Senior Dalton Lundeen (Streamwood, Ill./Streamwood) leapfrogged two former Crusader hurlers Friday to move into fourth place in career strikeouts as he fanned eight UIC batters in the opening game of Valpo's doubleheader against the Flames. The Brown and Gold dropped the first tilt 5-3, but rallied to earn the split by virtue of a 5-2 victory in the second contest. Mario Losi (Anaheim, Calif./Canyon) did not allow an earned run in 6 2/3 innings of work to notch his third win of the season.
Valpo scored the first three runs of the opener. Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) doubled home Shea Molitor (Plymouth, Minn./West Lutheran [Des Moines Area CC]) in the opening frame as the Crusaders drew first blood for the 22nd time in 32 games. The lead swelled to 3-0 after UIC starter Connor Ryan uncorked a pair of wild pitches in the second inning that allowed Chase Dawson (Chesterton, Ind./Andrean) and James Stea (Los Alamitos, Calif./Los Alamitos [Golden West]) to scamper home from third. Both wild pitches occurred with Nolan Lodden (West Des Moines, Iowa/West Des Moines Valley [Heartland CC]) at the dish. Lodden worked a walk to reach base himself.
The Flames got on the board in the third, trimming the margin to 3-2. David Cronin and Ricardo Ramirez were on the corners when Brandon Gibis sliced a ball to right field. Josh Clark (Granada Hills, Calif./Hillcrest Christian [Riverside City]) was under it in right field, but he was unable to squeeze it for the third out, and both runners touched home plate on a play that was ruled a double.
UIC closed the gap in the sixth when Ramirez led off the inning with an opposite-field home run.
Lundeen deserved a better fate, but he did not factor into the decision. He struck out eight, and did not walk a batter in seven innings. The Flames managed three runs off seven hits against the left-hander. The eight strikeouts vaulted Lundeen past Bryce Shafer and Shawn Barker on Valpo's all-time career strikeout list. He now has 254 during his three-plus seasons. Jon Gulbransen (264) is next up for the senior.
The Flames took their first lead of the day in the eighth, rendering the majority of the damage against sophomore Luke VanLanen (Pulaski, Wis./Pulaski). Scott Ota and Ramirez greeted the righty with back-to-back doubles, though Ota did not score on Ramirez's two-bagger. An intentional walk put Conor Philbin at first, and loaded the bases with nobody out. UIC attempted a safety squeeze with Gibis at the plate, and when he failed to make contact, freshman Scott Kapers (Schererville, Ind./Mt. Carmel) attempted to get a retreating Ota at third base. The pickoff attempt sailed into left field, however, and Ota turned a 180 and raced home for the Flames' fourth run.
Gibis lofted a sac fly to right later in the at-bat to push the UIC lead to 5-3. Valpo had no answer for lefty Trevor Lane, who came on in relief of Ryan in the seventh. Lane recorded six strikeouts in three innings as he qualified for the win.
To Valpo's credit, it regrouped in time to salvage a split and maintain its hold on second place in the league standings.
The Flames broke a scoreless tie in the third due to an unearned run. The first two batters reached via error versus Losi. Three batters later, Ota drew a bases-loaded walk to force in a run. UIC ended up stranding the bases loaded in the frame.
Freshman Sam Shaikin (West Hills, Calif./Chatsworth) flipped a one-run deficit into a one-run lead in the fourth when he shot a two-run double down the left-field line. Palace and Dan Delaney (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Thousand Oaks [Fresno State]) crossed the plate after both reached thanks to a walk and a hit by pitch, respectively.
The Crusaders provided the exclamation point in the seventh with three runs. Reliever Mitchell Schulewitz allowed Stea (walk) and Lodden (single) to reach base to open the frame. Clark was called upon to sacrifice the two into scoring position with one out. He laid down a well-executed bunt in front of the mound, and things got even better for Valpo when Schulewitz's throw to first ended up in right field. Stea scored on the play, and the middle of the Crusader order came up with runners on the corners and nobody out.
Molitor spanked an RBI single to left to make it 4-1 before Delaney bounced into a 6-4-3 double play that netted another run.
Losi sent down ten straight Flames in the middle innings. The streak ended when he issued a two-out walk to Philbin in the sixth, but he was quickly erased when Jake Hanson (Yorkville, Ill./Aurora Christian) gunned down the UIC outfielder attempting to steal second base.
The win didn't come without some ninth-inning drama, though.
The first four UIC batters reached against Ryan Fritze (Woodbury, Minn./Woodbury [Des Moines Area CC]) as the tying run was aboard before the right-hander fetched the first out. After a hit by pitch forced in a run, Fritze gathered himself before registering the final three outs without pause.
Valpo (15-18, 8-5 Horizon) will face a quick turnaround as Milwaukee (16-16, 6-4 Horizon) visits Emory G. Bauer Field Saturday for a doubleheader beginning at noon. Trevor Haas (2-1, 2.40) and Ellis Foreman (0-1, 3.92) will take the hill for Valpo. WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) will have the call of both games while live stats will also be available. The link to both are posted at ValpoAthletics.com.