Valparaiso pushed four runs across the plate in the eighth inning of the opener at UIC Saturday afternoon to earn a 7-3 victory and push its winning streak to open Horizon League play to 13 games, but the Flames got a two-out grand slam in the sixth inning of the nightcap to send the Crusaders to a 5-3 defeat and split the doubleheader.
Valpo wasted little time getting on the board in the opener, pushing the first run across the plate on just the seventh pitch of the game. With one out, sophomore Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) knocked a grounder up the middle and senior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) pushed Doerffler over to second with a single of her own. Freshman Brittany Duncan (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn) stepped up and lined a single into the left-center gap to bring Doerffler across the plate and give the Crusaders an early 1-0 lead.
The Flames struck back in their half of the first, however, as an RBI double by Coryn Schmit knotted the game at one apiece. Neither team would get another runner past second until the bottom of the fifth of the tie game, when UIC took its first lead. A leadoff single back through the middle by Melissa Preish eventually turned into a run, as she moved up 60 feet apiece on a pair of outs before scoring on a first-pitch single by Melinda Macias to give the Flames the 2-1 edge.
The Crusaders responded immediately in their next time at-bat, though. Strickland led off the inning with a four-pitch walk and Duncan followed by working a full-count walk to put two on with nobody out. After a sacrifice bunt put both runners into scoring position, redshirt junior Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) greeted relief pitcher Devin Miller rudely, drilling the first pitch she saw into right-center field. Both Strickland and pinch-runner Hayley Bridwell (Lemont, Ill./Lemont) scored on the base knock, Bridwell sliding in ahead of the tag to give Valpo a 3-2 advantage.
But the Flames tied it up in their half of the sixth, as Schmit was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and eventually scored on an RBI single from Kara Komp. Doerffler drew a one-out walk for the Crusaders in the top of the seventh, but could not advance, while relief pitcher Shaleigh Jansen (Ottawa, Ill./Ottawa Township) set down UIC in order in the bottom of the seventh to send the game into extra innings.
Valpo broke out the bats in the eighth inning to put the game out of reach, starting with a one-out infield single by Ichiyama-Drewry, who hustled down the line to beat the throw from the Flames shortstop. Senior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) knocked a single through the left side of the infield, and redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist) followed with a line drive into left to load the bases with just one away.
Sophomore Amanda Wisniewski (Lake in the Hills, Ill./Huntley) put the Crusaders on top for good, working a full count before knocking the 3-2 pitch into shallow center field, scoring Ichiyama-Drewry and keeping the bases loaded with a 4-3 lead. Two batters later, Doerffler cleared the bags with a double to the wall in center field, pushing the Crusader lead to four runs. UIC drew a one-out walk in its half of the eighth, but a groundout and a strikeout closed out the Valpo win.
Jansen earned the win in relief for the Crusaders after entering with two on and two out in the sixth, improving to 5-1 on the year with 2.1 innings of no-hit pitching, striking out three. Senior Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) started and went the first 5.2 innings. Ashley Hewett took the loss for UIC, starting and pitching a total of 7.1 innings while surrendering all seven runs to fall to 7-11. Ichiyama-Drewry posted a three-hit effort in the opener, while Doerffler also picked up a pair of hits in Valpo’s 10-hit attack.
“I was happy with our toughness in game one and the way we hung tough after their runs,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “We came up with some big at bats in that last inning.”
Both teams had numerous opportunities to claim the early lead in the nightcap, as the Crusaders left four runners on base in the first three innings and the Flames left three on base, while Strickland also threw out a UIC runner at the plate in the second inning. It would be Valpo which cracked the scoreboard first, as senior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) led off the top of the fourth with a walk and advanced to third thanks to a pair of groundouts. Marinec then fouled off the first three pitches she saw before sending a grounder back up the middle, just out of the infield for a single which scored Rutkowski to give the Crusaders the 1-0 lead.
Valpo posted a pair of insurance runs in the fifth as well, as junior Tori Brown (Harrison, Ohio/Harrison) led off with a walk and was on base for Duncan with two out. The freshman lined the first pitch she saw over the left-center fence underneath the scoreboard for a two-run homer, her sixth of the season to match the Crusaders’ rookie record and give Valpo a 3-0 lead.
But UIC posted a five-run sixth to take the nightcap. The Flames’ first two runners of the inning reached on a single and a walk, but following a sacrifice bunt, Ichiyama-Drewry threw home on a grounder to cut down the lead runner and leave runners on first and third with two out. An RBI single by Preish got the Flames on the board and a hit batter loaded the bases for Courtney Heeley, who connected on a 1-2 pitch for a grand slam just to the right of straightaway center field to put UIC ahead 5-3. Valpo went down in order in the top of the seventh as it suffered the first Horizon League defeat of the season.
“In game two, we just simply didn't finish,” said Stevens. “We have to close out the game and not give in at any point, but credit UIC for putting it together that inning.”
Jansen took the loss in the nightcap after entering in the middle of the sixth, falling to 5-2 on the year. Senior Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) earned a no-decision after going 5.2 innings and giving up three runs, the first earned tallies the senior has given up in league play this year. Miller improved to 11-12 on the year with the complete-game win for UIC (19-24, 6-7 Horizon). Marinec went 3-for-3 in the nightcap, but the Crusaders tallied just five hits as a team.
Valparaiso (29-12, 13-1 Horizon) looks to earn the series victory on Sunday afternoon as the Crusaders return to UIC for a single game at 1 p.m. Live stats and a live chat will be available through www.valpoathletics.com.
“We're going to have to have good at-bats across the board and our pitchers will need to be consistent tomorrow in order to win the series,” said Stevens.
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