Valparaiso dropped its first two games Monday at the Rebel Spring Games in Orlando, Fla., falling to Western Carolina, 4-3, and Lehigh, 1-0, both in eight innings. The Crusaders bounced back, however, defeating Fairfield, 12-4, in their final game of the day.
“It was a long day for us,” said Crusader head coach Randy Schneider. “We played three games, and two of them were hard-fought battles. We lost a couple nailbiters in the eighth inning, and whenever you get to that point in a position to win, you have to figure out how to win. But I’m confident we’ll learn from these experiences and take them with us the rest of the year.”
Valpo got on the board in the bottom of the first against Western Carolina. Karen Korb (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran North) walked with one out, stole second base and came home on an Ashley Wolter (Denver, Iowa/Denver) single. Wolter proceeded to steal second and took advantage of a Catamount error to score and put the Crusaders ahead 2-0.
A 2-RBI single by Heather Pritchard in the top of the third inning knotted up the game at 2-2, but Tracy Korth (Elgin, Ill./Larkin [Elgin C.C.] tripled and scored on an error in the bottom half of the inning to put the Crusaders back on top by a 3-2 count. Valpo maintained the one-run lead until the top of the sixth, when the Catamounts put together two hits to tie the game at three.
The score was still 3-3 after seven innings, necessitating the use of the International Tiebreaker in the eighth inning, which places a runner on second with none out. The Catamounts pushed across a run on a Crusader error to take a 4-3 lead, and while Valpo loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the frame, a lineout ended the game.
Lauren Ross earned the win for Western Carolina, while Stephanie Kelly (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield) was charged with the loss for Valpo, dropping her to 0-2 on the season. Wolter went 2-for-3 on the game, while Korb stole two bases.
Andrea Zappia (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) was dominant for the Crusaders in the circle against Lehigh, giving up just two hits through seven innings. But her counterpart was just as strong, as Lisa Sweeney allowed just a second-inning single to Shannon Robinson (Toronto, Ontario/John Redmond) as the game went into the International Tiebreaker at 0-0.
Valpo got its runner over to third base with one out in the top of the eighth frame, but Sweeney struck out two Crusaders to end the threat. In the bottom of the inning, pinch-hitter Brooke Lewis blooped a single down the right-field line with two outs to plate the winning run. Zappia fell to 3-2 on the season despite giving up just three hits while striking out four batters. The senior has not allowed an earned run in her last 19 innings of work.
“Andrea is on fire for us right now,” said Schneider. “She just had another great day in the circle. Any game we put her out there to pitch, we can win. Ashley is doing a great job for us at the plate as well.”
The Crusaders rebounded for a mercy-rule victory against Fairfield, putting up six runs in both the first and fourth frame on their way to a 12-4 five-inning win. Korb, Robinson and Wolter each tallied two hits in the game, while freshman Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) drove in three runs.
Chris Halstead (Indianapolis, Ind./Cathedral) earned her first decision of the year, going to 1-0. The senior tossed four innings, while Carrie Franson (Arlington, Wis./Poynette) closed out the game by working the fifth frame.
“I was proud of our team for going out there in the third game and bouncing back,” said Schneider. “We didn’t hang our heads; instead, we went out there and competed and came away with a victory. Right now, we’re playing a lot of players, using this as an opportunity to see who can play ball and to try to find lineups with the right chemistry. When we do and we put our best team out there, we will be a pretty good ballclub.”
Valparaiso (4-4) returns to the field Tuesday with two more games. The Crusaders face off against Lehigh again at noon CST, and follow with their second contest of the trip versus Holy Cross at 4 p.m.