Valparaiso (19-27, 8-14 Horizon)
vs. Purdue (26-20, 10-8 Big Ten)
Emory G. Bauer Field | Valparaiso, Ind.
Tuesday, May 9, 3 p.m. CT – Larson (R) v. TBA
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will renew an in-state rivalry on Tuesday afternoon as the Purdue Boilermakers make their way to Emory G. Bauer Field. It’s the final midweek game of the season and the last nonleague affair of the year. After this tune up, the Crusaders will gear up for the final seven Horizon League games of 2017, an important stretch for league positioning.
Last Time Out: Sunday’s doubleheader marked a tale of two games for the Crusaders, as Valpo posted 18 hits in the opener on their way to a 13-3 victory, but then could only muster up one hit in a 7-0 loss in the second game. Valpo managed to match the season high for hits in a game and establish the season low for hits in a game on the same day. The Crusaders received a strong pitching performance from Grant Inman in the opener, as he allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings.
On the Air: Tuesday’s game will air on WVUR, 95.1 FM Valparaiso with Ben Ariano relaying the play-by-play. Links to live audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Pitching Matchup: After picking up his first career win out of the Valpo bullpen last week against Northern Illinois, freshman RHP Jake Larson has earned the start for this week’s midweek affair. Larson inherited a precarious situation as he came on with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the first with Valpo already trailing 1-0. He wiggled out of that jam without further damage, then went on to throw 5 2/3 scoreless frames of four-hit ball. Larson, a high school teammate of Valpo shortstop Chad Jacob at Woodbridge in California, is 1-1 with a 5.74 ERA on the year. He’s hurled 15 2/3 innings and permitted eight walks while achieving seven strikeouts.
Series Notes: The Crusaders went on the road and beat the Boilermakers 5-1 on March 29, picking up their first win in West Lafayette since 1977, snapping a 27-game skid at Purdue. The Crusaders have now won back-to-back meetings with their Big Ten nemesis after outslugging the Boilermakers 13-10 at Emory G. Bauer Field a year ago. The all-time series is still slanted heavily in Purdue’s favor, as the Boilermakers are 66-20 all-time against Valpo.
Inside the Crusaders: Valpo enters the final seven games of the Horizon League slate in a tight race for positioning in the Horizon League Tournament. There are two primary races in the Horizon League – one for the right to host the league tournament, and the other to avoid being the team left out of the tournament field. The first of those aforementioned races involves UIC and Wright State, who enter the final stretch tied for first at 18-5. Valpo is a part of the other group, as the remaining five teams could finish in any order. Valpo is currently in a three-way tie for fourth with Milwaukee and Oakland at 9-14, only one game behind third-place Northern Kentucky, but only 1 ½ games in front of seven-place Oakland. Six of the seven teams in the Horizon League will make the tournament… The Crusaders are coming off a lightning-fast loss to Oakland that lasted only 1 hour, 56 minutes – the fastest Valpo game since May 10, 2013. Valpo committed a season-high five errors and mustered up a season-low one hit in the 7-0 defeat… All nine players in Valpo’s starting lineup had at least one hit in the 13-3 victory over Oakland in Game 1. Seven Crusaders had multi-hit games…. James Stea stole his 21st base of the season on Friday, moving into a five-way tie for fifth in program history. He needs two steals to match Kyle Gaedele (2011) for fourth. Mike Healey (1985) holds Valpo’s single-season stolen base record with 37. In addition, Stea has already tied the program record by being hit by a pitch 22 times this year. With his next HBP, he’ll pull past Tanner Vavra (2012) and take over sole ownership of the single-season hit by pitch record. Stea still ranks second in the nation with 22 HBP and sits tied for 17th nationally with 20 steals. Nate Palace is currently 10th in program history in career RBIs with 114. He needs two to move into a tie for ninth. Palace is also tied for fifth in program history with 22 career home runs. He’s the first Valpo player since Jeff Mandsager (2001-2003) to finish with 22 or more career long balls. Palace scored the 100th run of his collegiate career on Friday. Despite only playing at Valpo two seasons as a JUCO transfer, Stea ranks eighth in program history in career stolen bases with 38.
In the Other Dugout: The Boilermakers dropped two of three in a home series with Northwestern this weekend. They are led offensively by Skyler Hunter, who is hitting .331 with 32 RBIs. Their top power man is Jacson McGowan, who has belted seven big flies and driven in 44 runs this year. Tuesday marks the first of back-to-back midweek games against in-state foes for Purdue, which hosts Butler on Wednesday. The Boilermakers rank first in the nation in win improvement from last season as they’ve already won 16 more games than they did a year ago. Purdue went 10-44 last year and stands at 26-20 this season. The Boilermakers are under the direction of first-year head coach Mark Wasikowski, who replaced longtime coach and LaPorte, Ind. native Doug Schreiber after last season.
Connection Corner: The most noteworthy connection between the two teams is Valpo assistant coach Ben Wolgamot, who played collegiately at Purdue. He graduated in 2010 after batting .311 in 88 career games with the Boilermakers. Wolgamot was named a First Team All-Big Ten second baseman following the 2008 season… Purdue freshman utility player Drew Bertram and Valpo freshman pitcher James Meyer were teammates at Zionsville Community High School a year ago. The pair contributed to a team that went 31-5, won its conference and finished as the state runner-up… Purdue junior outfielder Alec Olund is a Northwest Indiana native and graduated from Lake Central High School.
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.