The Valparaiso University baseball team had the storybook moment but not the fairytale ending on Friday night at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo.
Making his first collegiate start and playing after a late lineup scratch due to an injury, Patrick Ilitch (Detroit, Mich. / University Liggett [IMG]) came to the plate with two on and two down in the top of the ninth with Valpo trailing 3-0. A memorable swing of the bat resulted in his first collegiate home run – a blast that tied the game at three and capped a rally that started with two outs, nobody on base and the lower third of the batting order due. However, Missouri State went on to win 4-3 on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th.
How It Happened
- Missouri State scored the game’s first run on a two-out triple in the bottom of the first, an inning that saw Valpo starter Griffin McCluskey (Normal, Ill. / Normal Community) record all three outs via the strikeout.
- Valpo created a golden chance in the top of the second, as the inning started with a single, E6 and a bunt hit to load the bags with nobody out. However, the Bears utilized a string of three straight strikeouts to escape unscathed.
- The Bears threatened with two on and nobody out – one of which reached on an error – in the bottom of the second, but it was McCluskey’s turn to escape the jam without yielding a run, keeping the MSU lead at one.
- McCluskey posted a zero in the third, then minimized the damage to one run in the fourth, a frame that began with the bases loaded and nobody out.
- An incredible leaping catch by Alex Ryan (Lake Mills, Wis. / Lakeside Lutheran) in center robbed a Missouri State home run in the bottom of the fifth. He initially appeared to double off the runner at second, who was ruled to have left early when tagging to advance to third. However, that was overturned on replay, so instead that inning continued and Missouri State was able to add a run, increasing the lead to 3-0. That overturned call flipped the game’s eventual outcome.
- Valpo turned to Grant Jablonski (Mishawaka, Ind. / Mishawaka) on the mound in the sixth, and he sent down the first six he faced. The Bears achieved a leadoff base runner in the eighth, but he was left stranded, making it three scoreless for the Valpo righty.
- The outlook was bleak for the Beacons, who had two outs and nobody on base in the top of the ninth trailing 3-0 with the lower third of the batting order due up. But back-to-back walks to the seven and eight hitters set the stage for Ilitch’s unforgettable swing, which tied the game at three.
- Jablonski continued to do his thing in the bottom of the ninth, working around a pair of baserunners to put up his fourth straight zero and send the game to bonus baseball.
- Taeg Gollert hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th.
Inside the Game
- Ilitch, a redshirt freshman, had played in just two games and had two at-bats in his collegiate career prior to his late insertion into the lineup, which came within an hour of game time on Friday.
- Jablonski took the loss despite a valiant effort out of the pen that featured four innings of one-run, two-hit ball while walking one and striking out two. McCluskey permitted three runs on five hits while walking five and striking out five in five frames.
- Ryan Maka (Oak Forest, Ill. / Oak Forest) and Matt Olive (Minneapolis, Minn. / Blake School) both continued to swing hot sticks, notching two hits apiece.
- The Beacons outhit the Bears 8-7, their sixth loss of the season when outhitting the opponent. However, seven of the eight hits were singles, with the lone extra-base knock coming on the long ball by Ilitch.
- Valpo played its eighth one-run game of the year, dropping to 5-3 in such contests.
- This marked the team’s fourth extra-inning game of the season and its first defeat in a contest that went beyond regulation.
- Valpo continued to battle despite playing significantly shorthanded as Brady Renfro was scratched shortly before game time, meaning Valpo was without four starting position players to go along with two potential weekend starting pitchers, all due to injuries.
Valpo (16-17, 7-9 MVC) and Missouri State will clash at 2 p.m. on Saturday for the middle game in the series. The game will air on ESPN3. Links to live video, audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.