The Valparaiso University baseball program celebrated its seven seniors in victorious fashion, rounding out a perfect weekend with a 4-1 victory over Southern Illinois on a cool and cloudy Sunday afternoon at Emory G. Bauer Field. Jarrett Hammel (Brook, Ind. / South Newton [Saint Joseph’s College]) turned in the third quality start by a Valpo pitcher in the series, while senior Blake Billinger (Los Gatos, Calif. / St. Francis [Mission]) had a clutch two-out, two-run single in the fifth that proved to be the key moment in the game.
How It Happened
- Valpo scored in the first inning for the fourth straight game and the eighth time in the last nine. The run came thanks to a piece of two-out hitting by Steven Fitzsimmons (Golden Valley, Minn. / Robbinsdale Cooper), who rammed a single to right center to make the Salukis pay for back-to-back walks to start the inning.
- Southern Illinois tied the game with a two-out rally in the third that consisted of a walk, stolen base and single to make it 1-1.
- The score stayed that way until the fifth, an inning that started modestly with two outs and nobody on base. A Riley Dent (Long Beach, Calif. / Wilson) double got it going, then a hit batter and a walk preceded the Billinger double to put Valpo in front. A double steal and a balk allowed another run to score, making it 4-1 in favor of Valpo.
- Southern Illinois’ best chance to trim the deficit came in the eighth, when Colin Fields (Libertyville, Ill. / Libertyville) entered the game for his first appearance since April 20 as he returned from an injury. The freshman issued back-to-back walks to start the inning, but recovered with three straight outs.
- The Salukis (22-25, 4-14) also had two men aboard in the ninth against Fields, but he nailed down his first career save.
Inside the Game
- Valpo earned its sixth Valley win, matching its conference win total from a year ago.
- Valpo achieved its first three-game winning streak of the season and nailed down its first sweep of a three-game set since taking all three from Youngstown State on May 19-21, 2016 at Emory G. Bauer Field.
- Freshman catcher Jake Kapers (Schererville, Ind. / Mount Carmel) and the Valpo pitching staff took away Southern Illinois’ greatest strength this weekend. A team that entered the weekend ranked third nationally in stolen bases per game and fifth in total stolen bases was limited to 4-of-9 in stolen base attempts. Meanwhile, a Valpo team that entered the series 11-of-24 on the base paths went 7-for-7 in stolen base tries over the three games.
- Hammel (2-4) garnered the win thanks to seven solid innings in which he allowed one run on five hits while walking three and striking out five. He helped the Valpo pitching staff post a 1.41 ERA for the series. The starting pitchers combined for a glowing 1.17 ERA in the three games.
- Valpo has scored 36 runs in the first inning this season compared to no more than 23 in any other specific inning. The team has jumped on the board in the opening inning in 22 of its 45 games.
- Fitzsimmons hit .429 (6-for-14) over the weekend to lead the team.
- Sam Shaikin (West Hills, Calif. / Chatsworth) drew two walks on Sunday to up his career total to 102, moving into a tie for third in program history with Todd Poepard (1996-1999).
- Chase Dawson (Chesterton, Ind. / Andrean) scored the 142nd run of his career on Sunday, moving into a tie for seventh in program history with Marc Boggio (1999-2003).
- Shaikin, Dawson, Billinger, Brent Jones (Ankeny, Iowa/ Ankeny Centennial [Iowa Central]), Patrick Dononhue (Arlington Heights, Ill. / Prospect), Mike Kornacker (Lemont, Ill. / St. Laurence [Purdue]) and Nick Leaverton (Mission Viejo, Calif. / Capistrano Valley) were recognized during a Senior Day ceremony before the game. Those seven Valpo players competed in the final home series of their collegiate career this weekend.
Valpo (13-32, 6-12) will host Chicago State on Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Emory G. Bauer Field in the home finale and the last nonconference game of the year. The makeup game from a postponement earlier in the season will be broadcast on 95.1 FM Valparaiso with live audio and stats available online.