Valparaiso (11-16, 5-3 Horizon)
Oakland (13-11, 4-2 Horizon)
Oakland Baseball Field - Rochester, Mich.
Fri. Apr. 15th - Lundeen (L) (3-3, 3.80) vs. Buchalski (R) (1-1, 1.95) 2 pm CT
Sat. Apr. 16th - Haas (R) (1-1, 3.00) vs. Lee (R) (3-3, 4.55) 12 pm CT
Sun. Apr. 17th - Losi (R) (2-3, 6.52) vs. Palm (R) (2-2, 3.26) 11 am CT
This Week in Crusader Baseball: The Crusaders trek to Michigan for the second and final time in 2016 this weekend when Oakland greets Valpo in a three-game series at Oakland Baseball Field. The two teams are currently in a logjam for third place in the Horizon League standings.
Last Time Out: After having five games affected by weather in a ten-day span, Valpo returned to the diamond this past week for a pair of mid-week tilts versus Western Michigan and Notre Dame. The Crusaders churned out 13 hits in an 8-4 win at WMU on Tuesday, but lefty Michael Hearne stalled the Brown and Gold offense, recording a complete game in a 3-1 Irish win on Wednesday evening.
Following the Crusaders: Live stats will be available for all three contests in Rochester. The links to those are posted at ValpoAthletics.com. In addition, follow @ValpoBaseball on Twitter for in-game updates and a behind-the-scenes look at the Crusaders throughout the season.
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 Dalton Lundeen (3-3, 3.80) will shoot for his 19th career win in Friday’s series opener. A victory would move the lefty into sole possession of 4th place for career wins by a Crusader pitcher. Senior RHP Trevor Haas (1-1, 3.00) gets the ball in Saturday’s showdown. Junior right-hander Mario Losi (2-3, 6.52) will make his ninth start of the season for Valpo in Sunday’s finale.
Series Notes: Valpo leads the all-time series 27-17 over Oakland. The Crusaders are 8-2 vs. the Golden Grizzlies since Oakland’s transition into the Horizon League.
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: These aren’t your father’s Golden Grizzlies. Oakland, a club that struggled mightily through its first two seasons in the Horizon League, has already surpassed its win totals from both 2014 and 2015. The Grizz are riding a six-game winning streak that has catapulted their record above .500 to 13-11. Suprisingly, this weekend will represent just their second, third, and fourth home games of 2016. Oakland is nearly halfway to its first winning campaign since 1997.
In addition to being the source of the club’s resurgence, the Golden Grizzlies’ pitching staff is also one of the more remarkable turnaround stories of the season. Last year, Oakland entered a late April series with Valpo impaired by a 7.33 aggregate earned-run average, the 14th-highest in Division I baseball. Through 24 games this season, its hurlers have compiled a 3.77 ERA, the HL’s second-lowest figure, and the 88th-best in D-I. Five Golden Grizzly relievers have yet to surrender an earned run.
After spending the first three years of his collegiate career in the pen, Joe Buchalski graduated to the weekend rotation and has done so with high honors. The right-hander’s 1.95 ERA is third only to UIC’s Trevor Lane (1.57) and Connor Ryan (1.67). Buchalski has already surpassed his career high in strikeouts (35), but has been rewarded with the win just once in six starts. Newcomer Jake Lee will make his first start against the Crusaders in Saturday’s tilt. The redshirt sophomore logged 57 1/3 innings last season at Hillsdale College. Twelve of the 32 hits he’s allowed in 31 2/3 innings of work have been doubles. The 6-foot, 9-inch Tyler Palm will toe the slab in Sunday’s finale for Oakland. Like Buchalski, Palm was a regular out of the bullpen until this season. Palm also had a pedestrian tenure on the mound until this spring. He assembled a 7.58 earned-run average in 19 innings in 2015, one season after producing an 11.81 mark. The 2016 version of Tyler Palm includes a 2-2 record and a 3.26 ERA. Opponents have managed just a .229 batting average against the junior and he’s walked only eight in 30 1/3 IP. Chris Van Dyke (11 2/3 IP, 0 R) and Logan Sparkman (11 1/3 IP, 0 R) are two of the aforementioned five Golden Grizzlies yet to be scored upon.
Head coach John Musachio returned a great deal of offense from 2015, but Robby Enslen, a two-time All-League player, did graduate. Ian Yetsko and Mike Brosseau have carried the torch in Enslen’s absence. Both are 27-for-91 for .297 averages. Brosseau’s six homers are tied for the league lead. Ben Hart and Zach Sterry both share .271 averages as well. Hart has committed 12 errors in the field, though.
The Dalton Lundeen File: Lefty Dalton Lundeen has continued his ascent up the Valpo record books in his final season in a Crusader uniform. He enters this weekend with 18 wins (t-4th in program history), 296 2/3 innings pitched (4th-most), and 243 strikeouts (6th-most). If he can punch out eight Oakland batters Friday, he’ll leapfrog Bryce Shafer for No. 5 on the strikeout list. Lundeen is on pace to finish No. 1 in innings pitched and No. 2 in career Ks behind Tim Juran (371).
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: Both of Dan Delaney’s SBs at Valpo have come off Oakland...The Golden Grizzlies’ next hit will be their 200th of the season; their opponent’s will also be their 200th...Nate Palace was 10-24 (.417) with 12 R and two HRs vs. Oakland in 2015...freshman Scott Kapers has thrown out 13 of 30 (43.3%) potential base stealers.