If the Crusaders wish to retain their status as Horizon League Champions, they'll have to accomplish something they haven't done this season: win six games in a row.
Valpo fell to the loser's bracket of this year's Horizon League Tournament following a 7-3 loss to Youngstown State Wednesday afternoon at Kapco Park in Mequon, Wisconsin.
Both starting pitchers sailed through the first four innings of play. YSU's Phil Lipari broke a scoreless tie with an RBI base hit up the middle off Cole Webb (Tulsa, Okla./Union [Coffeyville CC]). Alex Larivee made it 2-0 with a drive to the right-center gap. The Penguins were poised for a big inning with runners on second and third and one out. But Webb worked out thanks to a strikeout and a diving stop up the middle by Andy Burns (Edwardsville, Ill./Edwardsville [Heartland CC]).
Burns got Valpo on the scoreboard in the bottom half of the fifth with his first home run in a Crusader uniform. The second baseman lifted a 1-1 pitch off Youngstown State starter Jared Wight high into the jet stream to cut the deficit in half.
Lipari gave the Penguins a three-run cushion when he cracked a no-doubter out to right. The homer was the fifth of the year for the YSU second baseman. Youngstown State continued their offensive assault three batters latter when Matt Sullivan plated Larivee with a double to right-center field.
YSU lefty Alex Frey fired a perfect seventh inning for the Penguins before they added on two runs in the eighth. Kurt Laver smacked a grounder down the first-base line, scoring Kevin Hix and Josh White.
Trailing 7-1 after seven and a half frames, Valpo clawed its way back to 7-3.
Senior Chris Manning (Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro) recorded his second hit of the day sandwiched between a pair of walks to load the bases with one out. Right-hander Ryan Smith was called on in relief of Frey, and Smith promptly issued a four-pitch, run-scoring walk to Karch Kowalczyk (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru). Manning later scored on an Andrew Bynum (Huntington Beach, Calif./Ocean View [Orange Coast CC]) sac fly.
The Crusaders worked two walks against Penguin closer Kevin Yarabinec in the ninth, but the tying run never came to the plate. Yarabinec earned his fifth save of the year, working 1 2/3 innings. Anthony Konders got the win for Youngstown State in relief. For Valpo, Webb fell to 7-4 on the season after surrendering five earned runs on twelve hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Youngstown State issued nine walks altogether - but allowed only four hits - in their 7-3 win over the Brown and Gold. Valpo flew out 14 times, its most since April 17th at Milwaukee.
The club's trip got off to an inauspicious start Tuesday when several players remained in Valparaiso due to a flu outbreak. The ailing players arrived with the team trainer Wednesday, just a couple hours before first pitch. None of the affected played in Wednesday's tilt and their availability for the rest of the tournament remains in question.
Valpo will face the fifth-seeded Oakland Golden Grizzlies (12-32) at 11:00 am CT in an elimination game. Sophomore Dalton Lundeen (4-6, 2.17) will get the ball for the Crusaders opposite Oakland righty Jake Paulson (4-7, 3.81).