Valparaiso (6-11, 0-3 Horizon)
at Chicago State (4-12, 0-0 WAC)
Cougar Stadium | Chicago
Tuesday, March 20, 3 p.m. CT – Mommersteeg (L) vs. Trower
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team has returned from its spring break trip, but will continue the lengthy season-opening stretch of road games on Tuesday afternoon at Chicago State. The Crusaders and Cougars clash in the first of two midweek showdowns between the two teams this season as Valpo tries to bring its six-game skid to a halt.
Last Time Out: Valpo ran into a strong Wright State pitching staff this weekend, as the Raiders now own three of the top four ERAs in the league. The Crusaders struggled to solve the solid staff, as they mustered up just two runs in the three-game set. Mario Losi turned in seven strong innings (one run on five hits and two walks) in a 2-1 Valpo loss in Game 1, before the Raiders claimed both games of Sunday’s doubleheader 6-1 and 7-0. Sunday’s second game was the first time Valpo had been shutout since May 1, 2016, a 5-0 loss to UIC.
On the Air: Tuesday’s game between the Crusaders and Cougars will be broadcast on 95.1 FM Valparaiso with Brandon Vickrey and Ben Ariano describing the action. Links to live audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.
About the Pitching Matchup: Valpo will go with left-handed freshman Michael Mommersteeg for Tuesday’s game against the Cougars. Mommersteeg, a native of St. Thomas, Ont., Canada, has not allowed an earned run in 10 1/3 innings of work so far this season. He has issued three walks and struck out 10 in four games. This will be his second start of the year after he heaved six scoreless frames while surrendering five hits and no walks with four strikeouts on March 7 against Penn in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Chicago State will send junior Grant Trower to the bump for a battle of southpaws. Trower, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attended Olive-Harvey College before joining the Cougars this season. He leads the team in ERA at 3.24 in six appearances, but will make his first start of the season on Tuesday. Trower has worked 8 1/3 innings and struck out nine while issuing four walks.
Series Notes: The Crusaders and Cougars are set for the latest installment of a matchup that goes all the way back to 1983. Valpo holds a commanding 58-28 lead in the all-time series. The Crusaders won both games a year ago, prevailing 10-6 on April 20 and 12-4 on April 26. The Cougars have not beaten the Crusaders since April 9, 2005. Valpo has won 19 straight head-to-head meetings. Chicago State is under the direction of Steve Joslyn, in his fifth year in charge of the program after spending 10 seasons as an assistant at Northern Illinois.
Inside the Crusaders: The Crusaders face the rare task of opposing the top four pitchers in the Horizon League in ERA in their first four league games of the season. They’re expected to face UIC ace Jake Dahlberg on Friday for the fourth of those games after stepping outside of league play for Tuesday’s contest. Jon Tieman still leads the league in saves with four, while Ellis Foreman is tied for the league lead in appearances with 11. James Stea is the league leader in stolen bases with 11 and is tied for the league lead in hit by pitch with seven. As a team, the Crusaders are third in the league in ERA at 3.84 and fourth in batting average at .246.
In the Other Dugout: The Cougars have two victories over instate foe Northern Illinois this season, with their other wins coming against Fort Wayne and Eastern Kentucky. Chicago State took the opener from Eastern Kentucky this weekend 24-10, before dropping the final two games 15-9 and 10-3. Perhaps the highlight of Chicago State’s season to date came in a defeat last Wednesday, when the Cougars nearly knocked off No. 23 Missouri, a team that entered the game with the nation’s second-longest winning streak and stood at 15-1 on the season. Chicago State took a two-run lead in the top of the 11th, but Missouri responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning and eventually won 7-6 in 13 innings.
Connection Corner: Valpo’s Scott Kapers and Chicago State’s Malik Carpenter graduated from Mount Carmel High School together. Both were members of the 2013 team that beat Libertyville 2-1 in the Class 4A state title game for the Caravan’s first ever state title… Chicago State’s Brandon Eyring and Valpo’s Jayden Eggimann both hail from Mesa, Ariz… Chicago State’s Brad Moore attended Hersey High School, also the alma mater of former Valpo pitcher Trevor Haas.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his fourth 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, then guided the team to its first winning record since 2013 a year ago. Schmack, a member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, served as pitching coach/associate head coach at Valpo for seven seasons prior to his promotion.
Looking Back: Valpo finished 2016 with a 30-28 record, its first winning season since 2013 and just the seventh 30-victory campaign in program history. Valpo scored 377 runs, fourth-most in a season in school history. The team also ranked fourth in program history in hits (586) and fifth in total bases (809). The Crusaders graduated 12 seniors a year ago including their top two starting pitchers, closer and 3-4-5 hitters.
Youthful Crusaders: The Crusaders have 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers on this year’s roster. They have just five seniors after having 12 a year ago. This marks the fewest seniors Valpo has featured since having just four on the 2010 roster. The Crusaders haven’t had this many true freshmen on the roster since 2008. The Crusaders have the most true freshmen in the Horizon League, with UIC’s eight second most. Valpo and Wright State have the fewest seniors in the league with five apiece.
Preseason Poll: The Crusaders were picked to finish fourth in the seven-team Horizon League based on voting by the league’s head coaches. Wright State hauled in five of the six first-place votes and is picked to repeat as the league champion, with UIC projected to finish second. Milwaukee is picked third, followed by Valparaiso, Northern Kentucky, Oakland and Youngstown State.
Driftless Drivel: James Stea saw his 14-game on-base streak come to an end with Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader against Wright State… The Crusaders are 0-5 in one-run games this year… The Crusaders have used 17 pitchers this season, their most since also using 17 in 2009… The Crusaders are 0-7 when opponents score first. Valpo has outscored the opposition 17-4 in the ninth inning or later this season… The Crusaders are hitting just .201 over their last six games… Patrick Donohue led the Crusaders in batting average during the first league series of the year by going 3-for-7 (.429).