The Valparaiso University baseball team holds its best record through eight games in nearly four decades and owns the program’s longest winning streak in seven years after sweeping a doubleheader at Little Rock on Saturday in Arkansas. The Beacons rallied in the ninth to stun the host Trojans 7-6 in the opener before earning a 9-3 victory by grabbing the lead with five in the seventh in the nightcap.
How It Happened – Game 1
- The Beacons struck first as Brady Renfro (Antigo, Wis. / Antigo) grounded a two-out single through the right side to plate Nolan Tucker (Cedar Lake, Ind. / Hanover Central) in the top of the first.
- Little Rock got even with a two-out solo homer in the bottom of the first inning to make it 1-1.
- Valpo starting pitcher Griffin McCluskey (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) worked around a one-out error in the second to keep it tied. The Trojans took a 2-1 lead in the last of the third by virtue of a leadoff home run.
- In the bottom of the fourth, Little Rock notched its fourth hit and third homer of the day – another solo blast, this one coming with two down to make it 3-1.
- Valpo went to the bullpen in the fifth as Grant Jablonski (Mishawaka, Ind. / Mishawaka) entered the game and fired a 1-2-3 with help from solid defense behind him.
- In the top of the sixth, a one-out double by Renfro bounced starting pitcher Jackson Wells from the game, but the bullpen notched the final two outs with nothing across for the Beacons.
- Nico Baumbach of Little Rock led off the sixth with his second homer and third extra-base hit of the day, a blast to center to make it 4-1.
- A sharp two-out single by Tucker trimmed the Little Rock lead to two at 4-2 in the top of the seventh. Valpo had a chance for more, but the Trojans induced a fielder’s choice bouncer to send the game to the seventh-inning stretch at 4-2.
- Little Rock used a two-run triple with two down in the bottom of the seventh to double the lead to four at 6-2.
- The Beacons manufactured a run in the eighth as Renfro worked a walk and eventually came around to score on a ground ball by Ryan Maka (Oak Forest, Ill. / Oak Forest). That made it 6-3.
- Jablonski recorded a looking strikeout to start the bottom of the eighth, ending his day on a high note. Josh Spencer (Woodinville, Wash. / Woodinville [Tacoma]) took over on the mound, retiring back-to-back batters in his Valpo debut.
- Little Rock led 6-3 after eight, but for the second time this season, Valpo put together some ninth-inning magic. A single, a hit batter and a walk caused a pitching change, then a fielder’s choice bouncer by Kyle Schmack (Wanatah, Ind. / South Central) made it 6-4. Renfro came through with a clutch two-run single to tie the game before crossing the dish himself as Jake Skrine (Longmont, Colo. / Mead [Indiana]) tattooed a double high off the left-field fence to put Valpo ahead 7-6.
- Valpo inserted Bobby Nowak (Cedar Lake, Ind. / Hanover Central [Kankakee]) for the bottom of the ninth and he struck out the side to nail down the save.
Inside the Game – Game 1
- McCluskey logged four innings and allowed three runs on four hits with three of the hits leaving the yard. He struck out five and did not issue any walks. This marked the first time in McCluskey’s career that he started and allowed no walks and the first time he logged more than 1 1/3 innings and kept the walk total to zero.
- Tucker, Renfro and Alex Thurston (Fowler, Ind. / Benton Central) each had multiple hits. Renfro led the way with three hits and reached base four times.
- Valpo outhit Little Rock 12-8, but had to overcome a Little Rock advantage in the extra-base hit department. Six of the eight hits by the Trojans went for extra bases including four home runs, while 10 of Valpo’s 12 knocks were singles.
- Valpo pitching registered 12 strikeouts, the third time this season the Beacon arms have fanned double figures.
- The Beacon bats produced a dozen hits, their fourth straight game with 12 hits or more.
- Valpo extended its winning streak to four, the team’s longest since Feb. 20 to March 4 last season, a stretch that included wins over Memphis, Alabama A&M and Omaha.
- Valpo improved to 5-2 on the season, the team’s best record through seven games since 1997.
- Nowak nailed down the save, the ninth of his Valpo career. That allowed him to climb into a tie for eighth in program history with Adam Paetznick (2001-2004).
- Valpo earned its second win of the season when trailing after eight innings, the second straight game in which they’ve trailed after eight innings that they have won.
- Prior to the rally last Saturday, Feb. 25 at UT Martin, the last time Valpo trailed through eight and prevailed was May 10, 2019 vs. Southern Illinois, a 5-4, 14-inning win. Valpo had lost 66 straight games when trailing after eight before winning back-to-back games under those circumstances.
- Prior to this season, Valpo had not won multiple games when trailing through eight innings in the same season since 2012, when they won three such games. Now, the Beacons have boasted multiple ninth-inning rallies that produced victories in the first seven games of the year.
- Valpo also improved to 2-0 in one-run games.
How It Happened – Game 2
- Valpo grabbed the early lead for the second straight game as Skrine flied out to the warning track in deep right center with the bases loaded in the first, allowing Tucker to tag and score.
- Little Rock scratched a run on a two-out single in the bottom of the second to tie the game at one.
- The Beacons wrestled the lead right back in the third as Skrine drove in his second run of the day, this time grounding one through the left side for a two-out tally.
- Skrine made it a three-RBI game in the fifth with a fielder’s choice bouncer to plate a run and increase the lead to 3-1.
- Little Rock got a run back with a string of three straight singles in the fifth, but an inning-ending double play extinguished the rally and kept Valpo ahead 3-2.
- Little Rock’s Baumbach hit his third home run of the day and first of the second game in the bottom of the sixth, leveling the score at three.
- Valpo produced the go-ahead run in the seventh when Schmack stole second and a run scored as the throw went down to second. Skrine continued his big day with a run-scoring single to make it 5-3, then Maka unloaded a three-run homer to up the edge to 8-3.
- Valpo went to the bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, when Nathan Chasey bounced back from a leadoff walk by striking out three straight.
- Valpo added a run in the eighth, and Chasey slammed the door with three scoreless innings to earn the three-inning save.
Inside the Game – Game 2
- Valpo notched its fifth straight win, the team’s longest winning streak since recording six straight from May 15-25, 2016. That stretch featured wins over Oakland, Youngstown State and Northern Kentucky.
- The Beacons improved to 6-2, their best record through eight games since 1985, when they also won six of the first eight, and eventually seven of the first nine.
- Lockwood logged six innings, allowing three runs on six hits while walking one to earn the victory and improve to 2-0 on the season. Chasey’s save was the second of his career.
- Maka drilled his second home run of the season and the seventh of his career.
- Hannahs, Schmack and Skrine all had multiple hits. Skrine became the fourth different Beacon with a four-RBI game this season. He had five productive plate appearances, going 3-for-4 with a sacrifice fly. He drove in a run in each of his first four plate appearances before singling to lead off the ninth.
- This represented Valpo’s first doubleheader sweep since March 25, 2022 vs. St. Bonaventure.
- Valpo collected 10 hits, the team’s fifth straight game with double figures in the hit column.
- The Beacons have scored in the first inning in four of their six wins including both games on Saturday. Valpo is 6-0 when scoring first and 4-0 when scoring in the opening frame.
Valpo (6-2) and Little Rock will close the three-game series on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Little Rock.