Valparaiso recorded its first Mid-Continent Conference Tournament victory in school history on Friday afternoon, defeating regular season champion Southern Utah 3-1 in the first round held in Macomb, Ill.
The Crusaders, the tournament's fourth seed, scored three runs in the top of the sixth to rally for the victory and advance in the winner's bracket of the tournament.
After a rain delay of more than two hours to begin the game, the first four and a half innings turned into a pitcher's dual between Valpo's Ashlee Blankenbaker (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso H.S.) and the Thunderbird's Lacee LePrey. Blankenbaker struck out nine while walking just one in the complete game victory.
Southern Utah (38-17) struck first in the bottom of the fifth inning as Dusti Winward hit her eighth homerun of the season to left field with two outs.
Valpo answered with all three runs in the top of the sixth after two were out. Karen Constien (Carol Stream, Ill./Glenbard North H.S.) singled to right and Tricia Speziale (Elmhurst, Ill./York H.S.) walked. Beth Adamski (St. John, Ind./Lake Central H.S.) also drew a pinch-hit walk to load the bases, and Monica Rowan (Evergreen Park, Ill./Evergreen Park H.S.) drew the third straight free pass to force in Constien and tie the game.
After Mandy Brown replaced LePrey, Lisa Setzler (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso H.S.) singled up the middle to plate Speziale and Amanda Gilbertson (Murrieta, Calif./West Albany H.S., Ore.), who re-entered the line-up for Adamski. The Crusaders then loaded the bases again as Megan Carroll (Eaton Rapids, Mich./Eaton Rapids H.S.) reached on an error, but a force out ended the inning.
Valpo (20-32) managed just four hits in the game, but made them count while Southern Utah tallied ten hits but left nine runners on base. LePrey and Anna Leeman each went 3-for-3 for the Thunderbirds on the afternoon.
The Crusaders will advance in the winner's bracket and face Centenary, a 6-5 victory in eight innings over Centenary today. Valpo and the Ladies will play at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, with the winner advancing to play at 3:30 p.m. The loser will face Western Illinois in an elimination game at 1:15 p.m.