Valparaiso (11-8, 0-0 Horizon)
at San Diego Classic II (San Diego, Calif.)
Friday, March 16 - vs. CSU Bakersfield (6-15) - 1:30 p.m. CDT
at San Diego (11-11) - 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 17 - at San Diego State (16-14) - 6:30 p.m.
vs. Long Beach State (11-17) - 9 p.m.
Sunday, March 18 - vs. UNLV (12-12) - 11 a.m.
Next Up in Crusader Softball: Valparaiso closes its spring break trip as it attempts to get back on the winning track this weekend at the San Diego Classic II, co-hosted by San Diego State and the University of San Diego. The Crusaders will play both host schools, as well as CSU Bakersfield, Long Beach State and UNLV over the three-day span.
Previously: Valpo hit its first rough patch of the season last weekend at the Diamond Devil Invitational, hosted by Arizona State, as the Crusaders dropped all five games last weekend. Valpo went to extra innings with Creighton before falling, while also losing against New Mexico State, Arizona State, Pacific and East Carolina.
Following the Crusaders: Live stats for select games from the San Diego Classic II will be available through www.valpoathletics.com.
Head Coach Jordan Stevens: Jordan Stevens is in his second season at the helm of the Valparaiso University softball program in 2012 after leading the Crusaders to a successful season in his first year in charge in 2011. Stevens, who now owns a record of 45-29-1 at the helm of the Crusaders, guided Valpo to 34 victories in his debut campaign, just one win shy of the program's single-season record. Valpo finished Horizon League play with a 15-7 record, finishing just one-half game out of the regular season championship, and was within one run of advancing to the league tournament championship.
Series Notes: Valpo has never faced any of the five teams it will face this weekend. In fact, this is the Crusaders’ first time ever taking the field in California, capping a trip that saw the team play in four states (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona) for the first time in program history.
Crusaders Picked Fifth in Preseason Poll: The head coaches selected Valparaiso to finish fourth in the Horizon League this season according to the preseason poll. UIC topped the polling with 60 points and six first-place votes, while Butler had two first-place votes and 55 points to place second. The Crusaders, who totaled 45 points, finished just behind Loyola in the voting.
Plenty of Experience Returns: For the second straight year, the Crusaders bring back the vast majority of their team from a season ago. Of last year’s 18 letterwinners, 15 are back on the Valpo roster for 2012, including seven of the nine regular position players, as well as all four pitchers.
Getting Off the Schneid: Valpo enters this weekend attempting to break a season-long five-game losing streak after dropping all five games at the Diamond Devil Invitational against tough competition last weekend. It marks the Crusaders’ longest losing streak since falling in six consecutive games from May 3-6, 2007.
Best Start Ever: Valpo’s six-game winning streak early in the season pushed the club to a 10-2 record through 12 games, marking the first time in program history the Crusaders had suffered just two losses through their first 12 contests. While Valpo lost at UTEP to end its winning streak, the win over NMSU last Tuesday moved the Crusaders to 11-3 through 14 games for just the second time in program history, matching the 2010 squad which set the program record with a 35-win season.
League Honorees: Through four weekends of play, the Crusaders already have tallied five Horizon League weekly award winners. Most recently, redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec received her second career Player of the Week honor for her performance last week. Senior Jordan Rutkowski has twice been named Player of the Week this year, while freshman Brittany Duncan was named the Player of the Week and senior Alex Lagesse Pitcher of the Week (her sixth career award, fifth-most in league history) after the season’s opening weekend.
Taking an Unfamiliar Route: Marinec entered last week having hit just four career home runs, but matched that total during an 8-for-19, 6 R, 5 RBI week that earned her HL Player of the Week honors. Marinec’s four round-trippers came in four different games, including three consecutive. One of the home runs came against #5 Arizona State, the second time in her career the redshirt sophomore has gone yard against a top-five opponent (Florida).
Among the Nation’s Best: Senior catcher Jordan Rutkowski ranks among the nation’s top players in a number of offensive categories after an absolutely torrid start to the 2012 campaign. Rutkowski, who broke Valpo’s career home runs record two weekends ago, currently is among the top 30 nationally in five different categories: slugging percentage (.983, 7th), batting average (.492, 12th), doubles/game (0.42, 12th), home runs/game (0.37, 20th) and RBIs/game (1.21, 28th).
Whole Team Goes Deep: Despite having a rough go at last weekend’s tournament, the Crusaders still tallied seven home runs as a team over the five losses, continuing their trend of round-trippers up and down the lineup. As a team, Valpo has already recorded 25 home runs through the season’s first 19 games, a mark which ranks 10th nationally. Rutkowski leads the way with seven four-baggers, while six Crusaders in all have hit at least two home runs already. The 25 home runs also already is third-most in a single season in program history.
Walk This Way: Senior Sara Strickland has been solid at the plate over the last 10 games, going 10-for-28 (.357) with nine runs scored, but what might be most impressive is her eye at the plate. Strickland has drawn eight walks over the last 10 games while striking out just once, extending the career walks record she set earlier this season to 80. In fact, on the season, Strickland has walked 11 times while striking out just twice and has an on-base percentage of .388 despite a batting average of just .269.