The Crusaders returned Wednesday to Hennon Stadium in Cullowhee, North Carolina to resume Tuesday's rain-shortened contest. Western Carolina's pitching staff probably wishes the inclement weather would have stayed longer.
Endowed with a 4-3 lead when play resumed, Valpo exploded for 18 runs, its highest output since April 2nd, 2010. Meanwhile, the Crusader bullpen kept a loaded Catamount offense at bay, as freshman Luke VanLanen (Pulaski, Wis./Pulaski) earned his first collegiate win and senior Ben Mahar (Mundelein, Ill./Mundelein) stifled batters over three shutout innings. Senior Zack Walsh (Batesville, Ind./Batesville [UConn]) recorded the final three outs in the 18-5 victory.
While the pitching did its job, the offense stole the show.
Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) touched home six times as part of a 2-for-3 game. Dustin Beasley (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point [Cisco]) drove home seven runs, four of which came on an eighth-inning grand slam.
Josh Clark (Granada, Hills, Calif./Hillcrest Christian [Riverside City]) reopened play with a two-out, two-run single up the middle to extend Valpo's lead to 6-3.
VanLanen took to the hill in relief of fellow freshman Connor Kaucic (Chardon, Ohio/Notre Dame Cathedral Latin) who tossed two innings last night. VanLanen allowed the first two batters he faced to reach; however, he was happy to exchange a run for two outs when WCU center fielder Matt Smith grounded into a tailor-made 6-4-3 twin killing.
Beasley recorded his third RBI of the tilt in the Crusader half of the fifth. His two-out run-scoring single allowed Palace to touch home.
Bradley Strong got WCU that run right back in the bottom of the fifth, as he scored on a Danny Bermudez ground out. Strong smacked a leadoff double before stealing third base.
Leading 7-5 after five innings, Valpo delivered a crushing blow in the sixth with all the damage coming with two outs.
A Jeff Edwards (Massillon, Ohio/Jackson) leadoff single was on its way to going unpunished after Catamount reliever Brendan Nail got two quick hits via the strikeout.
But the next Valpo batters all reached safely with a two-run double from Palace representing the linchpin. The sophomore's fifth extra-base hit in his last four games brought in Edwards and Chad Jacob (Irvine, Calif./Woodbridge) and gave the Brown and Gold a 9-5 edge.
Daniel Delaney (Thousand Oaks, Calif/Thousand Oaks [Fresno State]) subsequently singled up the middle to plate Nolan Lodden (West Des Moines, Iowa/West Des Moines Valley [Heartland CC). Relief pitcher B.J. Nobles walked the next three batters, forcing in two additional insurance tallies. Valpo led 12-5 by the time the dust settled.
Mahar took over for VanLanen after the rookie supplied three solid innings to place himself in line for the win.
Mahar worked around a two-out single to keep the momentum in the visitors' dugout.
Palace continued his torrid pace at the plate in his next at-bat, sending a Dylan Biumi delivery deep over the fence for a solo shot. Over his last three games spanning 13 at-bats, Palace has assembled an other-worldly 1.981 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Beasley provided the cherry on top of Valpo's second straight win with a grand slam - the Crusaders' second in the last three games - in the top of the eighth. Valpo had been the beneficiary of three bases on balls to accompany a Lodden single prior to Beasley's dagger.
Walsh got the last three outs of the ballgame in a rapid 1-2-3 ninth inning.
Despite the lopsided final score, Western Carolina actually outhit Valpo, 12-11. The Crusaders accepted a dozen walks and wore four hit-by-pitches.
Beasley's seven runs batted in were the most by a Crusader since Steven Scoby matched that mark on April 14th, 2010 versus IU-Northwest. Valparaiso's single-game records, which date back only to 2006, show no player tally more runs scored than Palace's six.
On the mound, VanLanen yielded just two runs in three innings of work. Mahar needed just 28 pitches to solicit three shutout innings.
Valpo (2-6) will trek down to Spartanburg, South Carolina to face USC Upstate (5-5) this weekend in a three-game series. Crusader ace Dalton Lundeen (0-1, 2.19) will seek his first win of the 2015 campaign in Friday's 4 pm ET/3 pm CT start. Live stats will be available for all three games courtesy of USC Upstate Athletics.