The Valparaiso University baseball team saw its season come to an end with a 6-4 loss to Oakland in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament on Wednesday afternoon at Granderson Stadium in Chicago. The Crusaders finished the season at 24-29 and will bring back the bulk of their team for the 2018 season. Valpo does bid farewell to five seniors who have been key contributors during their time with the program. Nate Palace, James Stea, Ellis Foreman, Jake Hanson and Mario Losi put on the Valpo uniform for the final time on Wednesday.
How It Happened
- The Grizzlies (16-38) got on the board first as a leadoff walk came back to haunt Valpo starting pitcher Mario Losi (Anaheim, Calif. / Canyon) in the top of the first. After drawing the base on balls, Ryan Fitzgerald stole second, moved to third on a fly ball to right and scored on a first-pitch sharp single up the middle by Tyler Pagano.
- Oakland’s bottom of the order produced a second-inning tally, as No. 8 hitter Mike McGee ripped a one-out double, followed by a Tyler Janish run-scoring single.
- The Crusaders had a golden scoring chance in the bottom of the second with two on and nobody out, but eventually stranded the bases loaded and still trailed 2-0 after two.
- Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif. / Oaks Christian) led off the third with a double down the line, and this time the Crusaders were able to cash in. Palace scooted to third on a grounder to short by Jake Hanson (Yorkville, Ill. / Aurora Christian), then crossed the dish on a bouncing ball by Sam Shaikin (West Hills, Calif. / Chatsworth) that leaked through the hole between third and short for a single to make it 2-1.
- Senior James Stea (Los Alamitos, Calif. / Los Alamitos [Golden West]) belted a two-out, opposite field home run in the bottom of the fourth to give the Crusaders their first lead of the game. He crushed one over the right field fence with Chase Dawson (Chesterton, Ind. / Andrean), who had extended the inning with a single to center, along for the ride.
- The lead was gone in the blink of an eye as the Grizzlies had regained the advantage just two batters into the fifth. Emerson Misch started the frame with a single, then Tyler Pagano wrestled the lead back in Oakland’s favor with a two-run shot to left.
- Matt Dileo followed the Pagano homer by tripling off the wall in left, spelling the end of the day for Losi as Hayden Kissee (Indianapolis / Greenfield Central [Kaskaskia College]) was summoned from Valpo’s bullpen.
- Kissee inherited a precarious spot, but he was up to the challenge. The right-handed reliever needed only five pitches to escape, inducing three straight ground balls with Dileo holding at third.
- The Crusaders responded with a run in the bottom of the fifth as Hanson led off with a single, then came around to score as Giovanni Garbella (San Diego / Cathedral Catholic) lashed a double to right to level the score at four.
- Oakland regained the lead in the top of the sixth as two hit by pitches hurt Kissee. The HBPs set up a two-out single by Tyler Pagano that drove in a run, Pagano’s third hit and fourth RBI of the game.
- Kissee left with the bases full and two outs in the sixth, prompting Alex Dirienzo (Somerset, Pa. / Somerset [Akron]) to inherit a bases-loaded, two down spot. Dirienzo issued a walk to Tyler Trovinger, forcing in a run to make it 6-4 Oakland.
- Chet Joslyn (Battle Creek, Mich. / Lakeview) was brought on to replace Dirienzo with a runner on first and nobody out in the eighth. He picked the runner off, then struck out back-to-back men to retire the side.
- The Crusaders had runners at second and third in the bottom of the eighth following two hits and a sac bunt, but they came up empty handed, as the score remained 6-4 Oakland.
- Easton Rhodehouse (Gilbert, Ariz. / Highland) worked a quick top of the ninth, but the Crusaders went down just as quickly in the bottom of the frame, bringing the season to an end.
Inside the Game
- Stea’s home run was his ninth of the season, allowing him to climb into a tie with Palace for the team lead.
- Garbella’s run-scoring double permitted him to extend his team lead in doubles (17) and move into a tie with Stea for the team lead in RBIs with 32.
- Losi received no decision, allowing four earned runs on 10 hits while striking out four and walking one over four frames in his final collegiate appearance.
- Oakland starter Jake Lee lasted 6 1/3 innings and scattered nine hits while yielding four earned runs. He issued two walks and fanned four. Lee was credited with the victory to boost his record to 2-6.
- Kissee was hit with the loss to finish the season at 1-1. He allowed two runs on one hit and one walk in 1 2/3 innings.
- By virtue of his two hits on Wednesday, Garbella finished his junior campaign above the .300 line with a .302 batting average to go along with five home runs and 32 RBIs.
- Shaikin capped a sensational sophomore season with two more hits on Wednesday, finishing the year with a team-high .317 batting average.
- Palace doubled, walked and scored a run in the final game of his Valpo tenure. He finished in the Top 10 in program history in career home runs, RBIs and doubles.
- The first-round loss was a rare blemish on Valpo’s successful Horizon League Tournament track record. This marks the first season since joining the league that the Crusaders did not win at least one game in the league tournament.