A Valparaiso University baseball team that is no stranger to winning on the big stage gained its most memorable victory yet in Wednesday’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament opener by upstaging host DBU 13-10 under the lights at Horner Ballpark in Dallas. The second-seeded Patriots have won three of the last four MVC Tournament titles, but Wednesday night belonged to a poised group of MVC newcomers who sure didn’t look like the tournament’s seventh seed.
An unlikely victory featured an unlikely hero as left-hander Jarrett Hammel (Brook, Ind. / South Newton [Saint Joseph’s College]), who joined Valpo this season after Division-II Saint Joseph’s closed its doors, kept a potent DBU offense at bay on a warm hitters’ night, allowing just one run on two hits in 3 2/3 innings of relief. He sent down the first 10 batters he faced.
Conversely, the Valpo offense made MVC Pitcher of the Year Trevor Conn look human, bouncing him after 3 1/3 innings before continuing their assault of Patriot pitching against quality bullpen arm after quality bullpen arm. Few if any of Valpo’s hits were cheap, as the Crusaders made solid contact throughout the night.
How It Happened
- Valpo (19-32) got off to a favorable start, hitting the ball hard in the opening inning against Conn. The Crusaders registered four hits in the first frame, three of them for extra bases.
- Chase Dawson (Chesterton, Ind. / Andrean) started it in style by smoking a double off the left-field wall on the second pitch of the contest. Two batters later, Blake Billinger (Los Gatos, Calif. / St. Francis [Mission]) took it a step further, cracking one over the left-field wall for a two-run homer.
- Chad Jacob (Irvine, Calif. / Woodbridge) delivered a two-out double, but Giovanni Garbella (San Diego, Calif. / Cathedral Catholic) was cut down at the plate on a relay throw for the final out of the inning.
- The Patriots (36-18) got on the board in the bottom of the first when Jameson Hannah delivered a solo home run to make it a 2-1 game.
- The first two batters of the top of the second were retired, but Valpo put together a two-out rally. Jayden Eggimann (Mesa, Ariz. / Desert Ridge [Central Arizona / Grand Canyon] singled up the middle, stole second and scored on Dawson’s second hit of the day. Then Sam Shaikin (West Hills, Calif. / Chatsworth) recorded Valpo’s seventh hit of the first two innings, scoring Dawson to make it a 4-1.
- DBU got even in the bottom of the third. Jimmy Glowenke singled home a run, then Tim Millard ripped a two-run double to cause a 4-4 tie.
- The Patriots gained their first lead of the game in the fourth as Devlin Granberg doubled to drive in a run before Hannah added a run-scoring ground ball.
- When Jared Bayless entered the game to replace Conn, he struck out the first six batters he faced. That string ended when Scott Kapers (Schererville, Ind. / Mount Carmel) dove head first into first base to leg out an infield single with one away in the sixth. That prompted Bayless to issue back-to-back walks, then Kragen Kechely came in to pitch and hit Dawson with the first pitch he threw, forcing in a run to shrink DBU’s lead to 6-5.
- The Crusaders had an opportunity for more in the sixth as they had the bags full with only one away, but Kechely escaped without further damage to allow DBU to cling to the one-run edge.
- Kapers turned a half-swing into a bloop single to center to drive in a run and tie the game in the seventh. Then, Patrick Donohue (Arlington Heights, Ill. / Prospect) reached for the third time in the game, singling through the right side to score another and give Valpo a 7-6 edge.
- Later in the seventh, Dawson delivered his third hit of the evening, ripping a two-run single to bolster the lead to 9-6.
- As the game moved to the eighth inning, the Crusaders just kept hitting. Giovanni Garbella (San Diego, Calif. / Cathedral Catholic) nailed a double to the gap to drive in a run, then he scored as Jacob lined a sharp single to center to make it 11-6.
- A leadoff double in the eighth ended Hammel’s stretch of 10 straight sent down, then Hammel’s scoreless innings streak came to a close on a two-out double that made it 11-7. With DBU runners at second and third and two down, Chet Joslyn (Battle Creek, Mich. / Lakeview) came in and induced a sharp ground ball to first. Zack Leone (Pelham Manor, N.Y. / Fordham Prep [Susquehanna]) did a nice job to knock it down and take it to the bag unassisted to retire the side.
- Another run crossed the dish for Valpo in the top of the ninth when Shaikin added an RBI single to make it 12-7. Leone chipped in a run-scoring hit moments later, increasing the lead to six.
- On a night where nothing came easy, four of the first five batters in the bottom of the ninth reached for DBU. That caused Brian Schmack to call to the bullpen and summon senior Alex Dirienzo (Somerset, Pa. / Somerset [Akron]) with a runner on first, three runs in the bank and Valpo holding a 13-10 lead. The tying run never reached the plate, as Dirienzo notched a strikeout and induced a fly ball to right, sealing the win for the Crusaders.
Inside the Game
- In 57 innings during the regular season, Conn gave up two doubles and two home runs total. In the first inning of the tournament, the Crusaders had two doubles and a home run against him.
- Valpo became just the second team to score 13 runs or more against DBU this season and the first since Oklahoma (15) on March 6. This was the most runs scored by the visiting team in a game against the Patriots at Horner Ballpark since Baylor on March 26, 2016.
- The Crusaders matched a season high with 18 hits, their fourth time racking up 18 hits in a game this year. This was the first time they did so against an MVC opponent.
- Valpo joined Missouri State and Clemson as the only teams with multiple victories against DBU this season.
- Kechely took the loss in relief after allowing four earned runs on four hits in his only inning of work. That was his first loss of the season against six wins.
- Hammel picked up a well-earned win to improve to 3-2, while Dirienzo nailed down the first save of his senior season.
- Billinger’s home run was his seventh of the season and lifted his team-high RBI total to 46.
- Dawson, Jacob and Garbella registered three hits apiece. Every player in the Valpo lineup had at least one hit. Dawson racked up four RBIs.
- Before allowing a run in the eighth, Hammel had put together 15 straight scoreless frames spanning seven outings.
- Neither starter factored into the decision. Valpo’s Jon Tieman (Crystal Lake, Ill. / Prairie Ridge) was charged with six runs on eight hits in four innings, while Conn was touched for four runs on eight hits in his 3 1/3 innings.
- Conn entered the game with an 8-1 record and 2.21 ERA. The eight hits were the most he’s allowed in a game all season.
The Crusaders will be under the lights again on Thursday as they take on third-seeded Bradley (31-17), a team that beat Illinois State 14-2 on Wednesday. The game can be seen on ESPN+ with Scott Warmann (play-by-play) and Shane Dennis (color commentary). Links to live video and stats will be available.