Valparaiso University baseball sophomore Griffin McCluskey (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) won’t soon forget his return to his hometown this weekend.
The Normal native earned his first collegiate victory, delivering six one-run innings of four-hit ball to pitch the visitors to a 2-1 victory over Illinois State in the rubber match of a three-game series on Easter Sunday. This marked Valpo’s second road series win in league play since joining the Missouri Valley Conference and first since 2018.
How It Happened
- McCluskey faced a first-inning jam as Illinois State had two on with only one away. However, both runners were stranded in scoring position as the Valpo righty worked out of it with no damage done.
- The hometown hero put up another zero in the bottom of the second, then the Beacons went to work offensively in the third. After Illinois State had sent down six straight Valpo batters to start the game, the guests produced a third-inning run as the bottom of the order came through. Angel DiFederico (New Haven, Ind. / New Haven) started the frame with a single, and dove in safely at home on a double to center by Alex Ryan (Lake Mills, Wis. / Lakeside Lutheran) a moment later for the first tally of the game.
- The bottom of the third came to an end as Valpo turned a strike him out, throw him out double play. McCluskey fanned the batter, while DiFederico cut down a would-be base stealer.
- McCluskey put up another zero in the fourth, then continued to cruise with a 1-2-3 fifth.
- Valpo added to the lead in the top of the sixth, when Alex Thurston (Fowler, Ind. / Benton Central) drilled a double and came in to score as Kyle Schmack (Wanatah, Ind. / South Central) went the other way by poking one through the right side for a run-scoring single to make it 2-0.
- The Redbirds got on the board in the last of the sixth on a two-out, run-scoring double that sliced the lead in half.
- Valpo went to the bullpen in the seventh as Nathan Chasey (Ames, Iowa / Gilbert [Indian Hills CC]) took over. The Redbirds got the tying run into scoring position, but the righty worked out of it as the Beacons continued to cling to the 2-1 advantage.
- Chasey followed up by retiring the side in order in the eighth to keep the narrow Valpo edge intact.
- Closer Bobby Nowak (Cedar Lake, Ind. / Hanover Central [Kankakee]) took over in the ninth and nailed down the save.
Inside the Game
- Valpo’s previous road series win in Missouri Valley Conference play came in April 2018 at Evansville, when the guests took two of three.
- Nowak picked up his seventh save of the season, the most by a Valpo pitcher in a single season since Jon Tieman’s seven in 2017. In addition, Nowak now ranks tied for 10th in program history in career saves. Entering this weekend, only 23 players in the nation had seven saves or more in 2022.
- McCluskey’s final line in his first collegiate win featured six innings of one-run, four-hit ball. He struck out five and walked one to up his season record to 1-1.
- Schmack notched his team-leading 13th multi-hit game of the year, accounting for a third of the team’s six hits in the victory.
- Schmack’s RBI was his team-leading 22nd of the season.
- Valpo improved to 2-2 in one-run games this season and 5-6 in games decided by two runs or fewer.
- The Beacons were 0-9 when scoring two runs or fewer this season prior to Sunday.
- Over the last two seasons, Valpo now owns a 6-2 record in matchups with Illinois State with three of those six victories coming in one-run games.
- Prior to this month, Valpo hadn’t bounced back from losing a series opener to win a series since May 2015 vs. Youngstown State. Now, the team has accomplished that feat in two out of the last three weeks, rallying to take road series from both UIC and Illinois State.
- The Beacons played flawless defense all weekend, as the team did not commit an error in the three games. This marks the first time Valpo has avoided an error in three straight games this season.
- All three games in the series were lightning-fast, as none of the three games took longer than 2:31 (Saturday’s game). The Friday game lasted just 2:07, while the Sunday game checked in at 2:05. The Friday and Sunday games are the two shortest nine-inning games that Valpo has played all season.
Valpo (13-18, 2-4 MVC) will visit nationally-ranked Notre Dame on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Central Time. The game will air on ACC Network Extra. Links to live video and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.