurora Christian) drove in Michael Morman (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) with a sac fly to center for the first run of the frame. Johnson continued to be a thorn in the side of the Penguins as he delivered a run-scoring single with two outs. With runners on first and third, the Brown and Gold executed a double steal that plated Andy Burns (Edwardsville, Ill./Edwardsville [Heartland CC]). Hara knocked in his second run of the afternoon with an infield single to give Valpo a 5-1 advantage.
The Brown and Gold made it 8-1 a batter later when Chris Manning (Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro) lifted a fly ball to the warning track in left field that caromed off Nick DiNello's glove towards center field. By the time the Penguin outfielder retrieved the ball, Manning was on his way home. Three Crusaders - including Manning - scored on the play that was ruled a four-base error.
On a pitch count, Ellis Foreman (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point) turned in four innings of one-run ball. The redshirt freshman allowed three hits, walked two, and struck out four. Ben Mahar (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein), Zack Walsh (Batesville, Ind./Batesville [Connecticut]), Bryce Yoder (Spencerville, Ind./Eastside), and Trevor Haas (Mt. Prospect, Ill./Hersey) combined to blank the Penguins for the final five frames. Foreman was awarded the win as he improved his record to 3-6.
As a whole, the Crusader pitching staff lowered its earned run average to a season-low 3.96. That figure has gone down every game since April 27th, a span of 13 tilts.
Hara finished the day 3-for-3 with two runs batted in, a walk, and a run scored. Johnson touched home twice thanks to a 1-for-3 day at the plate with a walk and a hit by pitch. In the regular season series versus Youngstown State, Johnson batted 10-for-21 (.476) with nine runs, two doubles, a triple, two homers, seven RBIs, and two stolen bases.
With the win, the Crusaders moved to 11-1 in their last twelve games at Eastwood Field.
Valpo wrapped up the regular season 23-26, 12-12 in Horizon League games. 2014 represents the fourth consecutive non-losing season in HL play for the Brown and Gold.
Owners of the third seed in the Horizon League Conference Tournament, the Crusaders will turn right around and face the sixth-seeded Penguins again Wednesday at 3 pm at Kapco Park in Mequon, Wis. Links to the video and live stats will be available at valpoathletics.com.