The Valparaiso softball team was scheduled to take on Youngstown State in a doubleheader on Saturday afternoon at the Valparaiso University Softball Field, but the two teams ended up playing the equivalent of three full games, with the Crusaders completing the sweep courtesy of a walk-off single by Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) in the bottom of the 14th of the nightcap for a 6-5 win. Valpo claimed the opener by a 3-0 score.
Sophomore Tarah McShane (Streamwood, Ill./St. Edward Central Catholic) started the bottom of the 14th with a stand-up double to the fence, just left of center field, to put the winning run just 120 feet from home plate. After a pair of outs, Ranieri stepped up and lined the first pitch she saw into left-center field, where it would roll all the way to the fence. But it was only necessary for Ranieri to touch first base on the walk-off hit, as McShane trotted home with the game-winning run.
The duo of McShane and Ranieri teamed up for heroics earlier in the game as well to ensure that the game would even reach the 14th inning. YSU’s Miranda Castiglione led off the top of the 12th with a shot to center field, one which Kimberlin Wallace (Newton, Ill./Community [Lake Land C.C.]) got a glove on but couldn’t prevent from clearing the fence for a solo homer, giving the Penguins a 5-4 advantage.
Undeterred, McShane led off the bottom half of the frame by taking two strikes before finding a pitch she could drive, nearly tying the game with a homer of her own to left-center field. YSU’s left fielder was able to get a glove on the ball, keeping it in the yard, but could not complete the catch as the Penguins yielded a leadoff two-bagger. Two batters later, pinch-runner Jennifer Hermanson (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) moved over to third on a single to shallow left from junior Amanda Wisniewski (Skokie, Ill./Huntley), and Ranieri followed by lining a single back through the middle to plate Hermanson and force even more extra innings.
“I liked how our hitters didn't really change their approach or mindset after we fell behind in the 12th,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “It was the same thing we did all game – just going out and taking good swings. Tarah came up big getting it started, and then Kaitlyn came through with the run-scoring hit.”
Freshman Taylor Weissenhofer (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport Township) surrendered the Castiglione homer in the 12th in her sixth full inning of relief, this coming after a complete-game effort in the opener. But the rookie bore down following the round-tripper, setting down YSU’s final nine batters in order to keep the game tied. Weissenhofer entered in a high-leverage situation in the tie game, as she was called upon with runners on second and third and one out in the sixth inning. The freshman picked up a strikeout, and after a full-count walk loaded the bases, got a line out to center field to keep the game all square.
“It was really a gutty performance from Taylor today,” said Stevens. “We haven’t asked her to throw this much in back-to-back games on the same day all year. She handled it tremendously – she just kept going out and putting outs up on the board. I thought she stepped up big time for us today.”
The early stages of the game looked set for a possible rout by the Penguins, as YSU pushed across a run on two hits in the top of the first and then jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the back of a three-run homer from Samantha Snodgrass in the second. Junior Ashlyn Michalak (Holland, Ohio/Springfield [Owens C.C.]) entered in relief after the four-bagger and kept the Penguins from lengthening their lead, scattering five hits in four-plus shutout innings.
“Ashlyn was huge for us today - she was the unsung hero of the game,” said Stevens. “If she doesn't come in and pitch effectively and stop Youngstown State from scoring, we don't have a shot to win. She gave us the opportunity to come back and win by keeping them where they were at. She deserved better than a no-decision today – she totally did her job.”
Valpo fought back, tying the game in unconventional fashion, as a pair of infield singles drove in two runs apiece in the third and fourth innings. Fifth-year senior Joylyn Ichiyama (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) was on third and redshirt junior Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist) on second with two away in the third inning following a double from Marinec.
Freshman Janelle Bouchard (Kennebunk, Maine/Kennebunk) stepped up and popped a ball up on the infield for what looked like it would be the third out of the frame. But the ball fell to the ground between the circle and second base position with no fielder within five feet of the ball and spun back, rolling dead a foot off the first-base line. With the runners going on contact with two outs, both Ichiyama and Marinec scored easily, closing the deficit to 4-2.
If one two-run infield single wasn’t enough, the Crusaders duplicated the feat in the fourth inning to tie the game. McShane led off the frame with a first-pitch single back up the middle, and junior Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) walked on four pitches to make it two on with nobody out. A sacrifice bunt moved both into scoring position, and two batters later, Wallace stepped to the plate.
The lefty slapper fell behind 0-2, and after taking a ball, fouled off three straight pitches before turning on an offering and lining it off the first-base bag. The YSU second baseman did well to dive and knock the ball down on the infield, but with her lying on the ground and back to the plate, Doerffler rounded third and headed home, sliding in ahead of the tag to tie the game at 4-4, where it would remain for the next seven innings.
Weissenhofer earned her second win of the day with the stellar effort in relief, going 8.2 innings and allowing just the single run on three hits while striking out seven to improve to 17-10 on the season. Casey Crozier took the loss for Youngstown State to fall to 12-8, going all 13.2 innings in the circle for the Penguins and throwing 221 pitches. Valpo totaled a season-best 15 hits in the nightcap, as McShane went 4-for-6 to lead the way and Ranieri, Wallace and Bouchard all added three hits apiece as well. Ichiyama and senior Tori Brown (Harrison, Ohio/Harrison) both reached base three times as well thanks to a trio of walks each.
The opener proved to be little more than an appetizer for the marathon to come in the end, finishing in a mere 81 minutes as compared to the three-hour, 19-minute nightcap. Weissenhofer went the distance in the opener for her first win of the day, scattering four hits and striking out 11 in the complete-game shutout. A leadoff double in the sixth by Snodgrass was the only baserunner the freshman allowed past first base in the win.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders scored single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to secure the victory. The eventual game-winning run scored in the bottom of the fourth, as a walk by Ranieri and infield singles from Wallace and Marinec loaded the bases with one out. Two batters later, Brown grounded a ball deep into the five-six hole, where the only play for the YSU shortstop was to attempt to force the runner at third. But Wallace beat the throw and Ranieri crossed the plate to give Valpo a 1-0 lead.
A similar situation presented itself in the fifth, as a Doerffler single, Ranieri walk and Wallace single loaded the bases with one away. Ichiyama grounded a ball into the five-six hole, but again the only play for YSU’s shortstop was to third, and the fielder’s choice grounder plated Doerffler with the insurance run. Valpo capped the scoring in the sixth as Brown connected on a solo homer with one out, her third round-tripper of the year.
Hana Somogyi tossed a complete game for Youngstown State (15-25, 8-12 Horizon) in the opener, falling to 2-11 on the season. Brown and Wallace each had two hits apiece in the winning effort, while Ranieri reached in all three of her plate appearances.
Valparaiso (29-23, 11-8 Horizon) closes out the regular season with the final game in the series against the Penguins Sunday. First pitch is slated for noon at the Valparaiso University Softball Field, with a win guaranteeing the Crusaders the third seed in the upcoming Horizon League Championship. It will be Senior Day as well, with Valpo’s four graduating seniors being honored prior to the game.
“Tomorrow's a new day - we have got to come out with a good mindset,” said Stevens. “It’s going to be important for us for seeding to go out with a victory Sunday.”