Junior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) hit a two-run homer with two outs in the seventh inning to erase a one-run deficit and propel Valparaiso to a 4-2 win over Youngstown State in the first game of a doubleheader Sunday afternoon in Youngstown, Ohio. The Crusaders came out on the winning end of a slugfest in the nightcap, 14-11.
“We got two wins today, and that's what we needed out of the day,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “Regardless of how it happened, we got it.”
Senior Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) connected on three home runs over the two games Sunday, giving her 19 career round-trippers, tied for second-most in Crusader history. Meanwhile, junior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) ripped a double to the right-center gap late in the second game, her 39th career two-bagger, matching Valpo's career record in the category.
Trailing 2-1 heading into the top of the seventh of the opener, freshman Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) led off the frame by reaching on a Penguin error. After advancing to second on a wild pitch, Doerffler moved over to third on a sacrifice bunt by Strickland. Two batters later, Rutkowski stepped up and drilled a 1-1 pitch to straightaway center field for a two-run homer, giving Valpo a 3-2 lead.
Conner followed with a line-drive shot over the left-field fence to give the Crusaders an insurance run. Youngstown State got a pair of runners on base in its final at bat, but Crusader starter Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) set down Vicky Rumph swinging to end the game.
“That was a pretty clutch seventh inning,” said Stevens. “I was happy to see that we didn't give in to them and we were able to pull one out. Both Jordan and Sadie had been swinging the bat well the whole first game, and it was just a matter of time until they got big hits. It was good to see both of them come through in the end.”
Rutkowski was also responsible for Valpo's first run of the game as well, leading off the second inning with a walk. The junior stole second to get herself into scoring position, and with two out, Lagesse knocked an RBI single back up the middle to stake the Crusaders to a 1-0 lead. For Lagesse, it was a hit in her first plate appearance since February 26. YSU took the lead in its half of the third, putting its first two runners of the inning into scoring position and scoring both on successive infield grounders.
Lagesse went the distance in the circle in game one for Valpo, improving to 9-10 after giving up just two runs while striking out seven Penguin batters. Casey Crozier took the complete-game loss for YSU, falling to 11-8 on the season. Lagesse and Rutkowski each tallied multi-hit games in the opener.
“Alex had very good command in the first game,” said Stevens. “She was able to keep Youngstown State, which has a good offense, off the board and allowed us a chance to come back in the seventh. Offensively, we put her in the lineup today just to try to shake our lineup up. She was aggressive, she went up there taking her hacks and was rewarded for it. For not swinging a bat in game action for two months, five hits is a pretty good day.”
The scoring came fast and furious in the nightcap, with both teams cracking the scoreboard in their first at-bat. Valpo opened the scoring with station-to-station softball in the top of the first, as senior Jill Jacobson (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) led off the game with a single, moved up to second on a Doerffler single, advanced to third on a wild pitch and crossed the plate on an RBI groundout from senior KC Boldt (Red Wing, Minn./Red Wing). The Penguins took the lead in their half of the first as a two-out single by Rumph scored Haley Thomas, with Rumph later scoring on a double from Kim Klonowski.
Conner quickly tied the game as Valpo came up in the second, working a full count before driving a pitch over the center-field wall for a leadoff homer. Junior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) followed by lining a double the opposite way down the right-field line, and Lagesse singled into shallow right field to put runners on the corners. With two outs, Doerffler delivered a run-scoring single into right field, plating Phalen. Lagesse made the turn towards third, and when the YSU right fielder's throw got past the third baseman, the junior was able to come all the way around to score to make it 4-1 Crusaders.
Thomas picked up her second double of the game for the Penguins to drive in a run for YSU in the bottom of the second to cut the Valpo lead to 4-2. After a scoreless third inning for both squads, the Crusaders added another run to their ledger in the fourth as Phalen reached on a leadoff error and eventually scored on a double to shallow left-center by Jacobson. Youngstown State added two runs in the fifth as Jordan Ingalls and Rumph each picked up RBI singles, tying the ballgame heading into the sixth.
Valpo's first two batters of the sixth went down in order, but the Crusaders put together a big two-out rally. Lagesse started the rally with a single to right field, and sophomore Tori Brown (Harrison, Ohio/Harrison) and Jacobson walked to load the bases. Doerffler took the first pitch she saw and grounded it through the right side, scoring pinch-runner Amanda Korb (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran) to put Valpo in front again. Strickland then delivered her record-tying double, driving a pitch to the right-center wall to clear the bases and give the Crusaders a 9-5 lead. A two-run homer by Kristen Philen in the bottom of the sixth cut the Valpo edge to 9-7.
But the Crusaders exploded for another crooked number in their half of the seventh. Rutkowski led off the frame with a double drilled down the left-field line, and Conner followed with a monster two-run homer to left field, estimated at about 260 feet, to push the lead back to four runs. Phalen drew a walk and Lagesse picked up yet another single into right to put two runners on, still with nobody out. Freshman Amanda Wisniewski (Lake in the Hills, Ill./Huntley) capped Valpo's five-homer day with a three-run shot to left-center, pushing the advantage to 14-7. YSU scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh for the final margin.
Junior Shaleigh Jansen (Ottawa, Ill./Ottawa Township) improved to 3-2 with the victory, registering three outs in relief of starter Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson). Lagesse, who started the game as the DP, entered the circle with one out in the sixth and tossed the final 1.2 innings to earn her second save of the year. Hana Somogyi fell to 9-6 after surrendering 12 runs in six-plus innings for Youngstown State (21-16, 4-9 Horizon). Doerffler and Lagesse each tallied three hits in the nightcap, while Phalen scored three runs and Conner, Strickland and Wisniewski all drove in three runs apiece.
“We had to outslug Youngstown State in game two,” said Stevens. “We jumped out ahead, but everything we did, they came back and matched us. It was just one of those slugfests, and obviously scoring five in the seventh ended up being important, because they got four.”
Valparaiso (25-17-1, 8-6 Horizon) returns home on Wednesday for a Horizon League doubleheader with Wright State. First pitch of the twinbill is slated for 3 p.m., and all the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats.