#3 Valparaiso (27-26, 17-12 Horizon)
2016 Horizon League Championship
Nischwitz Stadium - Dayton, Ohio
Horizon League Baseball Championship - Game 2
#6 Northern Kentucky (20-33, 9-21 Horizon)
Wednesday, May 25th - 3:00 pm CT
This Week in Crusader Baseball: Six teams will duke it out for an NCAA Tournament berth this week in Dayton, Ohio. The Crusaders enter the Horizon League Championship as the No. 3 seed and will oppose the sixth-seeded Northern Kentucky Norse. The winner will face a rested Milwaukee club Thursday.
Last Time Out: Dalton Lundeen and Trevor Haas pitched Valpo to comfortable wins in the first two tilts of a three-game set against Youngstown State to close out the regular season. The Crusader offense rallied in the middle innings of Saturday’s contest to claim a 7-5 win over the Penguins. The Brown and Gold concluded the regular season on a five-game winning steak
Following the Crusaders: ESPN3 will carry live video of all games this week while live stats will also be available courtesy of Wright State Athletics. 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: Dalton Lundeen (6-3, 3.12) will make his 50th career start Wednesday afternoon in Valpo’s tourney opener. The senior didn’t factor into the decision in his lone start at NKU back on March 18th. Lundeen went 6 2/3 innings and yielded two unearned runs while striking out six opposite four walks.
Series Notes: Valpo is 4-4 all-time versus Northern Kentucky after taking three of five during the regular season. The road team was victorious in each contest this spring. Prior to this past March, the two clubs hadn’t met in 31 seasons.
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 Dalton Lundeen File: Senior Dalton Lundeen is in the twilight of one of the most magnificent careers by a pitcher in Valpo history. He enters this week with 21 wins (4th in program history), 338.2 innings pitched (most), and 271 strikeouts (3rd-most).
In the Other Dugout: Northern Kentucky has been sitting idle since May 15th, when it also concluded the regular season by hosting Youngstown State. The Norse posted a 20-33 overall record, including a 9-21 mark in league play. NKU cemented itself as an HL Championship participant with four wins in six games down the stretch, including a doubleheader sweep at Valpo on May 8th.
Quint Heady, Logan Spurlin, and Will Haueter form a dangerous offensive threat for the Norse. Spurlin was a Crusader killer this spring as the catcher launched four of his ten homers against the Brown and Gold. Overall, he slugged .909 in 22 at-bats against Valpo. Heady batted .356 in HL play, the seventh-highest BA amongst qualifying batsmen. He also led NKU on the basepaths with 16 stolen bases. Haueter was a .319 hitter in 46 affairs and mashed a team-most 18 doubles.
Head coach Todd Asalon named lefty Trey Ganns as his starter for Wednesday. Valpo chased the sophomore after he acquired nine outs back on March 20th at NKU. The Crusaders tagged him for six runs in his shortest outing of the season. Ganns sported a 3-3 record to go with a 4.21 earned-run average during 2016. He pitched into the eighth inning in each of his final three starts of the regular season.
A Peek at the Rest of the Field: Wright State (41-15, 23-6) earned hosting privileges after clinching the regular season crown on May 13th. The Raiders possess the best - and deepest - starting rotation of any HL staff. Jesse Scholtens, Robby Sexton, Caleb Sampen, and Trevor Swaney have combined for a 28-8 record and a 2.82 ERA in 49 starts spanning 302 2/3 IP. It’s that level of efficacy that makes WSU both a heavy favorite this week, and a snake in the grass come NCAA Tourney time, if the Raiders qualify.
Milwaukee (31-24, 17-11) fended off Valpo for the No. 2 seed by one-half game. The Panthers have been led by sophomore catcher Daulton Varsho (.374/.440/.594) and senior outfielder Luke Meeteer (.364/.457/.539) at the plate. Senior Brian Keller (9-3, 2.88) logged exactly 100 innings this season, striking out 99 in the process. Jay Peters (4-5, 3.34), Adam Reuss (2-4, 3.59) and Elijah Goodman (5-0, 2.70) provide enough stability on the mound for UWM to make a deep run.
If UIC (24-28, 15-12) advances past Oakland in Game 1, the Flames will meet Wright State, a team that took two of three from them this past weekend in Chicago. Reigning HL Pitcher of the Year Jake Dahlberg (6-7, 4.94) has regressed from a 2015 campaign that saw the lefty go 8-2 with a 3.31 ERA. Mike Dee’s most electric arm resides in the bullpen in Trevor Lane (64.0 IP, 85 K, 1.55 ERA). The Flames will need Dahlberg, Ian Lewandowski (4-4, 4.10), and Connor Ryan (2-2, 3.48) to go deep into ballgames before turning it over to their super-reliever.
Oakland has been a much-improved club over last year’s edition. The Grizz reached the 23-win plateau for the first time since 2012 thanks in large part to a bolstered pitching staff. Offense has never been a question for head coach John Musachio, who boasts Mike Brosseau (.335/10 HR/32 RBIs), Ian Yetsko (.294/21 XBHs/37 RBIs), Zach Sterry (.285/15 2Bs/23 RBIs), and Tyler Pagano (.297/32 RBIs).
Projected Starting Lineup: On May 3rd, head coach Brian Schmack wrote James Stea’s name atop the lineup card and it hasn’t moved since. The junior has patrolled center field for 51 of the team’s 53 games and his speed has translated onto the basepaths in the form of a team-high 16 stolen bases. Stea carved out a .339 batting average supplemented by a .425 OBP in 29 Horizon League tilts. Furthermore, he closed out the regular season with 15 hits over his final eight contests.
After spending the first 34 games of 2016 in a timeshare between the leadoff spot and the No. 3 hole in the order, Nolan Lodden has found a home in the two-slot. Lodden is reminscient of Spencer Mahoney in that both his plate discipline and ability to hit to all fields makes him Valpo’s toughest out. The senior is one of three players to appear in all 53 games, and it’s easy to understand why considering his slash line of .347/.448/.463.
On the final day of the season, third baseman Shea Molitor became the first Crusader to accumulate over 50 RBIs since Kyle Gaedele’s record-setting campaign in 2010 (63). Molitor’s 32 hits with runners in scoring position are a team watermark and he’s enjoyed 10 multi-RBI days at the plate. While NKU kept him to a .211 average during the regular-season series, Molitor still drew six walks en route to a .400 on-base clip.
Josh Clark has maintained a righty-lefty tandem through the first five places in the batting order. He’s boosted his average 82 points from .261 in 2015 to its current mark of .343. Clark enters the Horizon League Championship on an eight-game hitting streak and his season total of 74 knocks are one off Lodden’s team lead. The right fielder has scored 43 runs while driving in 42.
First baseman Nate Palace added another six dingers to his stat sheet this past spring, a year after belting seven home runs. He’s reached base in 17 of his previous 18 tilts coming into Wednesday. Injury compromised his 2015 postseason, but Palace is healthy and primed for a memorable Memorial Day weekend this year.
Dan Delaney leads all Valpo batsmen with seven homers and is second in RBIs with 43. Once the calendar flipped to May, Delaney started heating up. He tallied six consecutive multi-hit games from May 6th-13th. Valpo’s designated hitter has driven in 79 runs in 106 career games with the Crusaders.
Senior Jeff Edwards enters the postseason swinging a hot stick. The shortstop went 3-for-8 with three runs scored and two RBIs in Valpo’s final series of the regular season. Edwards is the lone position player remaining from the 2013 team that won the Horizon League crown at Eastwood Field in Niles, Ohio.
Freshman Scott Kapers has occupied the No. 8 spot in the lineup when behind the dish. Kapers threw out 16 of 43 (37.2%) potential base stealers in his rookie campaign, and any offense the catcher provides is a bonus for Schmack and the Crusaders.
Fellow freshman Chase Dawson and his .343 on-base percentage have served as a nice double-leadoff type man at the bottom of the Crusader order. Dawson has led off an inning 47 times this season and has reached base in 24 of those scenarios. He appeared in 47 affairs as a rookie, having received 44 starts.