Valparaiso (5-6, 0-0 Horizon)
at Lipton Invitational (Gainesville, Fla.)
Friday, Mar. 4 - vs. North Dakota St. (6-9) - 7:30 a.m. CST
at #2/3 Florida (14-0) - 2:15 p.m.
Saturday, Mar. 5 - vs. Gardner-Webb (3-6) - 7:30 a.m.
vs. #RV/- Pacific (7-3) - 9:45 a.m.
Sunday, Mar. 6 - vs. #RV/RV Syracuse (12-2) - 10:30 a.m.
Next Up in Crusader Softball: Valparaiso continues its spring break trip to Florida with a stop in Gainesville this weekend to take part in the Lipton Invitational, hosted by the University of Florida. The host Gators are the second top-ten squad the Crusaders will face this week, while two other teams receiving votes in the national polls are on the docket as well.
Previously: Valpo won its first in-season tournament title in recent history last weekend, defeating Bethune-Cookman 5-2 in the championship game of the Hatter Classic, hosted by Stetson. The Crusaders moved on to Orlando Tuesday, going into the bottom of the seventh with #8/5 Michigan tied before losing in walk-off fashion, 2-1, and then dropped a 6-1 decision to UCF.
Following the Crusaders: Live audio for the game against the host Gators will be provided by Florida, with the link to be posted on www.valpoathletics.com. The official Crusader website will also have links for live stats for all five games this weekend.
Head Coach Jordan Stevens: Jordan Stevens is in his first season at the helm of the Crusader softball program. Stevens came to Valpo from Union [N.Y.] College, where he led the Dutchwomen to their most successful season in program history in 2010, winning 32 games and conference regular season and tournament crowns. Stevens also previously spent time as an assistant at Rhode Island and Niagara.
Series Notes: Valpo is meeting Florida, Pacific and Syracuse for the first time on the softball field. The Crusaders have played North Dakota State on just one occasion, with the Bison coming out on top, 4-3 on Feb. 23, 2008 in Tulsa, Okla. Gardner-Webb holds a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series against Valparaiso, but the Crusaders won the last meeting, downing the Bulldogs in nine innings 8-6 on Mar. 5, 2010 in Auburn, Ala.
Looking Back at 2010: Valpo enjoyed the best season in program history in 2010, winning a school-record 35 games and advancing to the final day of play at the Horizon League Championship, placing third. The Crusaders set a total of 13 new team single-season records, while individually, four different players combined to set six new individual single-season marks.
Plenty of Experience Returns: While Stevens is in his first go-round as coach of the Crusaders, he has an experienced team at his disposal, as 15 of 18 letterwinners from last year’s squad are back in 2011. Included among the 15 returnees are eight starters and both primary starting pitchers from last year’s squad.
Crusaders Picked Fifth in Preseason Poll: The head coaches selected Valparaiso to finish fifth in the Horizon League this season according to the preseason poll. Cleveland State edged out UIC for the top spot in the polling, while Butler and Wright State tied for third place, just ahead of the Crusaders.
A Rigorous Slate: The Crusaders will have a number of challenges on their hands in the pre-league portion of the 2011 season. 11 of Valpo’s first 13 games are against squads which won at least 30 games a year ago, with 13 total such games scheduled before the Crusaders return from Florida. Six of those games are against teams which advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 as well. Valpo also takes on a pair of the nation’s top-10 teams for the first time ever.
Bringing Home the Hardware: For the first time in the modern era, the Crusader softball team earned a tournament championship by capturing Stetson’s Hatter Classic last weekend. The Crusaders, along with the other three teams in the field, went 2-2 over their first four games, but earned a berth in the championship by virtue of the fewest runs allowed. Valpo then got back-to-back homers from KC Boldt and Tori Brown in the second to take the lead for good in a 5-2 win over Bethune-Cookman in the championship.
Run-Ruling All Comers: Valparaiso won 12 games via run rule last season, and had a game called due to run rule in the opening weekend, beating Iowa State 11-2 in five innings. It was the first time the Crusaders have run-ruled a BCS opponent in the modern era.
Player of the Week: Sophomore Jessie Marinec was honored as the Horizon League’s Batter of the Week, her first career weekly honor, this past Monday after picking up hits in all five games of the Hatter Classic. Marinec went 7-for-13 on the week and also was hit by a pair of pitches, good for an on-base percentage of .600. She enters this weekend’s tournament with a 10-game on-base streak and leads the team with a .419 batting average.
Lagesse Consistent in the Circle: Junior Alex Lagesse has been solid in the circle in the early portion of the 2011 season for the Crusaders. While she sits at just 2-3 on the year, Lagesse owns a 1.82 ERA and has not given up more than two runs in any of her six starts. In fact, all three of her losses have been by just one run. Perhaps her most impressive performance came against #8/5 Michigan, giving up just two runs and just one earned tally to the Wolverines, holding them to their lowest offensive output of the season.
Record Book Watch: A number of Crusaders already rank among various top-fives on the Valpo career charts. Sara Strickland is second all-time at Valpo in runs scored (96) and stolen bases (56), just eight runs off the first record, and fifth in doubles (31) and walks (57). Sadie Conner is third all-time with 13 career home runs, while Kelsey Phalen and Jordan Rutkowski are tied for fourth with 12 apiece. Rutkowski also is tied for fifth in career RBIs (70). In the circle, Sam McGee is tied for fifth with 26 career wins, while Shaleigh Jansen is second all-time with nine saves. Even more impressive is that all the aforementioned players, with the exception of Conner, are in the early stages of their junior years.