Valparaiso won back-to-back games for the first time this season on Saturday, defeating South Dakota, 3-1, and Saint Francis (Pa.), 4-2, at the Rebel Spring Games in Orlando, Fla.
A pair of Crusader freshmen pitchers stood out in the circle Saturday, both earning complete-game victories. Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) allowed just one run in a complete-game four hitter against the Coyotes of South Dakota, while Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) improved to 3-0 this season with a six-hit effort in the nightcap against Saint Francis.
Valpo received all the runs it would need in the opener in the first inning. Karen Korb (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran) led off the game with an infield single and proceeded to steal second and third base. Sara Strickland (Phoenix, Ariz./Horizon) followed with a walk and stole second to put two runners in scoring position with nobody out. Two batters later, Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) drove in both Korb and Strickland with a single to put the Crusaders ahead 2-0.
South Dakota cut the deficit in half when Mel Johnson hit a solo home run in the top of the fourth, but the Crusaders responded immediately in the bottom half of the inning. Rutkowski led off the frame with a single and stole second before moving over to third on a Joylyn Ichiyama (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) single. Rutkowski proceeded to come home on the front end of a double steal attempt to close out the scoring. Lagesse took over from there, retiring the last eight Coyote batters in a row to close the game. Brittany Donahue took the complete-game loss for South Dakota.
“I was really happy with both the pitching we got from Alex, as well as our fielding, in the first game,” said Crusader head coach Randy Schneider. “We struggled at the plate, but you have to give a lot of credit to (Donahue), because she did a good job moving the ball around. We eventually got going, made some adjustments and put the bat on the ball, but just couldn’t find the holes.”
Saint Francis loaded the bases in the bottom of the first with none out in Valpo’s second game of the day, but the Crusaders escaped giving up just one run on a sacrifice fly. The Crusaders would take the lead in the top of the third. Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) led off with a pinch-hit walk and moved up to third on a Korb single. The duo then ran a successful double steal, plating Phalen to tie the game at one. Korb moved over to third on a flyout and eventually scored on the front end of a double steal attempt to give Valpo a 2-1 lead.
Saint Francis got an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth by Jamie Dixon to tie the game at 2-2, but again Valpo responded immediately in its next time at-bat. With one out in the sixth, Whitney Warner (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) connected for a single, and Ichiyama followed with her second home run in as many days, a 2-run blast that put the Crusaders in front, 4-2. The Red Flash put a runner in scoring position in each of the last two innings, but McGee shut the door both times to assure the Valpo victory. Laura Caldwell was charged with the complete-game loss for Saint Francis.
“I was excited to see us handle a tight late-game situation after some of the losses we’ve suffered early on,” said Schneider. “Joylyn stepped up in the sixth inning in a big situation and delivered a huge home run. Our pitching and defense also came through in the last two innings. When Saint Francis put runners on base in those late innings, we didn’t panic, and Sam really did a great job closing the door.”
Korb led the Crusaders at the plate on the day, going 4-for-7 with four stolen bases and two runs scored. Ichiyama went 3-for-4 over the two games as well.
“We came in today and really wanted to concentrate on our defensive effort, getting good pitching performances and eliminating errors, and I think we did a much better job in those regards today,” said Schneider. “I also was quite pleased with the play of our freshmen, it’s always a positive when you can get two solid complete-game pitching efforts from freshmen and clutch hitting from another first-year player early on in the season. We’re happy we have a day off tomorrow, giving us a chance to regroup and hopefully finish strong over our last eight games down here.”Valparaiso (5-4) will resume play at the Rebel Spring Games on Monday, taking on Bryant at 10 a.m. CST before facing Sacred Heart at 2 p.m.