Northern Illinois at Valparaiso - Wednesday, March 31 - 3 p.m. (DH)
*Valparaiso at Detroit - Friday, April 2 - noon CDT (DH)
*Valparaiso at Detroit - Saturday, April 3 - 11 a.m. CDT
The Matchups: Valparaiso (18-7, 2-0 Horizon) steps out of league play on Wednesday with a home doubleheader against Northern Illinois (10-16) before returning to Horizon League action at Detroit (2-11, 0-3 Horizon) with a doubleheader on Friday and a single game on Saturday.
Previously in Valpo Softball: Valpo went 3-1 last week, as the Crusader pitching staff led the way, giving up just two runs over the four games. The Crusaders split a twinbill at IPFW on Wednesday, dropping a 2-1 decision in the opener before earning a 1-0 win in the nightcap. Valpo then opened Horizon League play at home Saturday with a pair of shutout wins over Green Bay, 8-0 and 3-0. Sunday’s scheduled season finale was rained out and will not be made up.
Series Histories: Valpo is just 7-24 all-time against Northern Illinois, but earned a split against the Huskies last year in DeKalb, losing the opener 5-3 before winning the nightcap via run rule, 13-1. Sara Strickland led the way at the plate on the day, going 4-for-6 with three runs scored, five RBIs and her first career homer, while Ashley Wolter connected for a pair of round-trippers in the nightcap.
The all-time series between the Crusaders and Detroit is tied at 17 apiece, but Valpo has dominated the Titans since joining the league, winning five out of six meetings, including a three-game sweep in Valpo last season by scores of 5-4, 7-0 and 8-0. Sadie Conner hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh in the opener to erase a three-run deficit, while Ashley Wolter’s RBI single gave the Crusaders the walk-off win, and Valpo then cruised to the next two wins. Conner closed the series 5-for-7 with four runs scored and four RBIs, while Strickland went 6-for-10 with five runs scored and four doubles.
Following the Crusaders: Valpo’s student-run radio station, WVUR, 95.1 FM, will be broadcasting the twinbill against NIU on Wednesday. WVUR will be broadcasting selected Crusader home games throughout the season, and all their broadcasts will also be webcast online at www.valpoathletics.com. Live stats for all home games and most road games will also be available through the official Crusader athletics website.
Shutout Streak: The Crusaders enter this week’s action coming off of three consecutive shutouts, as they blanked IPFW in the nightcap last Wednesday, 1-0, before tallying a pair of shutouts Saturday over Green Bay, 8-0 and 3-0. The three straight shutouts ties for the second-longest such streak in program history, last accomplished March 9-10 last year against Bryant, Sacred Heart and La Salle. Only the 1987 team, which picked up four consecutive blankings against IPFW, Loyola (2x) and Lake Forest, has ever recorded a longer stretch.
Winning the League Openers: In its third year in the Horizon League, Valpo has again gotten off to a quick start in league play. The Crusaders swept an abbreviated two-game set from Green Bay last week and look to extend their league winning streak this weekend. In 2009, Valpo swept a three-game series from Detroit to open league action, while in 2008, the Crusaders took the first two games of a three-game set from the Titans en route to a 10-2 start.
A Record Start: Valpo got off to a quick start yet again this year, continuing a trend from the past few seasons, but this season’s beginning was above and beyond the best that preceded it. The Crusaders went 12-3 over their first 15 games, the most wins before incurring their fourth loss in program history, bettering the 9-3 mark of the 2007 team.
Stringing Together Wins: Included in that 12-3 start was a stretch of eight straight victories. Following a loss to Indiana State, the Crusaders won their final game at the Tiger Softball Classic and then won four straight at the Rebel Spring Games. Valpo then swept through their first three games at the War Eagle Classic before falling to SEC host Auburn in extra innings. The eight-game winning streak matches the second longest in program history, falling just shy of the 1987 team’s nine-game streak.
Offensive Production: Last year’s Crusader squad was an offensive juggernaut, as ten team and six individual single-season marks were set by the 2009 Valpo offense. This year’s team has been even better when at bat so far, posting a team batting average of .322 through 25 games, as six regulars are batting above the .300 mark. Valpo is also scoring 5.04 runs/game this year.
Pitching Steps Up: This year’s Crusader team has also shown improvement in the circle. The Valpo pitching staff allowed just two runs in 25.1 innings of work last week over four games, good for an 0.55 ERA on the week. The stellar performance on the rubber last week has lowered the Crusader team ERA to 1.99 this year, while opponents are hitting just .241 against them this season, compared to numbers of 3.29 and .281, respectively, in the same categories last year.
Raking in the Honors: Valparaiso has dominated the Horizon League weekly awards to this point of the season, bringing home six honors while competing in just five weeks. Kelsey Phalen and Shaleigh Jansen swept the Batter and Pitcher of the Week honors, respectively, following the Crusaders’ opening weekend of action Feb. 15. Jordan Rutkowski was named the Batter of the Week Mar. 1, while Alex Lagesse earned Pitcher of the Week accolades Mar. 8. Most recently, Lisa DeBruzzi was awarded Batter of the Week honors Mar. 15, and Lagesse repeated as Pitcher of the Week this past Monday.
Youth Shall Be Served: The 2010 edition of the Valparaiso softball team is an extremely young edition, as this year’s Crusaders have just two seniors (catcher Whitney Warner; pitcher Carrie Franson). Five juniors, seven sophomores and five freshmen round out the 19-player squad.
Rutkowski Leads the Way: Sophomore Jordan Rutkowski has been nearly unstoppable at the plate in the early portion of the 2010 campaign. Rutkowski, who is mainly splitting time between catcher and designated player this year after playing third base last season, is hitting at a team-best .463 clip on the year and also leads the Crusaders in both on-base percentage (.526) and slugging percentage (.687). Her 16 RBIs are second-most on the team, while she has scored 16 runs, one shy of the team lead. She hit .538 with five runs scored and four RBIs over Valpo’s four games at the War Eagle Classic to earn HL Batter of the Week honors March 1.
Phalen Returns Better than Ever: Sophomore Kelsey Phalen suffered a season-ending injury 30 games into her freshman year, but has bounced back this year and has been a force in the middle of the Crusader batting order. Phalen earned HL Batter of the Week accolades in Valpo’s first week of competition this year and hasn’t looked back, as she currently is batting .382 on the year, second-best on the team. She has driven in a team-best 17 runs, already surpassing her RBI total from her freshman year, and has also scored 17 times, tied for team-high honors.
Strickland Starts Off League Play Hot: Sophomore Sara Strickland, coming off a 2009 rookie season in which she was named HL Newcomer of the Year, has moved back to her natural outfield position this year and has continued to be consistent at the plate. Strickland especially stood out in Valpo’s two wins over Green Bay, going a combined 5-for-6 in the twinbill sweep with three doubles and two RBIs. Also, against the Phoenix, she surpassed the minimum number of at-bats to qualify for Valpo’s all-time charts and assumed the top spot in career batting average (.370) and on base percentage (.463).
Jansen Sets Saves Record: Sophomore Shaleigh Jansen picked up two more saves last week to give her seven so far this season, a new Valpo single-season record and tied for the national lead in the category. Jansen entered both her games last week in one-run situations, tossing a perfect seventh inning against IPFW before helping Valpo escape a bases loaded, one-out jam in the fifth inning versus Green Bay en route to a 3-0 win. The pair of shutout relief appearances lowers her ERA out of the bullpen to 0.95 in 14.2 innings of work over 11 appearances. She also has struck out 17 batters while walking just three in her relief outings.
Conner Brings Home the Runs: Junior Sadie Conner was also a key producer at the plate in Valpo’s sweep of Green Bay, going 4-for-6 over the pair of games with three RBIs. She got the scoring started in the opener with a solo homer, her third longball of the year, and then delivered a key two-RBI single for insurance in the 3-0 nightcap victory. On the year, Conner ranks fifth on the team with a .333 average.
Lagesse Earns Another Honor: Sophomore Alex Lagesse received her second HL Pitcher of the Week recognition this past Monday after tossing 11 innings of shutout ball last week. Lagesse threw six innings, allowing just four hits, in a 1-0 win over IPFW in which just one Mastodon got to second base. She then tossed a five-inning complete-game three-hitter in Valpo’s 8-0 victory over Green Bay. The pair of wins improves her record this year to 7-3 and drops her ERA to 1.60, among the top-50 hurlers in the nation. Opponents are also hitting just .211 against Lagesse this year.
McGee Maintains Control: While sophomore Sam McGee suffered her first loss of the season last week in a hard-fought 2-1 decision at IPFW, she bounced back with 4.1 innings of shutout softball against Green Bay to earn the victory in Valpo’s 3-0 win over the Phoenix. McGee, now 7-1 on the season with a 2.01 ERA, also improved upon her already-impressive K/BB ratio last week, striking out 11 batters while walking just one in her 10.2 innings of work. On the season, the sophomore has now struck out 51 batters and walked just 11, while her 1.23 walks allowed per seven innings ranks 16th-best nationally.
Quickly: Junior Lisa DeBruzzi hit her first career home run in the opener against Green Bay, part of a 2-for-2, 2 R, 3 RBI game ... freshman Hayley Bridwell made her first appearance since March 9, pinch-running in both ends of the GB twinbill and scoring a run both times ... Valpo currently leads the league as a team in batting average, doubles and saves ... the Crusaders boast four of the league’s top ten hitters (Rutkowski, Phalen, Strickland, Jessie Marinec) in batting average and three of the top nine pitchers (Lagesse, McGee, Jansen) in ERA.
Scouting the Opposition: Northern Illinois - The Huskies enter Wednesday’s twinbill 10-16 on the year, but have won four of their last five games. NIU hits .248 as a team, led by Andrea Colosimo’s .301 average. In the circle, the Huskies boast a 3.38 team ERA, paced by Morgan Bittner, who is 6-7 with a 2.77 ERA.
Detroit - The Titans are just 2-11 this year under first-year head coach Sunny Jones, and dropped all three games in their first Horizon League series at Wright State. As a team, Detroit hits just .160 and carries an 8.36 ERA.