Valparaiso split a pair of extra-inning games at Loyola in Chicago, Ill. on Saturday afternoon as it began a nine-game in nine-day road trip, winning the opener 5-2 in nine innings before falling in the finale, 5-4 in eight innings.
“I thought we played well today,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “Game one was a good team win. We had different people step up at different times to make big plays and come up with big hits. In the second game, we got out of a lot of situations defensively, but just couldn't get out of the last one. But I still thought we played well in that game too. Overall, we played a lot tougher as a team today than we have been recently.”
The Crusaders got the scoring going in the opener in the top of the second, as senior Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) stepped in with two outs and nobody on and drilled a no-doubt home run into the upper half of the netting protecting the apartment building beyond the left-field fence. Valpo added to its lead in the third, when sophomore Hayley Bridwell (Lemont, Ill./Lemont) deadened a two-out slap right in front of the plate and beat it out for an infield single. Bridwell then stole second and scored easily on a full-count single by freshman Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) to give the Crusaders a 2-0 lead.
Loyola cut the deficit in half in its half of the third with a leadoff homer by Bridget Lally, and then tied the game in the bottom of the sixth with a one-out solo shot by Olivia Bell, who had entered as a defensive replacement two innings earlier. Valpo got a runner on in both the seventh and eighth innings, but could not get anybody into scoring position, while junior Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) set down the Rambler side in order in both frames as the game continued on in extra innings.
Valpo broke through with the tie-breaker in the top of the ninth, as senior KC Boldt (Red Wing, Minn./Red Wing) took the second pitch of the inning and drilled it to straightaway center field to make it 3-2 Crusaders. After a pitching change, junior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) was hit by a pitch, Conner reached after being hit by a throw on a sacrifice bunt attempt, and junior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) also was hit by a pitch to load the bases with still nobody out.
Sophomore Tori Brown (Harrison, Ohio/Harrison) added to the Valpo lead with a sacrifice fly to right, plating Rutkowski and advancing Conner to third. Two batters later, Bridwell beat out her second infield single of the game, this one to the right side of the infield, to score Conner and make it a 5-2 advantage. Lagesse again set down the Ramblers 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth to close out the victory.
Lagesse earned the nine-inning complete-game victory, throwing 171 pitches along the way, to improve to 8-7 on the year. The junior surrendered just four hits and two walks while striking out 10 Loyola batters. Brittany Gardner took the loss for Loyola, falling to 9-8 after giving up three runs in her eight-plus innings of work. Bridwell and Doerffler each registered multi-hit games atop the Crusader order.
“It was a good bounce-back performance today for Alex,” said Stevens. “She kept us in the ballgame and gave our bats some time to come around.”
Valpo again started the scoring in the nightcap, as Bridwell led off the game with an opposite-field double and scored two batters later on a pitch drilled down the left-field line by junior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon). Loyola answered in its first at-bat, as Lally singled with one out and eventually scored on a two-out single by Lauren Zaworski.
But the Crusaders quickly regained the lead in the top of the second inning. Senior Jill Jacobson (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) knocked a two-out single into left-center field to give Valpo a baserunner. Freshman Amanda Wisniewski (Lake in the Hills, Ill./Huntley) fell behind 0-2 before turning on a pitch and drilling a frozen rope down the left-field line, a few feet fair and just high enough to clear the outfield wall for a two-run homer to give Valpo a 3-1 lead. The Crusaders added another tally in the fourth as Rutkowski took the first pitch of the inning and drove it just left of center field, hitting high off the Ramblers' soccer scoreboard.
A two-out RBI single by the Ramblers in the fourth cut their deficit to 4-2, and Valpo was unable to add to the lead in the top of the fifth despite getting a runner to third with just one out. Lally connected on her second home run of the day to lead off the bottom half of the fifth to cut the Crusader lead to 4-3. Neither team got a run across in the sixth, and despite Wisniewski stealing third with two outs in the top of the seventh, Valpo was unable to add any insurance runs.
Jacqueline Grim led off the bottom of the seventh for Loyola (14-15, 5-3 Horizon) with a single up the middle, and pinch-runner Tori Spears advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a wild pitch with one out. Zaworski then drilled a liner right to Phalen at first, who threw over to third in an attempt to double-off Spears for a game-ending double play. But Spears was called safe, and a single into center field by Lauren Moore tied the game and sent it to extra innings.
Valpo went down in order in its half of the eighth, and Bell led off the Rambler eighth with a double. After an intentional walk, Conner gobbled up a grounder to third and stepped on the base to force Bell, the Rambler lead runner. But Grim was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Lauren Arceneaux knocked a single back up the middle through the drawn-in Crusader infield for the walk-off hit.
Junior Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) fell to 11-5 after taking the loss for the Crusaders, throwing seven-plus innings, while Keali Engelkens improved to 3-1 for Loyola after throwing five innings of shutout softball. Wisniewski picked up two of Valpo's eight hits in the nightcap.
Valparaiso (22-14-1, 5-3 Horizon) closes out its three-game set against Loyola on Sunday in Chicago. First pitch is slated for noon, with live stats available at www.valpoathletics.com.
“Game threes are about what team wants it more than the other,” said Stevens. “The teams know each other now and neither one is going to surprise the other. It's a big game for us, even though its only our third league series. With the standings being so close, we need to win every game that we can.”