Valparaiso (5-18, 0-0 Horizon)
Saturday, Mar. 22 - at Youngstown State (12-9, 0-0 Horizon) - noon CT [DH]
Sunday, Mar. 23 - at Youngstown State - 11 a.m.
Next Up in Crusader Softball: The Valparaiso softball team looks to get Horizon League play off on the right foot this weekend as the Crusaders open the league slate with a three-game series at Youngstown State. The opening series is a rematch of last season’s final day of the Horizon League Championship, when Valpo downed the Penguins twice to claim the league title.
Following the Crusaders: Live stats will be available for all three of this weekend’s games - links will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Jordan Stevens: In his fourth season at the helm of the Valparaiso softball program, Jordan Stevens has led the Crusaders to new heights through his first three years, as Valpo has captured the Horizon League Championship each of the last two seasons and earned the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win last year. Stevens enters this weekend with a 116-85-1 record at the helm of the Crusaders.
Series Notes: Valpo owns a 27-7 advantage in the all-time series over the Penguins and went 4-2 in six meetings with YSU last year. Three of those matchups came at the Horizon League Championship, where YSU run-ruled the Crusaders in the opener before Valpo came back to earn 2-1 and 11-9 wins on Championship Saturday to win the league title. The Crusaders have not played the Penguins in Youngstown since Apr. 17, 2011, sweeping YSU 4-2 and 14-11 that day.
Crusaders Picked Atop Preseason Poll: For the first time since joining the Horizon League, Valparaiso has been chosen atop the league’s preseason poll, conducted by the league’s head coaches. The Crusaders, defending tournament champions, narrowly edged out UIC, which won the regular season last year, for the top spot in the polling. Both teams received four first-place votes, while Valpo finished with 46 points and UIC 45 points.
A Challenging Schedule: The Crusaders’ 2014 schedule will prepare the team well for Horizon League play, featuring at least ten games against NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago. Valpo is currently slated to take on four teams ranked nationally as well. The Crusaders lost a narrow-one run game to #20/20 Louisiana early in the season, and faced #10/9 Arizona in the first weekend of their spring break trip. Valpo took on #2/4 Oregon out in Hawaii last weekend, and a matchup against #25/24 Notre Dame awaits later this spring.
Experience Returns in the Lineup...: Valpo returns six of its nine most regular starters from last year’s Horizon League championship squad for the 2014 campaign. In fact, six of the seven players who started 50 or more of the Crusaders’ 62 games return, with the only departure among that group being Joylyn Ichiyama, who now serves as an assistant coach. The Crusaders also lost Brittany Duncan, who led the team in batting average, to transfer.
...and in the Circle: One year after returning just 1.2 innings of work at pitcher from the previous year, Valpo returns 83.4% of its innings pitched from the 2013 squad this season. The only loss in the circle was graduated senior Amanda Bolton, who saw 69.1 innings of work last season. Taylor Weissenhofer, Sierra Pico and Ashlyn Michalak combined to throw 347.1 innings last year.
Schedule Adjustments: The brutal Northwest Indiana winter has already forced a number of schedule changes to the Crusaders’ slate. Valpo’s scheduled home opener against Western Michigan was postponed from the 19th and will be made up later this spring. The game at Eastern Illinois, originally slated for the 26th, will now be played on Thursday, March 27. In addition, Valpo’s suspended game against Indiana from the Arizona tournament could still be completed later this spring as well.
McShane Earns All-Tournament Award: Junior Tarah McShane represented the Crusaders last weekend on the All-Tournament Team at the Rainbow Wahine Classic. McShane tallied a base hit against James Madison and picked up a run-scoring hit versus #2/4 Oregon. Then on Friday, the junior led the way in Valpo's win over BYU, knocking in a run with a single as part of a three-run fifth inning before stepping to the plate with the game tied in the seventh and connecting on a two-run homer to secure the 6-4 win. McShane is the second Crusader to earn All-Tournament honors this spring [Wisniewski - Louisiana].
Weissenhofer Rounding Into Form: After early-season struggles, sophomore pitcher Taylor Weissenhofer - College Sports Madness’ preseason HL Pitcher of the Year - seems to be rounding into form approaching league play. Over her last three appearances out in Hawaii, Weissenhofer gave up just one run in 7.2 innings of work in the circle, including three shutout innings against #2/4 Oregon. She surrendered just five hits over that stretch while striking out seven batters.
All or Nothing: Once per tournament so far this season, the Crusaders have had a big offensive explosion of at least six runs, with last weekend’s coming in a 6-4 win over BYU. But Valpo has also struggled offensively in a number of games, as 23 games into the year, the Crusaders have been shut out on nine occasions and have also scored just one run three other times.
Record-Setting Game: Quite simply, the Crusaders shattered a number of records in their 24-1 win over Seton Hall on opening weekend. The 24 runs easily set a program record for runs scored, besting the mark of 18, done twice before - most recently against Detroit in 2010. The 24 RBIs and 23-run margin of victory were both records as well, while the 21 hits and 34 total bases are records dating back to at least 1998 (as far back as single-game records are available).
And Individually...: Tarah McShane went a perfect 5-of-5 in the win over the Pirates, becoming the first Crusader since 1998 to post a five-hit game. Janelle Bouchard drove in a career-high seven runs, matching the program’s single-game mark since 1998. In addition, Bouchard, Kaitlyn Ranieri and Sam Stewart all scored four runs to match that record as well.