Junior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) tied Valparaiso's career RBI record with a fourth-inning single, and an insurance run in the sixth inning proved vital as the Crusaders earned a 2-1 victory Wednesday afternoon at the Valparaiso University Softball Field in the opener of a three-game series with Wright State.
The Crusaders and Raiders, who were originally scheduled to play a doubleheader, were in danger of not being able to play at all Wednesday after heavy overnight rains soaked the field. But with work being done on the playing surface all day, the field was prepped into playable condition for a single game late in the afternoon, allowing Valpo to earn the key Horizon League victory. The scheduled twinbill between the two squads will now be played Thursday afternoon.
“We came into today with the mindset that we were going to try to play,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “Most of the day, we knew we were going to try to get in one game. We needed to come in, to be prepared to play a single game and get the jump on the series, and that's what we ended up doing.”
When the game finally got underway, neither Valpo starter Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) nor Wright State starter Krystian DeWitt gave up many hard-hit balls over the course of the seven-inning contest. But the Raiders utilized a number of infield hits to threaten over the course of the game, especially in the early going. Wright State loaded the bases with two outs in the first, had runners on first and second with one out in the second and put two on with two out in the third, but each time, Lagesse was able to get the key out to keep the game scoreless.
Meanwhile, Valpo's offense struggled in the early going, as an infield single by freshman Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran), who was erased on a double play immediately, was the only blemish against DeWitt through the first three frames. But the Crusaders finally broke through in the fourth inning. A one-out single back up the middle by Doerffler gave Valpo its second baserunner of the game, and then senior KC Boldt (Red Wing, Minn./Red Wing) walked with two away to move the freshman into scoring position.
Rutkowski stepped in and, with the green light on a 3-0 count, knocked a single back up the middle to bring Doerffler around with the game's first run. The junior picked up her 92nd career RBI on the play, matching Ashley Wolter atop Valpo's career chart in the category. Wright State threatened in each of the next two innings as well, having runners on first and second with one out and then runners on the corners with two outs in the fifth, before picking up a two-out infield single in the sixth. But again Lagesse bore down and registered the big outs to keep the Raiders scoreless.
“Alex didn't get rattled today with runners on base, she did a good job staying with our game plan,” said Stevens. “She continued to just go pitch-by-pitch and hitter-by-hitter, which is what we need from our pitchers. She stayed focused on the task at hand throughout the game. We got a good defensive effort behind Alex as well to help strand those runners, which kept us where we needed to be.”
The bottom of the sixth brought a key insurance tally to the Crusaders' side of the ledger. A one-out walk by junior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) was followed immediately by a single back through the box by Boldt to advance Strickland to second. Rutkowski then laced a single back up the middle, but with Strickland looking to score Valpo's second run, a perfect throw to the plate by WSU center fielder Mollie Berry cut down the junior for the second out of the inning. The Crusaders weren't done though, as senior Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) took a four-pitch walk to load the bases and then junior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) watched ball four go by on a 3-1 count, bringing Boldt home to give Valpo a 2-0 lead.
Wright State had one more scoring threat left in the seventh inning, and would finally break onto the scoreboard, as with runners on first and second and one out, Kacie Rapshus singled back up the middle to score Justine Shilt to cut the Crusader lead to 2-1. Strickland's throw went to third to unsuccessfully try to cut down Lindsay Barrett, allowing Rapshus to move up to second and put the potential go-ahead run into scoring position with one out. But with the infield in, Liz Mathews grounded a one-hopper to Conner at third for the second out. Then Lagesse came up big to close out the game, winning a 12-pitch battle with pinch-hitter Natasha Szlapetis by getting her to swing for strike three on a full count to pick up the victory.
Despite tossing just one 1-2-3 inning, Lagesse earned the victory in the circle for the Crusaders, improving to 10-10 on the season. Lagesse struck out seven Raider hitters and stranded 12 WSU runners on base in the complete-game effort. DeWitt took the complete-game loss to fall to 12-12 for Wright State (18-19, 7-3 Horizon). Doerffler and Rutkowski each picked up a pair of hits to pace the Valpo offense.
“I would hope that we continue to make adjustments at the plate as the game goes on, and we did,” said Stevens. “DeWitt threw a good game for Wright State. I thought we had good approaches at the plate the entire game. The hits just weren't there in the first few innings, but our approach was still good.”
Valparaiso (26-17-1, 9-6 Horizon) returns to the field on Thursday for the re-scheduled twinbill against the Raiders, starting at 2 p.m. The second game can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, while live stats for both games will also be available.