Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) hit a three-run homer off the left field foul pole in the third inning of the opener Tuesday afternoon at the Valparaiso University Softball Field, accounting for all the scoring in Valparaiso’s 3-0 win over Butler to match the longest winning streak in school history. The Bulldogs avenged the loss with a 3-0 victory over the Crusaders in the nightcap.
The win in the opener was the ninth consecutive for Valparaiso, dating back to March 24. While the Bulldogs snapped the Crusaders’ winning streak in the day’s second game, the nine-game winning streak matches the school record of nine straight wins, set by the 1987 Valpo squad.
Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) was stellar in the circle for Valpo in the opener to improve to 10-3 on the year, giving up just three hits while striking out six Bulldog hitters and not allowing a runner past second base. The seven shutout innings extended the sophomore’s shutout streak to 27 consecutive innings before she gave up an unearned tally in relief in the nightcap. Jenny Esparza took the loss in a complete-game effort for Butler.
While Lagesse shut down the Bulldogs in the circle, Valpo took care of all the offense it would need in the third frame. With two outs, Joylyn Ichiyama (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) got the rally started with a two-strike single into center field. Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) worked a full-count walk to put two runners on for Conner.
The junior, who was just named the Horizon League’s Batter of the Week on Monday, got down two strikes before working back to a full count. Conner then lofted a fly ball down the left-field line that was originally ruled to have hit the fence just below the pole for what would have been her first career triple. But after the umpires conferred, they ruled the ball had hit the pole for her sixth home run of the season, tied for fourth-most in a single season in Valpo history. It was also Conner’s 11th career round-tripper, also tied for fourth in Crusader history.
“I was happy we won the first game and found a way to put up runs on Esparza, who is a very good pitcher for Butler,” said Crusader head coach Randy Schneider. “I thought Alex pitched a heck of a game as well. I felt like it would be a game where scoring in one at-bat would be the difference, and it turned out that way. We did what we needed to after scoring runs to earn the win, playing especially well defensively.”
The second game was scoreless into the top of the fifth inning, when with two outs, Butler drew back-to-back walks. After the Crusaders brought in Shaleigh Jansen (Ottawa, Ill./Ottawa Township), Kayla Gray lined a double to the right-center gap to bring home both runners with the only runs the Bulldogs would need. Butler added an unearned tally in the sixth for the game’s final margin.
Valpo put two on in the sixth with one out, but a ground ball double play would end its best threat of the game. Jennifer Chasteen earned the win in the circle for Butler (27-8, 5-2 Horizon), tossing six-plus innings of shutout ball, while Breanna Fisher entered with one on and none out in the seventh to register the save. Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) took the loss for Valpo, falling to 9-2 despite giving up just one hit in 4.2 innings of work.
“Butler was able to flip-flop in the second game and do to us what we did to them in the first game,” said Schneider. “We were unable to come up with key hits to manufacture runs. I think if we had been able to take advantage of scoring chances early, it could have taken some pressure off of our pitchers. But all in all, we still have a chance to win the series tomorrow, and we just have to come out ready to play.”
Valparaiso (24-8, 6-1 Horizon) will attempt to conclude its three-game league series with Butler on Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. With inclement weather in the forecast, stay logged on to www.valpoathletics.com for the latest update on the game’s status.