Second-seeded Valparaiso dropped its first contest in the 2011 Horizon League Championship Thursday afternoon in Chicago, Ill. to third-seeded Butler by a 3-1 score. The Crusaders will turn around immediately and play an elimination game against host Loyola.
Butler threatened to crack the scoreboard in each of the first three innings. The Bulldogs loaded the bases with two outs in the first and with one out in the second, but each time Crusader starter Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) induced pop-ups to end the threats. Then in the third, Butler had runners on second and third with one out, but third baseman Sadie Conner (Washington, Ill./Washington) laid out to snag a grounder, holding the runner on third while recording the out at first. Lagesse then struck out Kayla Gray to end that threat.
The Crusaders got a runner on via walk in each of the first three innings, but couldn’t hit the scoreboard either. Butler finally snapped the scoreless tie in the fourth frame, as Erin Jackson reached on an infield single with one out. Meaghan Sullivan followed with a grounder to short that found its way between the legs of the Crusader shortstop and rolled all the way to the fence, allowing Jackson to cross the plate with an unearned tally.
The Bulldogs added two more runs in the fifth, as Jessica Huey led off with a single and came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Jenny Esparza. Gray followed with a two-out single and Mallory Winters lined a double to the wall to plate Gray and make it 3-0 Butler.
Valpo got one run back in its half of the fifth in its best scoring chance of the ballgame to that point. Lagesse led off the inning with a single into center field, and pinch-runner Amanda Korb (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran) moved over to second on a one-out walk to senior Jill Jacobson (Beecher, Ill./Beecher). A groundout moved each runner up 60 feet, and then with two away, junior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) lined a single into left field to score Korb. Jacobson was sent home on the play as well, but a nice throw home from the Bulldog left fielder nailed her at the plate to keep it a 3-1 game.
Valpo kept Butler from adding to its lead in the sixth and seventh, as the Bulldogs stranded a pair of runners in each contest, while a two-out walk in the sixth for the Crusaders went for naught. Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Valpo put together one final threat. Lagesse was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, and two batters later Jacobson reached on a bunt single to put the potential tying run on base. Two batters later, an infield single by Strickland loaded the bases with two outs, but a strikeout ended the game in the Bulldogs’ favor.
Lagesse took the loss, falling to 12-12 after giving up three runs in her 4.2 innings of work. Junior Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) pitched 2.1 innings of scoreless ball in relief. Esparza improved to 16-8 with the complete-game victory for Butler (30-22).