Valparaiso (23-12) at Purdue (28-11) - April 15 [DH] - West Lafayette, Ind.
The Matchup: Valparaiso steps out of league play this week, as the Crusaders’ only action is a doubleheader Tuesday at Big Ten foe Purdue. Valpo enters the twinbill on a four-game winning streak and has won six of its last seven games, while Purdue has won five of its last six contests. The Crusaders are just 6-19-1 versus Purdue all-time, but Valpo holds a 3-2-1 edge in the series since Randy Schneider began his Valpo tenure, including wins in each of the last two meetings.
Last Meeting: Valparaiso jumped out to a 9-1 lead after three innings and held on for a 12-11 victory on April 18, 2007 over Big Ten foe Purdue at the Valparaiso University Softball Field. The bottom of the order shone for the Crusaders, as Megan Carroll, Tracy Korth and Alicia Ashburn, the 6-7-8 hitters, went a combined 7-for-10 with six runs scored and seven RBIs. Ashburn went a perfect 3-for-3, while Carroll went 2-for-4, both driving in three runs. Korth went 2-for-3 with two runs scored as well. Chris Halstead earned the victory in the circle, going four innings and giving up just two earned runs.
Last Week: The Crusaders took all four games they played during the week, sweeping doubleheaders from IPFW and then-Horizon League leader UIC to move to 23-12 on the year. Valpo scored 42 runs over the four-game span while giving up just 15 tallies. Mallory Gill led the Crusaders on the week, hitting .571 during the week with six runs scored, four home runs and 10 RBIs, earning herself league Player of the Week accolades. Four other Crusader regulars also hit .400 or better on the week as Valpo hit at a .377 clip over the four games.
On The Air: The Purdue doubleheader, which was originally scheduled to be broadcast, will not be now due to scheduling conflicts. WVUR, 95.1 FM Valparaiso is planning on broadcasting the entirety of the Crusaders’ home schedule, which will resume with Valpo’s home twinbill April 22 against Butler.
Offensive Bonanza: Through the first 31 games of the season, Valparaiso had shown that it could win games with pitching, speed and defense. While all of those elements were in place last week as well, it was the bats which won the games for Valpo. The Crusaders came into the week hitting .259 as a team and averaging 4.2 runs per game, but over the four games last week, hit at a .377 clip and averaged 10.5 runs per game. The most telling improvement came in the number of home runs, as after connecting on just six long balls through the first 31 games, the Crusaders swatted nine home runs last week.
Moving Up the Charts: Last week’s show of offense helped propel the Crusader team up some of Valpo’s single-season team record charts. With at least 15 scheduled games remaining, this year’s squad would currently finish second in program history with a .276 batting average this year. Offensively, this year’s team currently sits third in a single season in runs scored (173), fourth in home runs (15) and fifth in RBIs (142). On the pitching side, Valpo has already bested the single-season saves mark with eight, ranks third with 214 strikeouts and is tied for fourth with 23 victories.
Success in League Play: Last Friday’s sweep of a doubleheader from UIC marked the first time in Crusader history that they had swept the Flames. It also was the third series victory in as many series so far in Horizon League play for Valpo (2-1 vs. Detroit; 2-1 vs. Loyola), which prior to this season had never won three straight sets to kick off conference action.
Running Wild: The 2007 Crusader squad stole 77 bases, breaking an 18-year old school record in the process. But the new record lasted not even one year, as the 2008 team has already broken the mark for thefts in a single campaign. Valpo surpassed the record in its 30th game of the season, its 2-1 victory over Loyola two Saturdays ago, when Jamie Weinburger took third base in the second inning. The Crusaders have now taken 95 bases on just 111 attempts this year, and enter the week ranked second in the nation with 2.71 stolen bases/game, behind only SEC power Alabama.
Valpo Picked Fifth in Horizon: The Valparaiso University softball team has been tabbed to finish in fifth place in the Horizon League in preseason polling of the league’s head coaches. The Crusaders garnered 35 points in the polling, which awarded nine points for a first-place vote. Loyola has been projected to win the league, receiving five first-place votes and 60 points. UIC and Wright State each earned two first-place votes and checked in with 53 and 50 points, respectively, while Cleveland State was picked fourth with 41 points. Following the Crusaders were Butler (34), Youngstown State (22) and Green Bay (18), while Detroit rounded out the polling with 11 points.
Returning Experience: Head coach Randy Schneider returns six starting position players and all four pitchers from the 2007 squad that won a school record-tying 27 games. Among the 12 returnees on this year’s squad are eight seniors: infielders Alicia Ashburn, Mallory Gill and Courtney LaFerle; outfielders Kayla Grutz and Tracy Korth; catcher Shannon Robinson; and pitchers Chris Halstead and Andrea Zappia.
Gill Stands Out: Senior infielder Mallory Gill enjoyed the best week of her Crusader career last week and was recognized by the Horizon League as its Player of the Week. Gill, who entered the week with three career home runs, registered four round-trippers on the week and hit .571 with six runs scored and 10 RBIs, more RBIs than she had tallied in any of the previous three years. In the nightcap of Valpo’s doubleheader sweep over then-League leader UIC, Gill registered the first multi-homer game of her career.
Record-Breaking Base Knock: Senior catcher Shannon Robinson entered Friday’s twinbill at UIC needing four hits to tie and five to break Valpo’s career hits record. A 4-for-4 effort in the opener, Valpo’s first four-hit game of the season, put her in position to break the record, and Robinson tallied a single in the sixth inning of the nightcap for her 171st career hit. The senior, who ranks among Valpo’s all-time top-five in batting average, runs scored, RBIs, doubles and total bases as well, now has team-best totals of 34 hits and 21 runs scored on the year.
Among Valpo’s All-Time Best Pitchers: Andrea Zappia continued her march up Valpo’s all-time wins chart, picking up her 30th win last week, tying her for third in the Crusader annals. Already Valpo’s all-time leader in strikeouts (391) and saves (19), Zappia has put together a stellar senior campaign, going 12-5 with a 2.00 ERA and five saves in 108.2 innings of work. With 122 strikeouts so far this year, the senior is just 17 K’s shy of Valpo’s single-season record.
Raking in Horizon League Honors: Zappia has also received recognition from the Horizon League numerous times already this season. The senior has twice been honored as the league’s Pitcher of the Week, on March 4 and March 18, and also received the U.S. Army Scholar-Athlete of the Week award on March 11.
More League Honors: Three other Crusaders have already earned weekly recognition from the Horizon League this year. Whitney Warner was named the league’s Player of the Week Feb. 26 after her 7-for-9 effort at the Tulsa Invitational. Freshman Jill Jacobson earned Pitcher of the Week honors March 11 after throwing a three-hit shutout against Holy Cross in her first career start. Most recently, Karen Korb was named the league’s female Scholar-Athlete of the Week on April 1 after hitting .367 from the leadoff spot the previous week.
Warner Goes Yard: In the first 66 games of her career, sophomore Whitney Warner hit two home runs. In the nightcap Friday at UIC, she doubled that total, blasting a two-run homer in the first inning and her first career grand slam in the second frame to finish the week with eight RBIs.
Wolter Drives Them In: Junior outfielder Ashley Wolter continued her stellar season last week, hitting .500 with five runs scored and seven RBIs. Now hitting a team-best .337 on the year, Wolter has racked up 25 RBIs this year, tied for third-most in a single season in Valpo history.
370 Days: That is how long its been since Crusader junior outfielder Karen Korb has last been caught attempting to steal a base. Since April 10 of last season, Korb has stolen 33 straight bases, just five successful steals shy of the NCAA Division I all-time top-20 list. She broke Valpo’s single-season individual record in the category with a steal against Loyola on Saturday and has already stolen 24 times this season.
Freshman Firsts: Freshman infielder Sadie Conner recorded her first career home run in the nightcap Wednesday at IPFW, a three-run shot in the fifth inning. Two days later, Jill Jacobson registered her first Horizon League victory with 4.2 innings of one-run relief in the opener at UIC, striking out five.
Purdue Notes: The Boilermakers enter Tuesday’s twinbill against the Crusaders at 28-11 overall and 5-3 in Big Ten action after splitting a pair of conference games with Ohio State on Sunday. Four regulars are hitting .300 or better for Purdue, led by junior shortstop Candace Curtis, who leads the Boilermakers with a .369 batting average and 31 RBIs. The vast majority of the pitching this year has been done by Suzie Rzegocki and Dana Alcocer. Rzegocki enters Tuesday with a 12-4 record and a 2.81 ERA, while Alcocer is 15-7 this year with a 3.37 ERA.