Early home runs from Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) and Tori Brown (Harrison, Ohio/Harrison) propelled fourth-seeded Valparaiso to a 4-0 victory over fifth-seeded Green Bay in first round action at the Horizon League Championship in Cleveland, Ohio Thursday morning. With the win, the Crusaders advance to play top-seeded ClevelandState at 1:30 p.m. CDT this afternoon.
Valpo, in its third season as a Horizon League member, won its opening game at the league championship event for the first time. The Crusaders also defeated Green Bay at the league tournament for the first time in three meetings. The shutout was the third in as many games for Valpo against the Phoenix this season.
The Crusaders got the game started out on the right foot in the bottom of the first. Sara Strickland (Phoenix, Ariz./Horizon) led off with a line-drive single into center field, and three batters later Conner took a 2-2 pitch and drove it over the left-field fence for a two-run homer, putting the Crusaders on top 2-0. For the junior third baseman, it was her team-best eighth round-tripper of the year, tied for third-most in a single season in Valpo history, and her 13th career four-bagger, also third-most all-time at Valpo.
One inning later, it was the freshman Brown who provided the long ball, as the Crusader right fielder sent the first pitch she saw over the left-field fence for a solo shot, pushing the Valpo advantage to 3-0. Valpo would add another insurance run in the sixth inning when pinch-runner Hayley Bridwell (Lemont, Ill./Lemont Township) stole second with two outs and then scored on a line-drive double by Lisa DeBruzzi (Carlisle, Mass./Concord-Carlisle).
But one run would have been all Crusader hurler Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) needed on this game. The sophomore tossed a complete-game shutout, escaping a second-and-third, none-out jam in the fourth and a two-on, one-out conundrum in the fifth. Lagesse scattered five hits while striking out seven Phoenix hitters, improving to 14-10 on the season. Katie Cooney started and took the loss for Green Bay (26-19), falling to 11-10.
“I’m just proud of our kids, they just came out and swung the bat hard today,” said Crusader head coach Randy Schneider. “We played great defensively as well, and I thought Alex pitched a great game. I’m certainly happy to be in this situation, and hopefully we’ll just continue to play well throughout the tournament.”
Valparaiso (33-19) returns to Viking Field in just a couple hours, as the Crusaders face the host Vikings at 1:30 p.m. CDT. Live stats and live chat will be available at www.valpoathletics.com.