The Valparaiso University baseball team came up on the wrong end of a 2-0 pitchers’ duel in Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader against first-place UIC, but the Crusaders bounced back by pulling out a 7-6 victory in a seesaw Game 2 on Sunday at Emory G. Bauer Field. After winning three of four during a difficult stretch of four games in two days in two locations, Valpo has clinched a berth in the upcoming Horizon League Tournament. Freshman Jake Larson (Irvine, Calif. / Woodbridge) kept the Crusaders in the first game with five shutout innings of relief, then classmate Easton Rhodehouse (Gilbert, Ariz. / Highland) dominated over four perfect frames to earn the win in Game 2.
How It Happened – Game 1
- The Crusaders (23-28, 12-15 Horizon) were stymied by UIC right-hander Jack Andersen, who hurled six shutout innings of two-hit ball while issuing no walks and striking out five. Andersen eventually became the winning pitcher to move to 4-2.
- The bullpen of the Flames (35-13, 20-6) was also stellar, as three different relievers threw shutout innings. The last of those was Alex Padilla, who captured his seventh save.
- The only runs in the entire game by either team came in the top of the first. Rob Calabrese lifted a sacrifice fly to drive in one, then Scott Ota doubled to left to score another.
- Grant Inman (Fort Wayne, Ind. / Carrol) was hit with the defeat to drop to 4-6 after allowing two runs on five hits and four walks in four frames. An excellent relief appearance by Larson went to waste, as the freshman righty threw five shutout innings to keep the Crusaders in the game.
- Valpo mustered up just two hits and one walk.
How It Happened – Game 2
- The second game of Sunday’s double dip was a ragged affair that saw UIC starter Jacob Key leave after just 1 2/3 innings and Valpo’s Ellis Foreman (Round Rock, Texas / Stony Point) last only 3 1/3.
- It turned into a game of the bullpens, and Valpo’s ‘pen won that battle, thanks mostly to the work of Rhodehouse. After Alex Dirienzo (Somerset, Pa. / Somerset [Akron]) was charged with no runs on no hits and two walks in 1 1/3, Rhodehouse came in and worked four perfect innings, sending down all 12 men he faced, seven of them on strikeouts.
- Valpo started the scoring in the second game when Giovanni Garbella (San Diego, Calif. / Cathedral Catholic) ripped a run-scoring single to center in the first. The Flames drew even on Brandon Gibis’ single through the right side in the second.
- An RBI grounder by James Stea (Los Alamitos, Calif. / Los Alamitos) put Valpo back on top in the second, then Jake Hanson (Yorkville, Ill. / Aurora Christian) added on by lashing a run-scoring single. Scott Kapers (Schererville, Ind. / Mount Carmel) got in on the act in the third with a single up the middle that scored a run.
- The game took its first turn in the UIC fourth inning when the Flames scored a high five to take a 6-4 lead. Valpo bounced right back with two in the bottom of the inning to knot it up at six.
- The frenetic scoring pace from the game’s early innings slowed down considerably in the later stages, as neither team scored again until the eighth. That’s when two errors by the Flames helped the Crusaders corral an unearned run that proved to be the difference.
Inside the Games
- Rhodehouse’s relief appearance couldn’t have gone much better – he retired all 12 batters he faced and sent down seven of them via strikeouts, a career high in that department. Rhodehouse got a well-deserved win to bump his record up to 4-6.
- Mitchell Schulewitz allowed just the one unearned run in his two innings of relief, but fell to 3-1 after the hard-luck loss.
- The Crusaders managed to score seven runs without the benefit of an extra-base knock in Game 2. All eight Valpo hits were singles.
- The Valpo bullpen totaled 12 2/3 innings in the four games this weekend and did not allow any runs. Larson and Rhodehouse accounted for the bulk of that with their outstanding long relief performances in Sunday’s doubleheader.
- Rhodehouse’s four-inning outing was his longest of the season. The last time he worked more than two innings was a three-inning stint on Feb. 19 at Western Kentucky. He threw 55 pitches on Sunday, also a season high.
- Over his last two outings, Larson has totaled 10 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
- Kapers and Garbella had two hits apiece in the second game to pace Valpo. In addition to playing third base instead of his normal role behind the plate, Kapers thrived offensively this weekend, going 6-for-14 (.429) with four RBIs in the four games.
Inside the Standings
UIC and Wright State play each other in Dayton in a three-game series this week beginning on Thursday. The Flames only have to win one game in the series to secure the regular season title and the right to host the league tournament, while Wright State must sweep to do so. Youngstown State is locked into seventh and will miss the league tournament. If Valpo wins at least one game against Milwaukee next weekend, the Crusaders will finish no worse than fifth. The Crusaders enter the final weekend two games behind Northern Kentucky for the No. 3 seed. If Valpo sweeps Milwaukee and Northern Kentucky drops at least two of three to Oakland, Valpo would move up to the No. 3 seed. The Crusaders are currently one game ahead of Oakland for fourth, so they must also win at least the same number of games as Oakland next weekend to assure they will not be passed by the Grizzlies.
The Crusaders will begin the final series of the regular season on Thursday against Milwaukee at Emory G. Bauer Field. The game is slated to begin at 3 p.m. CT and can be heard on 95.1 FM Valparaiso. Links to live audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.