#4 Valparaiso (21-29, 15-14 Horizon)
#5 Youngstown State (16-33, 9-21 Horizon)
Horizon League Baseball Championship - Game 1
Wednesday, May 20th - 12:00 pm CDT
Wednesday, May 20th - Saturday, May 23rd, TBD
Oil City Stadium - Whiting, Ind.
This Week in Crusader Baseball: The Horizon League descends upon Northwest Indiana this week as an NCAA Tournament berth is up for grabs at Oil City Stadium. Fourth-seeded Valpo will host the Horizon League Championship set to get underway Wednesday. The Crusaders will take on the fifth-seeded Youngstown State Penguins in the opening game at 12 p.m. CT. The Penguins downed Valpo, Milwaukee, and Wright State twice as part of an improbable championship run as the sixth-seed in last year’s tournament.
Last Time Out: Valpo dropped all three games in its series against Wright State last weekend in Dayton. The Raider bullpen limited the Crusader offense to just one run in 11 1/3 innings of relief. The Brown and Gold collected 24 in the three-game set, but managed just five runs.
On the Air: ESPN3 (Video) will carry live coverage of all Horizon League Championship games. Live stats will also be available throughout the weekend. In addition, ValpoGameday.com is a one-stop shop for live video, stats and social media interaction, all on the same page.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his second season at the helm of the Crusaders. He led Valparaiso to 25 wins in his inaugural campaign, a school record for victories by a first-year skipper. Schmack, a member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, served as pitching coach/associate head coach at Valpo for seven seasons prior to his promotion. Under Schmack’s tutelage, seven pitchers have gone on to play professional baseball including Bryce Shafer, Dallas Cawiezell, and Karch Kowalczyk who were selected in the MLB Draft.
Probable Starters: Junior LHP Dalton Lundeen (4-7, 4.15) will get the ball in Wednesday’s matinee in hopes of continuing his excellence against Youngstown State. In seven career starts against the Penguins, Lundeen is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Sophomore righty Mario Losi (5-3, 4.40) is anticipated to get the ball in Thursday’s tilt should the Crusaders advance.
Series Notes: Valpo owns a commanding 54-18 edge over Youngstown State in a series dating back to 1992. The Crusaders have been winners in 26 of their last 31 tilts against the Penguins. Wednesday represents the fourth postseason meeting in the last five years between these two teams.
Looking Back:Valpo finished 2014 with a 25-28 record overall and a 12-12 mark in the Horizon League. Sophomore Dalton Lundeen compiled one of the best seasons on the mound of any lefthander in college baseball, registering HL-lows in earned run average (1.94), walks-plus-hits per inning pitched (1.02), and walks per nine innings (1.30). Offensively, Chris Manning racked up 61 hits as he boosted his career total to 264, good for second place all-time in school history.
In the Other Dugout: Steve Gillispie is in his third season at the head of the Youngstown State program. Gillispie led a grim 12-36 Penguin club into the 2014 Horizon League Championship and swept its way to a berth into the NCAA Tournament. There, they defated Indiana State 5-2 in an elimination tilt before falling to a loaded Stanford squad, 12-4.
Frank Califano serves as catalyst for a much-improved Penguin club. His .365 batting average was bested only by UIC’s Jeff Boehm. Califano paces YSU in the scoring department with 33 runs scored. Alex Larivee (.327/4 HR/21 RBI) is a versatile talent whose power will be fun to watch at a cozy Oil City Stadium. Starting pitcher Joe King (2-3, 4.01) enjoyed his best outing of the season against Valpo back on May 9th. The lefty blanked the Brown and Gold for seven innings, scattering three hits and striking out a season-high four batters.
A Glance at the Rest of the Field: Thanks to a three-game sweep over Oakland in the final weekend of the regular season, UIC secured the No. 1 seed over Wright State by one-half game. The Flames feature a highly-competent offense led by HL Player of the Year Jeff Boehm (.371/14 HR/62 RBI). Tyler Detmer (.335/5 HR/32 RBI) and Alex Lee (.320/1 HR/46 RBI) provide plenty of protection. The Flames recorded a .291 team batting average in 49 games. UIC’s pitching has been above average to date, amassing a 4.24 earned-run average. Newcomer Jake Dahlberg (7-2, 3.20) earned Pitcher of the Year honors this past Tuesday. The lefty isn’t a flamethrower, but he did log a league-most 98 1/3 innings pitched. Fellow southpaw Ryan Hinchley has been Mike Dee’s go-to arm out of the pen. Hinchley has notched nine saves while piling up 45 Ks in 33 2/3 IP.
Wright State concluded its second consecutive 35-win season this past month. The Raiders possess an exceptional bullpen that requires opponents to score prior to the seventh inning. The rotation has done its job to help WSU maintain the lowest ERA of any Horizon League club (3.33), a figure that is amongst the top 40 in the country. The Raider bats are a healthy balance of thunder (28 HR by nine different players) and lightning (72 SBs in 98 attempts). Ryan Fucci has cracked 12 dingers while five regulars carry batting averages higher than .310.
Despite owning the No. 3 seed, Milwaukee represents perhaps the most complete team of any in the field. The Panthers’ combination of speed (Luke Meeteer 32 SBs, Derek Peake 13 SBs), power (Sam Koenig 14 HR), and pitching (Justin Langley 6-1, 2.59; Joe Pavlovich 6-1, 2.90 ERA; Cody Peterson 11 saves, 2.43) is enviable. With a roster composed of 14 seniors, experience is not a concern for veteran skipper Scott Doffek. Pitching depth and a proficient offense make Milwaukee a wise bet for a deep run.
Oakland enters the week on an eight-game losing skid. The Golden Grizzlies advertise a talented offense, but a pitching staff still in search of order. Robby Enslen (.327/1 HR/25 RBI), Ian Yetsko (.292/3 HR/26 RBI), Zach Sterry (.290/4 HR/26 RBI), and Mike Brosseau (.288/7 HR/25 RBI) will do their part, but whether or not Oakland can hold opponents to fewer than seven runs remains to be seen.
Projected Starting Lineup: Senior Spencer Mahoney has been the lone constant in the starting lineup. The prototypical leadoff batter, Mahoney has spent all 50 games atop Brian Schmack’s batting order. His plate discipline and patience are second-to-none. Mahoney needs just two free passes to tie Marc Waite’s school record for career walks (137). He’s seen 974 pitches in 2015, 61 more than the next Crusader, Nolan Lodden. Mahoney has experienced an uptick in the power department as noted by his 15 doubles, two homers, and 27 runs batted in - all season-highs for him.
After spending the first 35 games of the season towards the bottom of the batting order, Jeff Edwards was inserted into the No. 2 spot where he’s seen his numbers take off. Edwards has reached base in 22 straight games, the longest stretch by any Crusader this season. The junior is a defensive standout, serving as the fulcrum for a highly-accomplished double-play combination that has turned 44 twin-killings on the season. His glove is a must-have for a pitching staff that prides itself on summoning ground balls.
Nolan Lodden might be the purest hitter in the Valpo order. The Heartland CC transfer has divided time between the second spot in the lineup and his current slot in the three-hole. Lodden could excel anywhere Schmack pencils him in thanks to his keen ability to spoil good pitches, use all fields, and produce line drives. His plate discipline is right up there with Mahoney’s as evidenced by 36 walks in 221 plate appearances.
Daniel Delaney has been another desired shot-in-the-arm to the Crusader offense. He’s floated amongst first base, designated hitter, and catcher - all without interrupting his offensive prowess. The California native has amassed 18 multi-hit games and 11 contests in which he has two or more runs batted in.
The fifth and sixth place in the batting order have served as a timeshare for junior OF Josh Clark. The left-handed hitting Clark possesses the most speed in the Valpo order and has boosted his batting average from .247 to .263 over the last six tilts. He had a season-high four hits against the Penguins on March 21st.
Either Dustin Beasley or Kyle Schneider will get the nod as the designated hitter on Wednesday. Beasley is one of the strongest players in the Horizon League, but his propensity for the strikeout (52 Ks in 161 at-bats) has limited his plate appearances. Schneider has come on strong since Youngstown State came to Northwest Indiana earlier this month. Held hitless until May 9th, the senior has gone 7-for-21 since Senior Day.
Chad Jacob or Shea Molitor will man the hot corner for the Brown and Gold. Jacob has performed exceptionally on both sides of the ball as a freshman. A hip flexor injury kept his playing time limited from mid-March to mid-April. Molitor’s average enters the HL Championship at .230, but is offset by a .380 OBP.
Senior Mark Johnson hopes to finish his Valpo career in the same way he started it. Johnson earned HL Tournament MVP honors as a freshman in 2012 after a 4-for-9 weekend with 6 RBI that capped off the Crusaders’ first-ever HL title. An adept center fielder, Johnson has reached base at a .361 clip, a figure that translates to a double leadoff batter tucked away in the ninth spot.