Senior Ashley Wolter (Denver, Iowa/Denver) connected for a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning to give Valparaiso a 5-4 win against Penn on Thursday at the Rebel Spring Games, and the Crusaders followed with an easy 9-1 victory over Yale in their final game in Orlando.
“This was a great trip overall, to end with 12 wins despite some of our late losses,” said Crusader head coach Randy Schneider. “We really played well at the end of the week, despite being a bit tired physically. We just continued to hit the ball well and do what we needed to do to win ballgames. I was most impressed with the way we maintained our level of excitement as a team throughout the trip. I just love this team right now, they’re a lot of fun to watch and we definitely made great improvements during our time down here.”
The Crusaders started the scoring in the opener right away in the top of the first. With one out, Sara Strickland (Phoenix, Ariz./Horizon) walked and stole second base. Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) followed with a walk of her own, and the duo then successfully pulled off a double steal to put two in scoring position for Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia). The freshman delivered a two-run double to put Valpo on the board, and later came home on an RBI double by Joylyn Ichiyama (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union).
Penn answered with two runs in the bottom of the second, one of which was unearned, to close to within 3-2, but Valpo responded immediately with another tally in the top of the third. Phalen led off the frame getting hit by a pitch and moved over to second on a walk to Wolter. Two batters later, Lisa DeBruzzi (Carlisle, Mass./Concord-Carlisle) registered a single up the middle that brought Phalen around with the Crusaders’ fourth run of the game.
The score would remain 4-2 until the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Quakers quickly loaded the bases with nobody out. Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) came out of the bullpen in relief, but was met with an RBI single to close the gap to one with the bases still loaded. The freshman induced a force at home to get the first out, but the next Penn batter hit a grounder on which the only play was to second base to tie the game. With runners still on first and third and two outs, McGee got a flyout to end the inning and set up Wolter’s game-deciding leadoff bomb in the seventh.
The Crusaders recorded ten hits from nine different players against Penn, as Rutkowski was the only Valpo player to register two hits. Valpo also stole six bases in the game, with Strickland and Jamie Weinburger (Eagle River, Alaska/Eagle River) swiping two bags apiece. McGee earned the win with two scoreless innings of relief work, improving to 6-0, while Cailyn Hennessy took the loss for Penn, allowing four runs in 2.1 innings.
“Penn is a real quality, well-coached ballclub, and coming out with a win in a one-run game against them is a real credit to our players,” said Schneider. “We got ourselves into a tough situation, and our players came through in the clutch. Sam, as a freshman, came in and closed the door for us in the circle, and then Ashley, the senior, stepped up with the big hit when we needed it.”
In the nightcap, the Crusaders found themselves on the wrong side of the ledger out of the gate for just the third time this season, as Yale scored a run on two hits in the top of the first. But that just served as a prelude for Valpo’s offensive explosion in the bottom of the second.
Wolter led off with a solo home run for her second round-tripper of the day and third of the season. Ichiyama then tallied a single followed by back-to-back Yale errors to load the bases with nobody out. With one out, Karen Korb (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran) delivered an RBI single to give Valpo a 2-1 lead with the bases still full, and Rutkowski took advantage two batters later with a two-RBI single to push the advantage to three runs. Phalen followed with a double of her own to plate two more runs as the Crusaders pushed six runs across the dish in the second.
Neither team would dent the scoreboard again until Valpo finished the game in the bottom of the sixth. Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) started the festivities with a leadoff double and scored on an RBI single by Whitney Warner (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove). DeBruzzi pinch-ran for Warner and moved up to third with one out with Korb on first, who would draw the attention of the defense long enough for DeBruzzi to steal home and make it 8-1. The senior then moved up on a groundout and wild pitch and scored on a Yale error to complete the run-rule victory.
Keeping with the theme of offensive balance on the day, eight different Crusaders combined for Valpo’s eight hits in the win. Conner and Korb scored two runs apiece, while Phalen and Rutkowski each picked up a pair of RBIs. Stephanie Kelly (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield) scattered five hits while striking out seven to earn the complete-game victory, improving to 3-3. Rebecca Wojciak suffered the loss in her five innings of work for Yale.
“We just hit the ball well overall against Yale,” said Schneider. “We also strung together a number of timely hits in our big inning, which put us in control. Steph and Whitney continue to do a great job as a battery working together calling games, and Steph really pitched well today.”
Valparaiso (12-5) returns home to the state of Indiana after its nearly two-week long spring trip, and is idle until next Wednesday, when the Crusaders travel to Muncie to play a doubleheader against Ball State. First pitch of the opener is slated for 2 p.m. CST.