Valparaiso (12-17, 3-6 Horizon)
at Ball State (14-18, 3-6 MAC)
Ball Diamond | Muncie, Ind.
Tuesday, April 11, 2 p.m. CT – Larson (R) vs. Baker (R)
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will return to the road as it visits instate foe Ball State in Muncie on Tuesday afternoon. The Crusaders will attempt to remain unbeaten in midweek games as they hold a 5-0 record in midweek affairs entering Tuesday.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders took two of three in a high-scoring series with Northern Kentucky this weekend. Valpo played in six straight one-run games from March 31 through Saturday, pulling out both games of Saturday’s twin bill 8-7 and 10-9. The Norse prevailed in Sunday’s series finale 18-7. Jake Hanson and Christian Barczi both hit .462 during the series with the Norse.
On the Air: Live video of Tuesday’s game will be available free of charge courtesy of Ball State Athletics. Links to live video and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Pitching Matchup: Valpo’s Jake Larson will make the first start of his collegiate career on Tuesday. The freshman right-hander has worked in four games and holds a 5.79 ERA with five walks and four strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. Larson is a native of Irvine, Calif. and attended Woodbridge High School, also the alma mater of Valpo shortstop Chad Jacob. Larson allowed two runs in 1 2/3 innings on Sunday against Northern Kentucky. Righty John Baker will toe the rubber for Ball State. The freshman is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in seven games, four starts. He’s walked 11 and struck out 27 in 26 2/3 innings.
Series Notes: The Crusaders are 28-37-1 all-time against the Cardinals, a series that goes back to 1948. The two teams have faced off each of the last two years, with Ball State winning both games. The Cardinals beat the Crusaders 13-4 in 2015 in Muncie and 3-2 in 2016 in Valpo. The Crusaders will seek their first win over the Cardinals since May 9, 2012, a 3-2 win in 10 innings at Emory G. Bauer Field. Before that game, the two squads hadn’t met since April 4, 2006, a 31-19 Ball State win in Muncie. Valpo hopes to pick up its first win at Ball State since 2001.
Inside the Crusaders: The Crusaders scored more than five runs in all three games this weekend after scoring more than five times just once (March 21 against Chicago State) in the previous 15 games. Valpo is now hitting .262 as a team, third in the Horizon League, and holds a 4.61 ERA that ranks fourth. The Crusaders have 55 doubles as a team, second in the league behind only Northern Kentucky. James Stea leads the team in stolen bases with 16, second in the league behind Wright State’s Zach Weatherford at 21, tied for second nationally. Stea is one of 22 players in the nation with 16 or more steals. Stea leads the league in hit by pitch with 11, one of 26 players nationally with 11 hit by pitch or more. Jon Tieman leads the Horizon League with seven saves. He’s one of 33 players in the nation with seven saves or more.
In the Other Dugout: Ball State’s offense comes in with momentum after posting double-figure run totals in all three games at Western Michigan. The Cardinals swept the Broncos 16-5 and 12-9 in Saturday’s doubleheader, then pounded their way to an 18-3 win on Sunday. Before this weekend, the Cardinals had lost nine consecutive games, their longest skid since 2012. They did take Indiana to 11 innings in a 3-2 defeat last week. The Cardinals won the MAC West Division regular season title last year and were picked as preseason the favorites to repeat as MAC West kings. Five starting position players are back from last year’s team, led by catcher / first baseman Caleb Stayton, who led the conference in batting average (.377) and RBIs (71) a year ago. Stayton, the Preseason MAC Player of the Year according to D1Baseball.com and Perfect Game, and leads the team in hitting at .309 in 19 games. He’s followed closely by Sean Kennedy (.306) and Griffin Hulecki (.305). The Cardinals are under the direction of Rich Maloney, who was in charge of the program from 1996-2002 before spending 10 years at Michigan, then rejoined Ball State in 2013. The Cardinals rank fifth in the MAC in hitting at .253 and third in ERA at 4.11.
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.
Connection Spotlight: Valpo’s Alex Dirienzo and Ball State’s Kevin Marnon were teammates at Akron before the Zips cut baseball… Ball State’s Evan Korson is a Northern Kentucky transfer, but did not play in the Horizon League as the Norse were in the A-Sun at the time.
Driftless Drivel: Nate Palace has 106 career RBIs and needs seven more to crack Valpo’s career Top 10… Jayden Eggimann entered Sunday’s game as a defensive replacement at second base, seeing his first game action since March 24 due to an injury… Jake Hanson is in the midst of a 12-game hitting streak and has reached base in 16 straight contests…. Hanson is hitting .346 with eight doubles during his 12-game hitting streak. The recent stretch marks quite the turnaround for Hanson, who hit .220 in the first 16 games of the year with two doubles… Freshman Christian Barczi has done his best work in the games that matter most this season. He’s hitting .391 in six Horizon League games, but sits at .167 in eight nonleague contests.