Second-seeded Valparaiso got a stellar complete-game outing in the circle from junior Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) in an elimination game Thursday afternoon at the 2011 Horizon League Softball Championship in Chicago, Ill., propelling the Crusaders to a 4-1 victory over top-seeded and host Loyola. Valpo advances to take on fourth-seeded Cleveland State in an elimination game Friday morning at 11 a.m.
A pair of two-out singles by junior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) and senior KC Boldt (Red Wing, Minn./Red Wing) in the top of the first gave the Crusaders the first scoring threat of the game, but they could not capitalize. It looked liked Loyola would then be first to crack the scoreboard, as Olivia Bell led off the bottom of the second with a ground-rule double and was sacrificed over to third with one out. But on a squeeze attempt by Jacqueline Grim, senior Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) charged, fielded the bunt and flipped the ball with her glove to junior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden), who applied the tag on Bell to keep the Ramblers off the board.
Valpo then plated all the offense it would need in the top of the third inning. Freshman Amanda Wisniewski (Lake in the Hills, Ill./Huntley) led off the frame by fighting back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk. After a sacrifice moved the freshman to second, fellow rookie Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) lined a single into left-center to put runners on the corners with one away.
Strickland followed by killing a bunt nicely right out in front of home plate, and with the Rambler defense concerned about the runner from third scoring, made it to first with a bunt single. With the bases loaded, Boldt stepped in and dropped a single into shallow center, plating Wisniewski with the game's opening run. After a fielder's choice forced Doerffler at the plate, making it two outs, Conner stepped up and delivered a liner into left-center, scoring both Boldt and Strickland to give Valpo a 3-0 lead.
The three-run lead would prove to be more than enough for McGee, who at one point from the second through the fifth inning retired 12 straight Rambler hitters, including six via the strikeout. The Crusaders gave the junior another insurance run in the top of the sixth, as Conner led off the inning with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt.
Freshman Amanda Korb (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran) pinch-ran for the senior and promptly scored on the second pitch, as junior Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) laced a single just over Korb's head into left-center field to make it 4-0 Crusaders. Loyola mounted a small threat in the seventh, as with runners on the corners and one out, a fielder's choice allowed Lauren Zaworski to score to erase the shutout. But McGee stepped up and induced a pop-up out of Grim to close the victory.
McGee finished the game with eight strikeouts, improving to 17-6 on the year, in the process moving into a tie for second for single-season victories by a Crusader pitcher. Brittany Gardner took the loss for Loyola (26-26), dropping to 14-14 after surrendering six hits and three runs in 2.2 innings of work. Strickland paced the Valpo offense with three hits as the Crusaders totaled nine as a team to go with a trio of walks.
Valparaiso (33-20-1) takes to the field for its second elimination game of the tournament Friday morning at 11 a.m. against Cleveland State. Live stats and live chat will both be available at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for the live HLN video stream.