Valparaiso (18-10, 3-0 Horizon)
Wednesday, Mar. 30 - at Northern Illinois (10-12) [DH] - 3 p.m.
Saturday, Apr. 2 - UIC (10-13, 1-1 Horizon) [DH] - 1 p.m.
Sunday, Apr. 3 - UIC - 1 p.m.
Next Up in Crusader Softball: Valparaiso puts its program-record 11-game winning streak on the line with five games in front of it this week. The Crusaders open play with a non-league twinbill Wednesday afternoon at Northern Illinois before hosting UIC for a three-game Horizon League series this weekend.
Previously: Valpo won six games last week by an average margin of 6.8 runs, with only one contest decided by fewer than six runs. The Crusaders swept a non-league twinbill at IUPUI Tuesday (10-3, 9-1), defeated Big Ten foe Michigan State on Friday (6-4) for the first time in program history, and then swept a three-game HL series against Detroit (8-0, 10-0, 7-1).
Following the Crusaders: Live stats for all five of this week’s contests will be available through www.valpoathletics.com. In addition, live audio of the UIC series can be heard online or in the Valpo area on 95.1 FM, WVUR. A live chat for the doubleheader at Northern Illinois can also be accessed through the official Crusader website.
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: Northern Illinois - The Huskies own a 24-9 advantage in the all-time series over the Crusaders, but Valpo has won seven of the last 10 meetings, including a 9-0 and 14-2 doubleheader sweep in Valpo last season on Mar. 31. Sara Strickland is 8-for-13 with seven runs scored and six RBIs in her career against NIU, while Sadie Conner is 6-for-11, including three doubles and a homer, with five runs and four RBIs versus the Huskies.
UIC - The Flames enjoy a large 50-9 edge all-time against Valpo, but the Crusaders hold a slight 4-3 advantage since joining the Horizon League prior to the 2008 campaign. UIC claimed a series victory last year in Chicago on Apr. 17-18, winning games one and three, 5-2 and 4-3, respectively, but Valpo won the middle game of the set 9-1 and earned a win in the league tournament, 4-3. Sam McGee went 1-0 with a 1.03 ERA in 13.1 innings against the Flames last year, while Jordan Rutkowski went 3-for-8, drove in seven runs and drew four walks.
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.
School-Record Winning Streak: If it seems like the Crusaders haven’t lost for a while, it’s because their last loss came way back on March 8. The 11-game winning streak is a new school record, breaking the previous record streak of nine, accomplished twice. Over this time frame, Valpo has won every game by at least two runs and is excelling on both sides of the ball, hitting .359 as a team while averaging 7.4 runs/game while posting a 1.40 ERA in the circle.
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 were against squads which won at least 30 games a year ago, with six of those games were against teams which advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 as well. Valpo also took 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 in late February. Valpo 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 game on Feb. 27.
Run-Ruling All Comers: Valparaiso won 12 games via run rule last season, and has already run-ruled six opponents in its 18 victories this season, including an 11-2, five-inning win over Iowa State, the Crusaders’ first run-ruling of a BCS opponent in the modern era. On the flip side, Valpo has not been run-ruled yet this year.
Starting on the Right Foot: For the fourth time in as many years since joining the Horizon League, Valparaiso started league play on a winning note last weekend, sweeping the three-game set with Detroit. Valpo has won at least its first two games in league action in all four years in the HL, including a 6-0 mark to start the 2010 campaign.
Welcome Home: Last week also marked the home opener at the Valparaiso University Softball Field, in a game in which the Crusaders downed Big Ten foe Michigan State, 6-4. The win over the Spartans was the first in five tries for the Valpo program. Michigan State is the first of three BCS teams the Crusaders will welcome this year, as Valpo also will host Purdue and DePaul later this season.
Simply Perfect: Alex Lagesse threw a perfect game for the Crusaders in their Horizon League opener against Detroit last Saturday, setting down all 15 batters she faced, eight via strikeout. Lagesse didn’t allow a ball into the outfield after the first inning of the perfect gem, her second career no-hitter, joining a no-no against Bryant her freshman year. The perfect game is believed to be a Crusader program first, while Lagesse becomes just the second Crusader all-time to throw multiple no-hitters, along with Laurie Pajakowski.
Raking in League Honors: While Lagesse wasn’t quite perfect in her other two outings last week, she ended the week with a perfect 3-0 record and a 0.47 ERA in her three starts, surrendering just five hits while striking out 15 in 15.0 innings of work to earn Horizon League Pitcher of the Week honors. The honor was Lagesse’s fifth career weekly accolade from the league office, tied for fifth-most by a pitcher in league history. The junior also became the second Crusader to earn a league weekly award this year, joining Jessie Marinec, who was named Batter of the Week on Feb. 28.
Strickland Breaks One Record...: Junior Sara Strickland broke the first of what will be many Crusader career records last Tuesday at IUPUI. Strickland, who entered the year 15 runs shy of Karen Korb’s record of 104 runs scored, scored her 16th run of the season in the first inning of the nightcap against the Jaguars to break the mark. The junior exploded for 10 runs over the six games last week, giving her 113 career runs scored.
...More to Follow?: Strickland is putting herself in position to break even more career records in just her third season. Valpo’s all-time marks for doubles, hits, walks and total bases are all in danger this year, thanks to Strickland stepping her game up another notch this season. The junior has posted a .422/.485/.589 batting line through the first half of the year, leads the league in hits (38), doubles (9) and stolen bases (13), and ranks second in runs scored (24).
The Hits Kept on Coming: When freshman Angie Doerffler knocked a single into right field in the fifth inning of a win over Temple on Mar. 9, little did she or anyone else know that would be the start of a streak that would land her a place in the NCAA record book. Starting with that hit, over the next four games and 13 days, Doerffler registered hits in nine consecutive official at-bats before flying out in the fourth inning of the opener at IUPUI Mar. 22. Her nine straight hits is tied for ninth-most in NCAA Division I history. She also had a pair of walks during the stretch, reaching base in 11 straight plate appearances.
Settling Into the Second Spot: Doerffler has been a constant for the Crusaders this season in her first year, starting all 28 games at shortstop while hitting .355 and ranking second in the Horizon League in runs scored (24) and doubles (7). But she has been even better since moving to the second spot in the order at the start of Valpo’s current 11-game winning streak, going 19-for-39 with 18 runs scored over that stretch.
Nobody Beats the Wiz: Freshman Amanda Wisniewski has settled into a regular spot in the Crusaders’ starting lineup during their current winning streak, earning the nod at second base and filling in the nine spot in the batting order in all 11 wins. Over the span, Wisniewski is hitting .393, slugging a team-best .714 and has also drawn a team-high seven walks.
Bringing Everyone On Home: Senior KC Boldt enjoyed the most productive day at the plate by a Crusader hitter in at least 12 years in the nightcap Saturday against Detroit. Boldt started the second game against the Titans with an RBI grounder in the first inning and then knocked in two more runs with a single up the middle in the second. Finally, she stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the third and launched a no-doubt grand slam to straightaway center field, giving her seven RBIs, the most in a single game by a Valpo player since at least 1999.
Driving in Runners: With the number of runs the Crusaders have scored during their current winning streak, a bunch of hitters have seen their RBI numbers skyrocket as well. Junior Kelsey Phalen is leading the way during the 11-game winning streak, having driven in 14 runs during that stretch, including four multi-RBI games. Boldt has tallied 13 total RBIs, while junior Jordan Rutkowski has knocked in 12 runs over the 11 games.
Rutkowski Racks Up the RBIs: With her 12 RBIs in the last 11 games, Rutkowski now has tallied 25 RBIs on the season, already tied for tenth-most in a singel season in Crusader history and good for second in the Horizon League. The junior has totaled 84 career RBIs through two and a half seasons, ranking third on the Valpo career chart in the category and just eight RBIs shy of Ashley Wolter’s program record.
McGee Mows Them Down: Junior pitcher Sam McGee has been responsible for five of Valpo’s 11 victories during its current winning streak, starting all five of her appearances and tossing three complete games, including the victory over Michigan State. McGee has now posted a 9-3 record on the season, improving her career record to 32-14. Her 32 victories already rank fourth in Valpo history, just five wins shy of the second spot.