Valparaiso (1-2, 0-0 Horizon)
New Orleans (3-1, 0-0 Southland)
Maestri Field - New Orleans, La.
Fri. Feb. 26th - Lundeen (L) (0-1, 6.23) vs. Semple (R) (1-0, 1.50) 6:30 pm
Sat. Feb. 27th - Fritze (R) (0-0, 9.00) vs. Hodge (R) (0-0, 3.60) 2:00 pm
Sun. Feb. 28th - Losi (R) (1-0, 6.00) vs. Priddle (L) (1-0, 4.50) 1:00 pm
This Week in Crusader Baseball: Valpo kicks off a 39-hour, 2,477-mile road trip Friday in the French Quarter with a three-game series versus University of New Orleans. After their meeting with the Privateers, the Crusaders will stay in Louisiana to visit UL-Monroe for a pair before taking on Louisiana Tech for three.
Last Time Out: Valpo took one of three from Jacksonville State last weekend in the season-opening series in Alabama. Center fielder James Stea shined in his Crusader debut, leading the club with seven hits and a .467 average. The junior-college transfer also cranked his first home run in Sunday’s 14-4 victory over the Gamecocks. The Brown and Gold outscored and outhit Jacksonville State over the three games, but JSU rallied back from deficits Friday and Saturday for the series win.
On the Air: Live audio streaming of all three games will be available free of charge courtesy of UNO Athletics. Video will also be available for purchase. Links to both as well as live stats are available at ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head baseball coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his third 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. The former big-leaguer followed that up with a 22-win season in 2015. 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: Senior southpaw Dalton Lundeen (0-1, 6.23) will take the ball in the first of the three-game set for the Crusaders. Senior RHP Ryan Fritze (0-0, 9.00) will toe the slab in Saturday afternoon’s tilt. Junior right-hander Mario Losi (1-0, 6.00) seeks to move to 2-0 in Sunday’s matchup against the Privateers.
Series Notes: This weekend marks the first-ever meeting between the Crusaders and Privateers.
Looking Back: Valpo finished 2015 with a 22-31 record overall, but a 15-14 mark in the Horizon League. The offense experienced a 53-point uptick in batting average and a 67-point increase in slugging percentage from the season prior. Senior Spencer Mahoney obtained the school record for career walks with 138 while moving into 8th-place all-time for career hits (216). Junior starting pitcher Dalton Lundeen amassed 94 strikeouts in 93 2/3 innings pitched while winning five games for the third straight year. The southpaw enters 2016 needing 78 1/3 innings pitched to become Valpo’s career leader in that category.
In the Other Dugout: New Orleans closed the 2015 campaign on an 11-game slide en route to a 14-40 overall record. The Privateers won their first three games of this season after sweeping the MLB Urban Youth Invitational for the second straight year, but lost a 7-4 contest Wednesday night to Southern Miss. UNO scored three-run wins over both Grambling State and Louisiana Tech, teams the Crusaders will face next week. The 2016 season represents University of New Orleans’ third in the Southland Conference.
The New Orleans offense is already halfway to its 2015 home run total of eight. Early returns from the Privateers appear promising. The club has feasted on opposing pitchers for a .348 batting average and a stout .532 slugging percentage. A season removed from a team-best .335 average, Ryan Calloway is assigned the task of catalyst atop the Privateer batting order. Catcher Kyle Bracey is off to a torrid pace at the plate in his first season with New Orleans. The junior-college transfer is nine for his first 13 in the batter’s box, including a double, a homer, and four runs batted in. A prolonged stretch of such offensive prowess could elevate Bracey up the order. Fellow newcomer Dakota Dean enters the weekend with a .500 average and a pair of extra-base hits as well. Dakota, the brother of head coach, Blake Dean, has reached base three times in three of the Privateers’ first four tilts.
UNO received strong outings from their rotation the first time through. Shawn Semple racked up nine strikeouts opposite one walk in six stellar innings versus Alcorn State in last Friday’s opener. The righthander amassed a team-best 2.70 ERA last spring while opponents mustered a meager .206 average against Semple. JUCO transfer Riley Hodge punched out eight Tigers in just five frames last Saturday vs. Grambling State. Hodge accrued 62 Ks in 64 2/3 innings for Jefferson Davis Community College a season ago. The Crusaders will face lefty Jordan Priddle in the series finale on Sunday. Priddle earned the win against Louisiana Tech last weekend after surrendering three earned runs in six innings in New Orleans’ 9-6 triumph.
Blake Dean is in his first season as head coach of the Privateers. Dean played collegiately at nearby LSU, where he helped the Tigers to a 2009 College World Series title. The Los Angeles Dodgers selected the outfielder in the eighth round of the 2010 MLB Draft. Dean is the owner of the second-most hits (332), and RBIs (260) in LSU history.
Privateers in the Public Eye: Legendary baseball coach Paul Mainieri (1,282-654-8) played two seasons at University of New Orleans in the late 1970s. Current Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim infielder Johnny Giavotella was a second-round pick by the Kansas City Royals in the 2008 Draft out of the University of New Orleans. Actor John Larroquette and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres also attended UNO.
Gold Rush: The Crusaders tout ten players from the state of California, and each class is represented with at least two players from the Golden State.
Driftless Drivel: The Crusaders scored 27 runs last weekend at Jacksonville State, 18 of which came in the 3rd inning...Valpo comes into the weekend batting .409 (18-for-44) with two outs and .514 (18-for-35) with runners in scoring position...Sunday will be Mario Losi’s 25th start for the Crusaders...the leadoff man reached base five times in six opportunities last weekend versus Ryan Fritze.