A senior-heavy Valpo lineup extended its season Wednesday thanks in large part to the efforts of two freshmen.
Scott Kapers (Schererville, Ind./Mt. Carmel) and Chase Dawson (Chesterton, Ind./Andrean) combined for a 5-for-5 day at the plate with six runs scored en route to a queasy 10-7 Crusader victory over Northern Kentucky at Nischwitz Stadium in Dayton, Ohio.
Dalton Lundeen (Streamwood, Ill./Streamwood) went six innings before handing the torch over to a bullpen that protected his 22nd career victory with great aplomb.
Northern Kentucky starting pitcher Justin Watts kept the Crusader bats silent in his first two innings of work. The bottom of the Valpo order solved the righty in the third, though.
Kapers and Dawson cracked back-to-back one-out singles before flipping the lineup over to James Stea (Los Alamitos, Calif./Los Alamitos [Golden West]), who blooped a single to right field that loaded the bases.
Nolan Lodden (West Des Moines, Iowa/West Des Moines Valley [Heartland CC]) lined the first pitch of his at-bat to center field deep enough for Kapers to tag. The throw came towards the plate with Dawson was caught in no man's land between second and third base. A lengthy pickle ensued before Dawson slid into catcher Logan Spurlin, who was covering third base, and the ball dislodged and rolled into foul territory. With every member of the Norse infield tending to the rundown, the Crusader freshman perked up and raced home to an unoccupied plate.
NKU sliced the 2-0 deficit in half in their portion of the fourth. Kyle Colletta slapped a two-out RBI single through the left side of the infield. The knock brought Lundeen's scoreless streak of 18 2/3 innings to a close.
A tilt that had proceeded at a relatively quick pace hit a grind during a roller-coaster fifth inning.
The Norse plated three runs - all with two outs - on five hits in their half. A two-run double by Spurlin put NKU ahead 4-2.
Valpo responded with five tallies in the bottom half. Kapers and Dawson made their way into scoring position for Stea, who sent a sacrifice fly to center that made it a one-run affair. With the infield drawn in, Lodden laced a single up the middle that allowed Dawson to cross the dish. Two batters later, Josh Clark (Granada Hills, Calif./Hillcrest Christian [Riverside City]) executed a polished hit-and-run to score Lodden and temporarily restore the Crusader lead.
Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) put the cherry on top when he corked a two-run double into the left-field corner. His eleventh two-bagger of the season scored Clark and Shea Molitor (Plymouth, Minn./West Lutheran [Des Moines Area CC]) to nudge the edge to 7-4.
The lead was short-lived, however, as NKU knotted the game at 7-7 in the sixth.
Lundeen was an out from returning to the dugout unscathed until Quint Heady lifted his seventh homer of the season, a three-run shot.
Valpo's offense gave its ace a boost in its turn to bat in the sixth.
The Kapers-Dawson-Stea trifecta continued its havoc as Norse reliever Charlie Jerger was unable to retire any of the three. Lodden's second sacrifice fly of the afternoon pushed the Brown and Gold ahead 8-7. After Molitor was issued an intentional pass to juice the bases, Clark got in on the sac fly fun, plating Dawson on a ball to right.
He didn't factor into the decision, but Bryce Yoder (Spencerville, Ind./Eastside) was instrumental in securing the triumph. He went two innings, allowing only an infield single while striking out one.
The Crusaders scratched across an insurance tally in their final at-bat of the afternoon. Palace shot the right-center field gap with a triple that had Clark circle the bases.
Ryan Fritze (Woodbury, Minn./Woodbury [Des Moines Area CC]) worked a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to nail down his sixth save.
Lodden and Palace drove in three runs apiece while Clark hashed out two runs and two RBIs. In total, the Crusaders racked up four sacrifice flies.
With the victory, Valpo (28-26) advances to the double-elimination portion of the bracket. The second-seeded Milwaukee Panthers (31-24) await the Crusaders in a 3:00 pm ET/2:00 pm CT showdown Thursday. ESPN3 will carry live coverage with live stats also available.