It took extra innings on Friday afternoon, but Valparaiso loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth with nobody out and pinch-runner Hayley Bridwell (Lemont, Ill./Lemont Township) scored the walk-off run on a Butler error to give the Crusaders a 4-3 victory over the Bulldogs in an elimination game at the 2012 Horizon League Championship. With the win, Valpo advances to Championship Saturday at the league tournament and will take on Loyola at noon. The Crusaders will have to win two games in order to capture the tournament title.
“We knew coming in that Butler would provide us with a tough test,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “Offensively, this was the most hits we've put up against them this year. We continued to hit the ball well. You just have to give credit to our players, because they keep coming through when they needed to.”
With the game tied through seven innings, this year’s Horizon League Championship saw its first extra-inning game as Valpo battled with Butler for a spot in the championship game. The Bulldogs threatened in the top of the eighth with one out, as a single up the middle was followed by a walk to put runners on first and second. But senior Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) escaped the jam, inducing a pop-up back to the circle and then registering a strikeout to keep the Bulldogs off the board.
Freshman Brittany Duncan (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn) set the Crusaders’ bottom of the eighth in motion by swinging at the first pitch and lining a double to the wall in left-center. After an intentional walk was issued to senior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden), senior Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) sent a grounder to short.
But the Butler shortstop’s throw to third trying to erase the pinch-running Bridwell pulled the third baseman off the bag, loading the bases with nobody out. Senior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) then hit a grounder to the shortstop in the pulled-in Bulldog infield, but she was unable to field the ball cleanly and Bridwell crossed the plate with the game-winning run to send the Crusaders to Saturday and the championship game.
Valpo never trailed in Saturday afternoon’s game, taking the lead immediately in the bottom of the first. Senior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) worked a walk to lead off the frame, and a sacrifice bunt moved her to second. Three batters later, Rutkowski kept up her hot hitting, lining a hard-hit single into left field to plate Strickland with the game’s first run.
Butler would knot the game up at one in the top of the fifth, as Lauren McNulty, who reached on an error to break up Lagesse’s streak of 12 straight retired to start the game, scored on a single by Megan Gray. But the Crusaders re-claimed the lead in their half of the fifth when sophomore Amanda Wisniewski (Lake in the Hills, Ill./Huntley) led off the frame with a solo homer to left-center, giving her home runs in each of Valpo’s games on Friday.
But again the Bulldogs rallied from the one-run deficit, plating a run in the top of the sixth on an RBI double by McNulty which scored Meaghan Sullivan. Valpo went down in order in each of its final two times at-bat in regulation before securing the walk-off victory in extra frames.
Lagesse went the distance in the circle for the Crusaders, improving to 20-9 on the season. The senior scattered four hits in allowing just one earned run while striking out eight. Breanna Fisher took the loss for Butler (25-32) to fall to 6-10, starting and pitching 5.1 innings in all, surrendering two of the three Valpo runs. Rutkowski went 2-for-2 to lead the Crusader offense, reaching in all four of her plate appearances, while Duncan also picked up a pair of hits.
“Both Alex and Sam threw great games for us today,” said Stevens. “Sam just carried so much confidence in the circle during our first game. She mixed things up really well and kept a good offensive team down. Then tonight, Alex did what she has done for us all tournament. She fought hard, kept us in the ballgame and made pitches when she needed to which gave us a chance to win.”
Valparaiso (40-17) takes on Loyola in championship game action beginning at noon on Saturday. With a Crusader win in the first game, the if necessary game would start at about 2 p.m. Both games will have live stats and live video available through www.valpoathletics.com.
“We came into today with the mentality that we needed to have a one-game winning streak in the morning before worrying about our afternoon game,” said Stevens. “We need to remain focused and come out tomorrow looking for a one-game winning streak in the first game.”