Valparaiso (14-20, 4-8 Horizon)
at Northern Kentucky (13-22, 6-6 Horizon)
Bill Aker Baseball Complex | Highland Heights, Ky.
Friday, April 21, 11 a.m. CT (Game 1) – Losi (R) vs. Dionne (R)
Friday, April 21, approx. 2:30 p.m. CT (Game 2) – Tieman (R) vs. Basilone (R)
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will have its first four-game weekend of the year, beginning with Friday’s doubleheader at Northern Kentucky. The Crusaders will attempt to continue their success against the Norse after taking two of three against them at Emory G. Bauer Field two weeks ago.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders topped Chicago State 10-3 on Tuesday afternoon at Emory G. Bauer Field. Giovanni Garbella drilled two home runs, while Jake Hanson racked up three hits and drove in a pair. Michael Mommersteeg achieved his first career win by going six innings and allowing three runs (two earned) on two hits.
On the Air: The second game on Friday will have a radio broadcast available courtesy of Northern Kentucky Athletics. Links to live audio and stats can be found on ValpoAthletics.com. In addition, follow @ValpoBaseball on Twitter for updates throughout the day.
Game 1 Starters: Senior Mario Losi (1-3, 5.08 ERA) will again get the ball for the first game of the weekend. He has struck out 26 and issued 20 walks in 51 1/3 innings. Losi’s most recent outing came against Oakland on April 13 when he received no decision after allowing six runs on five hits (all extra-base hits) in 7 2/3 innings. JeanFrancis Dionne (2-3, 7.92 ERA) will start for the Norse. He has walked six and struck out 13 in 25 innings. Dionne took the loss against UIC last weekend, allowing four runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings. This pitching matchup is a rematch of the game at Emory G. Bauer Field on April 8. Losi got the win by limiting a powerful Norse offense to two runs on seven hits in six innings, while Dionne was hit with the loss after allowing seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings.
Game 2 Starters: Freshman Jon Tieman (0-1, 2.95 ERA) will make his first collegiate start for head coach Brian Schmack. Tieman started the season as Valpo’s closer and still leads the league in saves with seven. He worked in long relief last Saturday against Oakland, keeping the Crusaders in the game by yielding just one run on six hits in 4 2/3 innings after the starter lasted only one frame. Northern Kentucky will trot out Brody Basilone (0-2, 6.04 ERA), who has walked 10 and struck out 12 in 22 1/3 innings. Basilone took the loss after allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits in 3 1/3 innings at UIC last weekend. He did not start in the series at Valpo, but worked 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in Game 1 of the series.
Series Notes: The Crusaders own a 7-6 edge in the all-time series against Northern Kentucky. They won four of the six meetings a year ago, including a 10-7 win in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament on May 25. Before last season, the two teams hadn’t met since 1985. The series in Valpo on April 8-9 featured a trio of high-scoring affairs with Valpo sweeping Saturday’s doubleheader 8-7 and 10-9 before falling 18-7 in Sunday’s finale. Trey Ganns drilled three home runs and the Norse launched six as a team in Game 3.
Inside the Crusaders: Valpo has scored six runs or more in seven of the last eight games, but they’ve also allowed six runs or more in seven of the last eight. That comes on the heels of a stretch dominated by pitching and defense where Valpo played four straight games in which neither team scored more than four runs. The Crusaders rank third in the league in overall batting average at .269 and fourth in ERA at 5.16. Valpo has two of the top seven in the Horizon in league-only batting average with junior Chad Jacob fourth at .385 and freshman Christian Barczi seventh at .361. Jacob is hitting .370 overall to lead the team, while Jake Hanson has moved into a tie with Nate Palace for the team lead in RBIs with 20. Palace leads the Crusaders with six home runs, while Hanson has a team-high 12 doubles.
In the Other Dugout: Northern Kentucky features a powerful offense with Trey Ganns (nine) and TJ Alas (eight) both in the top five in the league in home runs. As a team, the Norse have 38 home runs, one behind Youngstown State for the league lead. The Norse are led by Dominic Mercurio, who is hitting .330 overall. In league play, Jake Richmond paces the squad with a .365 average. Northern Kentucky picked up as 6-1 win over Big Ten foe Ohio State on Wednesday night after losing all three games to UIC last weekend. The Norse, in their second season in the Horizon League, are coached by veteran skipper Todd Asalon. They were picked to finish fifth in the Horizon League preseason poll but currently sit in in third place in the league standings.
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 is one of nine players in the nation who has been hit by a pitch 15 times or more. Three of those nine play in Indiana with two others coming from Purdue… Stea is one of 25 players nationally with 17 or more stolen bases… Sam Shaikin has reached base in 18 straight games. He has a team-most 12 multi-hit games… Jake Hanson has multiple hits in three straight and five of the last seven… After getting off to a slow offensive start (.220 in first 16 games), Hanson has batted .351 over the last 17 games… Shaikin has also enjoyed an offensive uptick. He is hitting .390 over the last 16 games after batting .238 over the first 18… Giovanni Garbella has hit .471 with three homers and five RBIs in four games since regaining a spot in the starting lineup.