Freshman Giovanni Garbella (San Diego, Calif./Cathedral Catholic) laced his first career round-tripper in the home half of the seventh to draw Valpo within one run, but Panther catcher Daulton Varsho's ninth-inning two-run homer provided the insurance necessary for Milwaukee as the visitors made away with an 8-6 win over the Crusaders in Sunday's series finale at Emory G. Bauer Field.
Valpo starter Ryan Fritze (Woodbury, Minn./Woodbury [Des Moines Area CC]) spotted the Panthers two runs in the opening frame after infielder Mitch Ghelfi drove in a pair with a double to left-center.
Milwaukee doubled its edge in the second with a couple of two-out singles from the top of the order. Luke Meeteer sliced an opposite-field knock to plate first baseman Nick Unes. Derek Peake drove in the fourth Panther run with a single up the middle that allowed Tyler Hermann to score from second.
Freshman Chad Jacob (Irvine, Calif./Woodbridge) trimmed the margin in the bottom half of the second. Dustin Beasley (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point [Cisco]) touched home on an RBI groundout from the Valpo third baseman. Beasley led the inning off with a ground-rule double off Milwaukee starter Justin Langley. He moved up 90 feet on a Josh Clark (Granada Hills, Calif./Hillcrest Christian [Riverside City]) base hit up the middle.
Fritze was close to registering his first scoreless side in the third, but Unes spoiled the righty's attempt with a two-out RBI single. Designated hitter Mike Porcaro crossed the plate on Unes' second hit in as many plate appearances.
To Fritze's credit, he settled in after a turbulent first three innings. He threw up three straight zeroes in the middle innings while the Brown and Gold chipped away at the five-run deficit.
The first three Crusaders reached in the bottom of the fourth. Jacob was in the middle of the action again as he singled home Clark, who slashed a leadoff hit. Valpo had a prime opportunity to tack on more runs in the frame as Langley issued a free pass to Jeff Edwards(Massillon, Ohio/Jackson) which loaded the bases. Langley worked out of danger as he caught Nolan Lodden (West Des Moines, Iowa/West Des Moines Valley [Heartland CC]) looking for the final out of the fourth.
The tension only increased in the home half of the fifth as the Crusaders left three runners on base for the second consecutive at-bat.
Daniel Delaney (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Thousand Oaks [Fresno State]) and Beasley both cracked singles to open the inning. A passed ball scooted both in to scoring position with nobody out. First base didn't stay unoccupied long as Langley walked his fourth batter of the game to load the bases. Despite the highly-favorable circumstances, Langley pulled a rabbit out of the hat as he held the Crusaders scoreless.Ray Bartolomucci (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) lined the first pitch he saw right to Hermann at the third base for the first out. Langley followed with strikeouts of Jacob and Garbella to keep it a 5-2 game.
Milwaukee gifted Valpo a run in the sixth. An inside fastball got away from reliever Adam Reuss and caught Edwards for his eighth hit-by-pitch of the season. Edwards advanced to second on a wild pitch, moved over to third on a Lodden ground out, and eventually scored on Reuss' second wild delivery of the inning.
The Panthers got that run back in the seventh. Porcaro greeted Bryce Yoder (Spencerville, Ind./Eastside) with a single to right that scored Peake. Peake was the beneficiary of a four-pitch leadoff walk.
Garbella's homer in the bottom half of the seventh came on a 1-2 offering from Reuss and gave the Brown and Gold new life.
With Milwaukee leading 6-5 after seven innings of play, both teams traded blanks in the eighth.
Ghelfi, the leadoff batter in the ninth, spoiled a couple offerings from Yoder before working a seven-pitch walk. He was able to jog home from second on Varsho's moon shot to right. The two-run dinger supplied the Panthers with necessary insurance.
The Crusaders didn't go quietly in the bottom of the ninth.
Spencer Mahoney (La Grange Park, Ill./Lyons Township) represented Valpo's last hope before extending the game with a run-scoring single to center. Jacob scored from second after doubling down the left-field line against Milwaukee closer Cody Peterson. Peterson thwarted the Crusaders' comeback attempt when he coaxed a pop-up from Edwards to end the game.
Langley earned his fifth win of the season for the Panthers. He lasted five innings and yielded two runs on eight hits. Fritze was tagged with the loss after surrendering four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings of work. He whiffed a season-high seven batters and walked a pair.
Valparaiso stranded 14 runners in the defeat. The Brown and Gold have now left 10 or more runners on base in eight of their last nine tilts.
Valpo (18-23, 13-10 Horizon) remains one game up on Milwaukee (27-16, 12-11 Horizon) for third place within the Horizon League. The Crusaders will continue their homestand Tuesday afternoon against Western Michigan (18-23). First pitch from Emory G. Bauer Field is slated for 3:00 p.m. CT. WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) will have the call with live stats also available. Stay tuned to @ValpoBaseball1 for any possible adjustments due to weather.