Valparaiso (2-4, 0-0 MVC)
at Grand Canyon (2-5, 0-0 WAC)
vs. CSUN (5-3, 0-0 Big West)
Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark (4,200) | Phoenix, Ariz.
Friday, March 2, vs. CSUN, 3 p.m. CT – Tieman (R) v. TBD
Saturday, March 3, at Grand Canyon, 7 p.m. CT – Ferketic (R) v. Repavich (L)
Sunday, March 4 vs. CSUN, noon CT – TBD v. Acosta (R)
Sunday, March 4 at Grand Canyon, 4 p.m. CT – TBD v. Hull (R)
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will look to sustain its recent success this week as the annual spring break trip commences with a stop in the Copper State as the Crusaders partake in the GCU Classic in Phoenix, Ariz. Valpo will face off with the host Antelopes for a pair of games while also going at it with CSUN in two neutral-site contests.
Last Time Out: It was a banner weekend for Valparaiso University baseball, which downed a pair of teams that reached the 2017 NCAA Tournament last Saturday, dispatching Oklahoma 11-4 and Holy Cross 20-6. The Sooners received the third-most votes of teams outside the Top 25 in the USA Today Preseason Coaches’ Poll and both of those opponents had beaten a nationally-ranked teams the week prior. The Crusaders came up short in the weekend finale on Sunday, falling 3-2 in 10 innings to Oklahoma and settling for a 2-1 record against high-level competition over the weekend in Norman. The Crusaders haven’t backed down from their challenging slate through the first six games, as they own a 2-4 record that could easily be 4-2 if it weren’t for a pair of one-run losses in walk-off fashion.
On the Air: Live stats for all four games this weekend will be available. The games against Grand Canyon on Saturday and Sunday will air on YouTube Live. Coverage links can be found on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes – CSUN: The Matadors have won three of the prior four meetings between these two teams, all of which occurred in February 2011. Valpo picked up a 2-1 win in the second game of the four-game series.
Series Notes – Grand Canyon: This weekend will mark the first ever games between the two teams.
A Day to Remember: Last Saturday, Feb. 24, marked a banner day for the Crusaders, who defeated a pair of teams that reached the NCAA Tournament a year ago in lopsided fashion. First the Crusaders downed Oklahoma 11-4, the first win in program history against an active member of the Big 12 Conference. The Sooners received the third-most votes of teams outside the Top 25 in the USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll and started their season with a victory over No. 20 Indiana. Valpo took the field less than an hour after completing its upset of the Sooners and provided quite the encore, downing Holy Cross 20-6. Holy Cross, the defending Patriot League Champion, saw reigning conference Pitcher of the Week Zane Hedaya last only 3 1/3 innings and allow six runs (four earned) against Valpo. The 20 runs in a game marked Valpo's most since posting 26 against Chicago State on April 2, 2010.
Hot Hitting: Even Valpo's most potent offensive teams over the last decade have struggled offensively out of the gate given Valpo's obstacle of traveling to play warm-weather teams after mostly indoor practices leading up to the season. However, this year's team have been unfazed, hitting .311 and scoring 46 runs over the first six games. That marks the team's highest batting average and most runs scored in the first six games of the season since 2008, when Valpo hit .312 and scored 51 runs in six games against Austin Peay and Illinois State to open up the year. In addition, this season marks perhaps the most challenging schedule Valpo has played to open the campaign in the last decade, going up against Alabama, Oklahoma and Holy Cross. The Crusaders have seven home runs in the first six games, their most at this juncture of the season since at least 2006. Here’s a more detailed year-by-year look at the team’s offensive production over the first six games of the season over the last decade.
Year AVG R HR
2018 .311 46 7
2017 .282 25 4
2016 .259 38 5
2015 .230 25 4
2014 .238 37 2
2013 .211 11 1
2012 .260 29 2
2011 .226 24 1
2010 .281 40 3
2009 .247 29 5
2008 .312 51 4
Award Alert: Valpo third baseman Sam Shaikin was named the Missouri Valley Conference Hitter of the Week on Monday after clubbing a robust .700 in three games against Oklahoma and Holy Cross. Shaikin went 3-for-3 with a career-high four runs scored in Saturday’s win over the Sooners, then picked up right where he left off with a first-inning home run in the second game of the day on Saturday and finished 2-for-4 with four RBIs in that contest against Holy Cross. Shaikin enjoyed his third straight multi-hit game on Sunday, an extra-inning loss to Oklahoma. He holds a .417 batting average, second on the team, and is one of six Crusaders tied for the team lead with six RBIs apiece. Shaikin became the first Valpo baseball player to win a Missouri Valley Conference weekly award in the school’s first year as a member institution. If you’re wondering, the first Valpo player to earn a Horizon League weekly honor was Zach Rodeghero, named the Horizon League Player of the Week on Feb. 26, 2008.
Balanced Attack: The balance of Valpo’s offense has been noteworthy this season. Valpo is the only team in the conference that has six players with six or more RBIs. The Crusaders join Illinois State as the only teams with six players hitting .300 or better. Here’s a look at how Valpo compares to the other teams in The Valley in terms of number of players with six RBIs or more and number of players hitting .300 or better in the early portion of the season.
Team Players w/ 6+ RBIs Players Hitting .300+
Valpo 6 6
Bradley 1 4
DBU 1 2
Evansville 1 3
Illinois State 5 6
Indiana State 3 4
Missouri State 0 2
Southern Illinois 3 3
Defense Wins Championships: The Valpo offense received plenty of attention for its explosion last weekend – and deservedly so – but defense has statistically been the biggest strength for the Crusaders so far this year. Valpo ranks atop The Valley in field percentage at .973 after breaking a program record that had stood since 1998 by finishing with a .971 fielding percentage in 2017.
Starting Staff Strong: While the offense has been the primary storyline in the first six games of the season, the Crusaders coupled that with quality starting pitching last weekend. The weekend started with Trey Ferketic earning his first win in a Valpo uniform after yielding just one hit in five shutout innings against Oklahoma on Friday. The graduate transfer has an ERA of 2.00 and has given up just three hits in two starts this year against Power 5 foes Alabama and Oklahoma. Wes Gordon displayed masterful control in his Sunday start against the Sooners, striking out seven while walking none in nine innings of an eventual extra-inning loss. Reigning Freshman All-American Jon Tieman picked up his first win of the year last weekend against Holy Cross, allowing two runs on six hits in six innings.
In The Other Dugout – CSUN: The Matadors are off to a 5-3 start after finishing 26-29 (12-12) and placing fourth in the Big West a year ago. The team is tied for the national lead with 22 home runs in eight games. Trevor Cassanova is hitting .533 to lead the way, while Albee Weiss has already slugged five home runs, a total that ranks third nationally. CSUN is under the direction of fifth-year head coach Greg Moore. The Crusaders are expected to see RHP Matt Acosta, who is 1-2 with a 5.14 ERA in four games (one start) thus far, on Sunday.
In The Other Dugout – Grand Canyon: Grand Canyon is eligible for postseason play this season after completing the four-year transition from Division II to Division I. The Lopes will send Jake Repavich to the mound against the Crusaders on Saturday night. He is coming back from an offseason injury, but has felt healthy after a two-inning outing on Feb. 20 and a four-inning outing on Feb. 25. The Sunday starter is Nick Hull, who enjoyed quite the collegiate debut when he permitted just one run on four hits in five innings on Feb. 18 against No. 7 TCU, a game Grand Canyon went on to win. Grand Canyon, picked to win the WAC in the conference’s preseason poll, held a .683 winning percentage during their four-year transition to Division I. Grand Canyon’s home stadium, Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark, is brand new and opened this season.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his fifth 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 in 2016. In 2017, Schmack continued his success despite guiding a youthful roster that featured 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers. He led the Crusaders to 24 wins, including a strong finish to the regular season that saw them win eight of their last 11. 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 2017 with a 24-29 record and a 13-15 mark in the Horizon League. Three Crusaders earned all-league freshman team honors, the first time Valpo had three players on the all-freshman team since 2013 and the seventh straight year the Crusaders had multiple players on the all-freshman squad. After posting a 4-1 record, 2.93 ERA and seven saves, right-handed pitcher Jon Tieman was named a Freshman All-American, becoming the first Crusader to earn that high honor since shortstop Spencer Mahoney in 2012. The 2017 season also saw the Crusaders set the program record for team fielding percentage, as they put together a .971 fielding percentage that bested the previous mark of .968, which had stood since 1998. The Valpo offense has enjoyed a significant statistical uptick over the last three seasons. The Crusaders held a combined average of .279, slugging percentage of .387 and on-base percentage of .372 from 2015-2017, all improvements from a .265/.351/.337 slash line from 2012-2014.
Preseason Poll: The Crusaders were picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll in their first season in The Valley. Dallas Baptist is the preseason favorite to win the league and is ranked 18th nationally by D1Baseball.com, 20th by the NCBWA and 17th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Missouri State, picked second in The Valley, is ranked 35th nationally by the NCBWA and received 35 votes in the USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll.