Valparaiso (4-8, 0-0 MVC)
at Loyola Marymount (3-10, 0-0 WCC)
Page Stadium (1,200) | Los Angeles, Calif.
Friday, March 9, 8 p.m. CT – Tieman (R) v. Paiva (R)
Saturday, March 10 3 p.m. CT – Ferketic (R) v. Agnew (R)
Sunday, March 11, 3 p.m. CT – Gordon (R) v. Frasso (R)
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will conclude its spring trip to the state of California this weekend as it matches up with Loyola Marymount for a three-game series. Both teams will look to get back on the winning track, as LMU will attempt to rectify a three-game losing streak, while the Crusaders dropped back-to-back games at UC Riverside earlier this week.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders were handed their fifth one-run loss of the young season on Tuesday night, falling 4-3 to UC Riverside. A three-run fifth inning allowed Valpo to come from three down to level the score, but the Highlanders pushed across a run in the sixth to go ahead for good. An extraordinary effort from Chase Dawson, who had four hits and a career-high four RBIs, wasn’t enough on Wednesday, a 14-5 loss to UC Riverside.
On the Air: A free video stream will be available via the West Coast Conference Network for all three games in addition to live stats. Coverage links can be found on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes: This will be the first time the Crusaders play Loyola Marymount on the baseball diamond.
Dawson Does Damage: After finishing 2017 by hitting a team-best .364 over the final month of the season (April 23 – May 24) and also leading the team in on-base percentage (.517) during that stretch, junior Chase Dawson has carried that offensive success over into this season. The left-handed hitting second baseman owns a .351 average and is one of three Crusaders tied for second on the team with 13 RBIs. He enjoyed a prosperous evening on Wednesday at UC Riverside, driving in four of the team’s five runs in a 14-5 defeat to establish a career high in that area, while also garnering a four-hit game.
Johnny Bench Award Watch List: Speaking of players who have carried their late offensive success last year into this season, junior catcher Scott Kapers is hitting a robust .420 with a homer and 10 RBIs. He hit a team-high .378 over the final 14 games of the season after entering that stretch with a .231 average last year. Kapers has gotten better and better offensively, finishing last season at .268 after hitting .196 as a freshman. His defense has been consistent throughout his Crusader career, and is a main reason he finds himself as one of two Missouri Valley Conference Players on the Johnny Bench Award Watch List for the award given to the top catcher in the nation each season. Kapers threw out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers last year. The watch list for the Johnny Bench award was announced earlier this week. Semifinalists will be announced on May 16, three finalists on June 4 and the winner on June 28.
A Happy Homecoming: Jayden Eggimann made sure his trip to his home state ended on a high note, as the Mesa, Ariz. native slugged a three-run homer to highlight a six-run ninth inning for Valpo on Sunday against Grand Canyon, the team Eggimann played for his freshman season. The prosperous inning snapped a 5-5 tie and helped Valpo to an eventual 11-7 win. Eggimann's long ball was his first of the season and the third of his Valpo career, and his five RBIs in the game marked a career high. He now owns the team lead in RBIs with 14 and has already driven in more runs than he did all of last season.
Offense Keeps Surging: It was another noteworthy week for the Valpo offense, as the Crusaders now own a .322 batting average that ranks 18th nationally despite being a cold-weather team that has played nearly all warm-weather opponents thus far this year. Seven players are hitting .327 or better, led by newcomer Blake Billinger, who is batting .396 with a .642 slugging percentage. Billinger is tied for 10th nationally with seven doubles, three of them coming in one game against CSUN last Friday, allowing him to become the first Crusader since 2008 with three doubles in a contest.
Home Sweet Home: Valpo has a long history of success recruiting the state of California, making this week's trip to the Golden State a special one on many levels. Valpo has 11 players on the active roster that hail from California, plus a large alumni base within the state. The last time the Crusaders visited California was a three-game series at San Diego State to open the 2015 season. Only seniors who have been with the program all four years were there for the previous visit to San Diego.
Defense Wins Championships: The Valpo offense has received plenty of attention this season – and deservedly so – but the defense has been outstanding as well. Valpo ranks atop The Valley in field percentage at .977 after breaking a program record that had stood since 1998 by finishing with a .971 fielding percentage in 2017.
In The Other Dugout – LMU: The Lions have had offensive struggles so far this season. They own a .205 team batting average and don’t have anyone hitting over .300. Loyola Marymount is led by Nick Sogard at .293 and Niko Decolati at .280. Friday starter Codie Paiva is 1-2 with a 3.18 ERA and will be making his fifth appearance and second start. Saturday man Josh Agnew owns a 2-1 mark in three starts to go along with a 2.75 ERA, the best among Lions who have worked more than four innings. Sunday the Crusaders are expected to see Nick Frasso, who is 0-2 with a 5.17 ERA. Head coach Jason Gill is in his 10th season at the helm. The Lions went 38-18 overall and 20-7 in the West Coast Conference to grab a share of the league title in 2017.
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.