For the second straight day, the Valparaiso softball team split a pair of games at the Lipton Invitational in Gainesville, Fla., defeating Gardner-Webb Saturday morning, 4-1, before falling to a Pacific squad receiving top-25 votes, 7-1.
The story of the day's opener was the pitching of Crusader junior Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson), who earned the complete-game victory to improve to 4-2 on the season. McGee gave up just three hits while striking out four Bulldog batters, allowing just the one run and just two runners in all to even reach second base.
“Sam threw a wonderful game today, probably her best outing of the year,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “She really had Gardner-Webb in check the whole game and fell behind to about two batters through the first five innings. She really had great command and movement, kept us in the game, and we were able to break through offensively in one inning and sat on it.”
With McGee's stellar outing in the circle, the Crusaders would need just two runs on the offensive side of the ledger to earn the victory, and they would produce double that in a four-run third inning. With one out, junior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) and sophomore Jennifer Hermanson (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) picked up back-to-back infield singles and sophomore Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist) was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Two batters later, senior KC Boldt (Red Wing, Minn./Red Wing) drove a 2-2 pitch to right-center field for a bases-clearing triple to plate all three runs and followed the trio across the plate on an RBI single from freshman Amanda Wisniewski (Lake in the Hills, Ill./Huntley).
“KC is just swinging the bat really well right now,” said Stevens. “She goes up to the plate and swings hard every time. She's worked very hard to make changes in her swing, and it's paying off for her. She's coming through in key situations too, both today with the triple and yesterday with the two-out three-run homer against North Dakota State. KC's also been playing well in the outfield for us.”
Gardner-Webb (3-9) pitcher Jessica Childers went the distance in the circle, falling to 2-4 as she surrendered six hits and three walks in her six innings of work. Strickland led the Crusader offense with a pair of hits and a stolen base from the leadoff spot in the order.
Valpo had a golden opportunity to crack the scoreboard right away against a Pacific squad which sits just outside the nation's top-25, as Strickland led off the game with a double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Sophomore Tori Brown (Harrison, Ohio/Harrison) drew a walk and stole second to put two runners in scoring position with nobody out, but a flyout, a popout and a strikeout ended the inning without the Crusaders drawing first blood.
Runners left on base would be a problem for the Crusaders throughout the game, as they left eight runners on, including five in scoring position. Trailing 4-0 in the top of the fifth, Valpo had two in scoring position with one out, but again could not push a run across. Then, in the sixth, the Crusaders loaded the bases with one out and were able to get on the board, as a fielder's choice grounder by senior Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) plated junior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) to cut the deficit to three runs. But that would be it for the Crusader offensive output, and Pacific added three runs in the bottom of the sixth for the final margin.
Nikki Armagost earned the complete-game win for Pacific (9-4), improving to 4-3 on the season. Junior Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) started in the circle for Valpo and took the loss, falling to 3-4 after giving up four runs on nine hits in 3.1 innings of work. Strickland led the Valpo offense with her second straight multi-hit game, while freshman Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) also tallied two hits against the Tigers.
“We have to be able to produce a consistent effort, and not be riding a roller coaster from inning to inning,” said Stevens. “We had three good innings against Pacific, where we swung the bat well and played good softball, but the other four innings were not good at all. We have to get consistent performances from our individuals before we can be consistent as a team. That's something we'll continue to work on, and hopefully that will get better through our last few days in Florida.”
Valparaiso (7-8) concludes play in Gainesville Sunday morning as the Crusaders take on a Syracuse team which is also among teams receiving votes for the top-25. First pitch is slated for 10:30 a.m. CST, with live stats available through www.valpoathletics.com.