The Matchup: Valparaiso opens Horizon League Championship play on Thursday evening as the second seed, facing the winner of a first-round game between UIC and Youngstown State. The Crusaders, who have already set a school record with 30 victories this season, are looking to win the double-elimination tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
This Season vs. the Horizon League: In its first season of Horizon League action, Valparaiso showed that it was intimidated by no opponent, as the Crusaders did not lose a league series. After its scheduled opening series against Green Bay was rained out, Valpo opened league play by taking two of three from Detroit March 29-30. The Crusaders followed by winning two of three from Loyola on April 5-6, and swept a twinbill at UIC on April 11. Valpo won its second consecutive doubleheader, sweeping Butler on April 22, before splitting two games at Wright State on April 24. The Crusaders closed out the league slate by taking two of three from Youngstown State April 26-27 and splitting two at Cleveland State on May 4.
Last Week: Valparaiso closed out regular season play last week with a 1-2 record, falling to Notre Dame in the home finale at the Valparaiso University Softball Field before splitting a doubleheader at Cleveland State, capturing the opener 1-0 in eight innings and dropping the nightcap 4-1. Ashley Wolter led the Crusaders on the week offensively, registering three hits in eight at-bats, while Aubrey Sundling came off the bench to score both Valpo runs in the doubleheader against the Vikings. Andrea Zappia pitched all but two innings in the circle for the Crusaders on the week, posting a 2.21 ERA in her 19 innings of work.
On The Air: This week’s games will not be broadcast by WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso. The campus student radio station broadcasted 12 Crusader softball games live over its airwaves and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics this season.
The Most Wins Ever: This year’s Crusader softball team has already set numerous team records, but the most impressive feat is that the 2008 squad is the winningest in school history. This year’s team set the program record for victories in a single season with its win April 26 over Youngstown State, breaking the previous record of 27, accomplished three times. With two more victories since that milestone win, the 2008 team has become the first in program history to win 30 contests.
Best League Finish: The 2008 team has also registered the best league finish in school history. Despite making a step up in competition into the Horizon League this year and being projected to finish fifth in the preseason polling, Valpo concluded the regular season in second place in the league standings. The previous best finish by a Crusader squad was a divisional third-place finish in 1997 and 1998, when the Mid-Continent Conference was split into two divisions. The best overall finish previously was fourth place, in 2004 and 2007.
Back to Postseason Play: This year marks the first time since the 2004 campaign that Valpo has played in a league postseason tournament. In that season, Randy Schneider’s first at the helm of the Crusader program, the Crusaders advanced to the championship round of the Mid-Continent Conference tournament before falling to Centenary.
Uncharted Territory: While the single-season wins record is the most prominent of records in the Crusader softball record book, it is by no means the only mark Valpo has surpassed this year. Valpo is on pace to demolish the previous fielding percentage record, as it carries a .976 clip into this week. The Crusaders have also set single-season records for RBIs (164), strikeouts (284) and saves (8), and are second all-time in doubles (55) and runs scored (207).
Running Wild: Perhaps the most impressive of the Crusaders’ record-breaking efforts this year is their compliation of stolen bases. The previous team record for steals in a season entering this year was 77, but this year’s squad has already registered 125 stolen bases on just 149 attempts. Valpo currently ranks second in the nation with 2.66 stolen bases/game, trailing only SEC power Alabama. The Crusaders have stolen 41 more bases than the next-closest Horizon League squad. Five different players have taken at least ten bases on the year and rank among the top-ten in the league in the category.
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.
Saving the Best for Last: Andrea Zappia is enjoying her finest season as a Crusader during her senior year. Earlier this year, she broke Valpo’s career records for appearances and strikeouts, and has set new Valpo single-season marks this year for victories (19) and strikeouts (169). Zappia earned First Team All-League honors this year after going 10-4 with a 2.00 ERA in 80.1 innings of work, striking out 84 batters while walking just 17.
Raking in Awards: Zappia has also received recognition from the Horizon League numerous times 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. On a national level, Zappia was one of 30 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.
Korth Earns All-League Honor: Senior outfielder Tracy Korth also earned First Team All-Horizon League honors this year after enjoying a stellar season, especially in league action. Korth started all 17 of Valpo’s league contests in left field and led all regulars with a .327 batting average. She posted nine extra-base hits in Valpo’s 17 league games, finishing up the slate with a team-best .592 slugging percentage.
Robinson Breaks Records: Senior catcher Shannon Robinson, who broke Valpo’s single-season hits record last year as a junior, continued her assault on the Crusader record books this year. Robinson broke the career hits mark earlier this season and has also matched Valpo’s career doubles record. She also ranks among Valpo’s all-time top five in games played, runs, RBIs, putouts, and stolen bases. She earned Second Team All-Horizon League honors this season, hitting .308 with a team-high 11 runs scored in league play.
More League Honors: Four 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. 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, while Mallory Gill was named Player of the Week on April 14 after hitting .571 with six runs scored and ten RBIs over the previous week.
Korb Keeps Stealing: Junior outfielder Karen Korb has picked right back up and started another streak of consecutive stolen bases since having her year-long stretch without being caught broken on April 15. Korb swiped another last week, making her 29-of-30 on the year on the basepaths and giving her a school-record 65 steals. In fact, Korb’s 29 thefts this year by itself would rank third on Valpo’s all-time career chart.
Wolter Driving Them In: Junior outfielder Ashley Wolter is having one of the best run-producing seasons in Valpo history. Wolter has 29 RBIs this season, tied for second-most in a single campaign all-time at Valpo and just two behind the record mark. In addition, she hit her team-best fifth home run of the campaign two Sundays ago, giving her 12 career long balls, tied for second-most in Crusader history.
Schneider Earns Share of Accolade: Crusader head coach Randy Schneider was honored by the Horizon League as its Co-Coach of the Year, joined by Cleveland State’s Angie Nicholson. Schneider, the all-time winningest coach in Crusader softball history, guided Valpo to a school-record 30 victories this season and a second-place finish in league play.