The Valparaiso softball team closed out the 2012 regular season on a high note on Saturday afternoon, sweeping a doubleheader at Cleveland State by scores of 6-4 and 13-1 (6 innings) to finish out the regular season at 37-16 overall and 19-5 in Horizon League play. The regular season champion Crusaders set a new single-season record for victories with the win in the opener.
“I was very happy with how we performed today, but now we have to focus on our next task at hand,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens.
Two-out rallies accounted for the Crusaders’ first two runs of the opener. In the first, redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist) reached on an error with two outs and took full advantage, stealing second and advancing to third on an illegal pitch before freshman Brittany Duncan (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn) knocked a single back through the middle to get Valpo on the board. Cleveland State responded immediately, as Dara Toman scored on an RBI single by Andrea Nagy to make it 1-1 after one inning.
Valpo would get two runners on base with no outs in the second and two in scoring position with one out in the third, but couldn’t push across the go-ahead tally either time. The Crusaders would finally take the lead with two outs in the fourth, however. Senior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) pulled a ball down the right-field line into the corner for a triple and scored when sophomore Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) reached on a CSU error, putting Valpo ahead 2-1.
The Vikings again tied it up in their time at-bat in the bottom half of the inning, as Sara Shields crossed the plate on a two-out Crusader error. Cleveland State looked for the go-ahead run when Salena Kauffman drove a double to the wall in right field, but Hannah Yoe was cut down at the plate on a perfect relay from Lindsey Norway (Chicago, Ill./Chicago Christian) to Marinec to Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) to keep the game tied at two through four innings.
Valpo then put a crooked number on the board in the fifth to take control. Rutkowski singled with one out and scored on a double to the wall in left by senior Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union). A single and stolen base by senior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) put two in scoring position for Norway, who grounded to short. The Vikings attempted to make a play at the plate, but Ichiyama-Drewry beat the throw home to put the Crusaders ahead 4-2.
Sophomore Amanda Wisniewski (Lake in the Hills, Ill./Huntley) kept the train rolling with a double to the wall in right-center, scoring Phalen and advancing Norway to third to add another run to the Crusader lead. After a CSU pitching change, Strickland stepped in and made it a four-run game with a single into shallow left-center which scored Norway, giving Valpo the 6-2 advantage. The Vikings got solo homers from Shields in the sixth and Kauffman in the seventh to cut their deficit to two, but with the tying run coming to the plate with one out in the bottom of the seventh, senior Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) registered back-to-back strikeouts to close out the win.
McGee’s final two strikeouts closed out the complete-game victory for the senior, as she improved her record to 14-5 on the season. Brittany Bate started in the circle for CSU and suffered her second loss of the year after giving up all six Valpo runs in 4.1 innings of work. Duncan, Phalen, Rutkowski and Strickland all had multiple-hit games in the opener as the Crusaders tallied 10 total hits.
In the nightcap, Valpo led start to finish, thanks in part to another stellar effort in the circle from senior Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher). Lagesse gave up a run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first, but retired 16 consecutive Viking batters before a full-count walk with one out in the sixth.
Offensively, Valpo again claimed the lead in its first at-bat, as singles by Doerffler and Marinec and a walk to Duncan loaded the bases with one out. Rutkowski stepped up and drove the first pitch she saw into the right-center gap, plating both Doerffler and Marinec to give the Crusaders a 2-0 lead. Then, with two on and two out in the second, Duncan went the other way with an outside pitch and drove the ball well over the left-field wall for a three-run homer, pushing the Crusader advantage to 5-1.
Valpo added single runs in each of the next two innings as well. Phalen led off the top of the third by taking the first pitch she saw to left-center, hitting a deep fly ball which ricocheted off the top of the wall and over for a solo homer. Then, in the fourth inning, Marinec reached on a one-out single, moved up to second on a Duncan single and over to third on a CSU error before coming home on a fielder’s choice grounder from Ichiyama-Drewry, making it a 7-1 Valpo lead.
After going scoreless in the fifth, Valpo put a six-spot on the board in the top of the sixth to set up the run-rule victory. Marinec led off the inning by reaching on a Viking error before Duncan walked to put two on with nobody out. After a passed ball moved both runners into scoring position, Rutkowski picked up yet another RBI hit, singling to right-center to score Marinec with the Crusaders’ eighth run.
Ichiyama-Drewry fouled off the first three pitches she saw before dropping a single inside the left-field line in shallow left for an RBI single of her own, plating pinch-runner Hayley Bridwell (Lemont, Ill./Lemont) to make it 9-1 Valpo. Phalen then singled up the middle on the first pitch to load the bases for Norway, who put a capper on the weekend with a grand slam over the left-field fence for her first career home run.
Lagesse improved to 18-8 with the complete-game two-hitter, giving up just the one run while striking out three and needing just 78 pitches, 60 of which were strikes. The first of three Cleveland State (17-39, 9-15 Horizon) hurlers, Brandy Holmes took the loss to fall to 0-3, giving up seven runs in four innings of work. Rutkowski tallied three hits and three RBIs in the nightcap, while Marinec and Phalen each picked up two hits and scored multiple runs as well. Duncan went 2-for-2 with three RBIs and also walked twice, reaching in all four of her plate appearances.
Valparaiso (37-16, 19-5 Horizon) will host the 2012 Horizon League Championship next week at the Valparaiso University Softball Field, from Wednesday May 9 through Saturday May 12. Valpo’s first game will be Thursday morning, May 10 against the winner of the game between the fourth and fifth seeds.
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