Valparaiso at Ball State (DH) - Wednesday, March 18 - 2 p.m. CDT
*Detroit at Valparaiso (DH) - Saturday, March 21 - 2 p.m.
*Detroit at Valparaiso - Sunday, March 22 - noon
Setting the Scene: Coming off of a successful spring trip, the Crusaders return to the state of Indiana with a 12-5 record and five games this week. Valpo will travel down to Muncie to face Ball State in a doubleheader on Wednesday before kicking off the Horizon League slate in a three-game series with Detroit this weekend.
Series Histories: Valpo will be looking to move its series records against both opponents this week closer to the .500 mark.
Ball State - The Crusaders are just 1-6 all-time against the Cardinals, but earned that first victory last year, as Valpo and Ball State split a twinbill at the VU Softball Field on March 24. Valpo won the opener 1-0 in eight innings when Tracy Korth scored on an error, giving Andrea Zappia the two-hit shutout. The Cardinals got their revenge in the nightcap, winning 4-3 in nine innings.
Detroit - Valpo took two out of three from the Titans last year on March 29-30 at the VU Softball Field, but Detroit still leads the all-time series 17-14. Valpo won the first two games 10-0 and 3-2 before the Titans avoided the sweep with a 7-4 victory in the finale. Korth scored four runs over the three games, while Shannon Robinson went 4-for-9 at the plate. Zappia took all three decisions, striking out 21 batters in her 12.1 innings of work.
Previously in Valpo Softball: The Crusaders return from their spring trip with a 12-5 record. Valpo got just one of five scheduled games in at Chattanooga’s Frost Classic, losing to Missouri State, before heading down to the Rebel Spring Games for the fourth straight year. Valpo closed out its time in Florida on a roll, winning nine of its last ten games.
Following the Crusaders: This weekend’s three-game series against Detroit is slated to be broadcast by WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso. The campus student radio station is scheduled to broadcast 21 Crusader softball games this year. Most games will be aired live over the airwaves (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpoathletics.com, while selected contests will be broadcast at www.sportsjuice.com. Live stats for all five games this week will also be available through the official athletics website.
Getting On a Roll: The Crusaders return from Florida riding a hot streak in which they have won nine of their last ten games. During that stretch, Valpo has scored 57 runs while giving up just 15 over that same span. The 9-1 mark in the last ten outings has propeled Valpo to a 12-5 overall record, the second-fastest the Crusaders have ever reached 12 wins, trailing only the 1985 squad.
Taking the Early Lead: Valpo has asserted itself early in many of its games this year. The Crusaders have pushed runs across the plate in the first inning of 10 of their 17 games, and have outscored their opponents 20-3 in the opening frame so far this season. Overall, Valpo has scored first 14 times out of its 17 games this season.
Thievery Abounds: The Crusaders earned an NCAA statistical plaque in 2008, leading all of Division I softball with an average of 2.57 stolen bases/game, and this year’s squad has been even more aggressive on the basepaths in the early going. Valpo has already stolen 68 bases in just 17 games, an average of 4.0 even per contest. Three different players have already reached double figures in steals, while the 68 steals already ranks fourth-best in a single season in Valpo history.
Dominance in All Facets: The Crusaders have purely been out-performing their opposition in the early part of the season in all areas of the game. Valpo owns a 90-point advantage in batting average (.315-.225) and is slugging over 100 points better than its opponents (.416-.308). The Crusaders have also stolen more than three times the number of bases as their counterparts. In the circle, Crusader hurlers have registered more strikeouts (83-57) and fewer walks (33-39), leading to a greater than three run difference in ERA (1.72-4.95).
Youth Movement: This year’s Crusader squad consists of 14 underclassmen and just six upperclassmen, a balance which has been reflected among the starting lineup all year long. Six or more underclassmen have started 15 times for Valpo, with a high of eight freshmen/sophomores seeing the starting ten against Bryant.
Record-Setting Campaign: Valparaiso is coming off of a 2008 season in which it won a school-record 30 games. The Crusaders have now had their two winningest seasons in the last two years, as Valpo matched the then program-record with 27 wins during the 2007 season. The 2008 team also registered the best league finish in school history. Despite making a step up in competition into the Horizon League last year and being projected to finish fifth in the preseason polling, Valpo concluded the regular season in second place in the league standings.
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 39 points in the polling, which awarded nine points for a first-place vote. Cleveland State has been projected to win the league, receiving eight first-place votes and 64 points. Loyola checked in second with 51 points, just outpacing Wright State, which picked up the remaining first-place vote and finished with 50 points. UIC (45) was selected just ahead of Valpo, while Green Bay (23), Butler (22) and Youngstown State (21) came in behind the Crusaders. Detroit rounded out the polling with 9 points.
Korb Runs Away: Senior Karen Korb has already raked in a pair of Horizon League accolades this year, being named the league’s Player of the Week and also Female Scholar-Athlete of the Week for the week ending March 8. Korb hit .452 with nine runs scored and ten stolen bases that week for the Crusaders. On the year, the senior is hitting .385 with 15 steals, tied for the team lead, and a team-high 16 runs scored, moving into Valpo’s all-time top-five in the category. She is also one of 30 candidates nationwide for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.
Strickland Stands Out: Freshman Sara Strickland has shone for the Crusaders in the early portion of her rookie season. Last week, Strickland reached base at a .643 clip and led Valpo with eight runs scored and 11 steals on the week. The freshman enters this week on a seven-game hitting streak and is tied for the team lead with 15 steals without being caught once on the basepaths.
Wolter Powers Up: Senior Ashley Wolter found her power stroke near the end of Valpo’s trip to Florida, hitting home runs in each of the Crusaders’ last three outings at the Rebel Spring Games. Included in there was a game-winning solo shot in the top of the seventh to beat Penn. Wolter currently leads Valpo with a .404 batting average and is among the team leaders with 14 runs scored and 12 RBIs. She is also just three stolen bases and six runs scored outside of Valpo’s all-time top-fives in the respective categories.
Rutkowski Does It All: Freshman Jordan Rutkowski has showcased herself as a complete player for the Crusaders in the early stages of the 2009 campaign. Rutkowski has been a blend of power (.364, team-high 13 RBIs) and speed (11 stolen bases) on offense while hitting in the middle of the Valpo order. She also has stood out with the glove, committing just one error while playing every inning in the field in each of the Crusaders’ first 17 games.
McGee Just Wins: Freshman pitcher Sam McGee has earned the victory in each of her last six appearances in the circle, starting her career as a Crusader 6-0. She has given up more than two earned runs in just one of her eight outings and owns a 1.88 ERA on the season. McGee tossed four straight complete games during Valpo’s time at the Rebel Spring Games, and most recently earned the win over Penn with two scoreless innings of relief, allowing Valpo to break a tie in the seventh inning.
Lagesse Mows Them Down: Freshman pitcher Alex Lagesse threw Valpo’s first no-hitter since April 16, 2007 when she dominated the Bryant lineup on March 9. In a 12-0 five inning victory, Lagesse gave up just two walks and did not allow a Bulldog runner past first base. The start was the third of five for Lagesse to date in her freshman campaign, and she has yet to take a loss, entering this week’s action with a 3-0 record and a miniscule 1.27 ERA.
Phalen Goes Yard Twice: Freshman Kelsey Phalen accomplished a rare feat in Valpo’s win over Bryant last week at the Rebel Spring Games. Making just her second career start, Phalen led off the fourth inning against the Bulldogs with a home run, and when the Crusaders batted around in the frame, came up again and hit a two-run blast for her second long ball of the inning. The freshman slugged at better than an .800 clip last week and tied for team-high honors with eight RBIs over the eight games.
Jacobson Sets New Crusader Mark: Sophomore Jill Jacobson has had a team-high nine opportunities to score a runner from third with less than two out this year, and has succeeded six times, including a new Valpo single-season record with five sacrifice flies. The sac flies have contributed to Jacobson’s total of 12 RBIs through Valpo’s first 17 games, good for second-best among the Crusaders.