Freshman Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) went 3-for-3 at the plate and Valparaiso set a new program record for stolen bases in a single season, but it was not enough Sunday, as Cleveland State won by a 7-1 count in both team’s regular season finale.
The Vikings jumped on top in the opening frame, putting the Crusaders in an early hole. Valpo starter Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) retired the first two batters in order, but an error extended the inning for Cleveland State, and it took full advantage with a walk, double and single, scoring three runs in the top of the first.
Cleveland State added three more runs after two were out in the third, as one run scored on a Valpo error and a single plated two more tallies. The Vikings scored their final run in the fourth on an Amanda Houchin sacrifice fly.
The Crusaders broke onto the scoreboard in the sixth, as Karen Korb (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran) led off with a bunt single and Sara Strickland (Phoenix, Ariz./Horizon) followed by getting hit with the pitch. The duo pulled off a successful double steal before Whitney Warner (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) registered a sacrifice fly on a lineout to left, scoring Korb. But Valpo would get no closer, as the Vikings held off a potential seventh-inning rally by the Crusaders.
Strickland’s half of the double steal tied the program record for most stolen bases in a single season, and the Crusaders set a new standard in the category when pinch-runner Aubrey Sundling (Huntington, Ind./Huntington North) successfully stole second in the seventh inning. Valpo has now stolen 127 bases this year, surpassing last year’s squad’s mark.
McGee took the tough-luck loss for Valpo, falling to 9-5 after giving up seven runs, but only one earned, in her 3.1 innings of work. Stephanie Kelly (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield) came into the game in relief and tossed 3.2 innings of shutout ball. Brittany Bate earned the win for Cleveland State (31-15, 7-5 Horizon), throwing two innings of one-hit relief.
Valparaiso (24-22, 9-11 Horizon) now moves on to the Horizon League Championships in Pendleton, Ind., which the Crusaders will open Thursday at 8 a.m. CDT against Green Bay.