Valparaiso (17-25, 9-4 Horizon)
Tuesday, Apr. 22 - at Western Illinois (18-19-1, 4-8 Summit) - 3 p.m. [DH]
Thursday, Apr. 24 - at #22/21 Notre Dame (29-9, 9-4 ACC) - 5 p.m. CT
Saturday, Apr. 26 - at Wright State (13-27, 8-5 Horizon) - noon CT [DH]
Sunday, Apr. 27 - at Wright State - noon
Next Up in Crusader Softball: After three straight weeks of nothing but home games, the Valparaiso softball team plays six games in three different locations this week. A non-league doubleheader at Western Illinois and a single game at nationally-ranked Notre Dame set the Crusaders up for a huge Horizon League series this weekend at Wright State.
Following the Crusaders: Live stats for all six of this week’s games will be available through 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 128-92-1 record at the helm of the Crusaders.
Series Notes: Valpo is just 6-56 all-time against Western Illinois, but 1-1 under Stevens. The Leathernecks earned a 10-8 victory at Valpo last season in the last meeting. The Crusaders own an 11-32 record versus Notre Dame, but are looking for their first win over the Fighting Irish since 1989. Valpo fell two years ago at Notre Dame, 6-3, in the most recent meeting. Against Wright State, the Crusaders hold a 19-10 series advantage, including wins in all 10 meetings under Stevens - four of which came last season.
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 has prepared the team well for Horizon League play, featuring at least ten games against NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago. Valpo has already taken on three 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, and a matchup against #22/21 Notre Dame awaits this week.
Return to the Road: Getting on a bus to go play softball is a foreign concept for the Crusaders recently, as Valpo hasn’t played on the road since March 30. In fact, the Crusaders have played just five games over three days away from home since returning from Hawaii in mid-March. Valpo just wrapped up a three-week homestand, playing 14 games over nine days and going 10-4 over that stretch.
Top Two Teams Square Off: Valpo will travel to Dayton for a key three-game stretch against Wright State this weekend, a matchup of the top-two teams in the HL standings. With just two series remaining, the Crusaders are 9-4 and the Raiders are 8-5, meaning a series win would put Valpo at least two games up on Wright State. But plenty of other teams are lurking, with six of the league’s eight teams entering the week at .500 or better in league play.
Pair of Big Blows: Freshman Sam Stewart entered last weekend’s series against Oakland with just two home runs to her credit about 3/4 of the way through her rookie campaign. But Stewart doubled her season home run output versus the Grizzlies, connecting on two big blasts. She delivered a two-run homer in the series opener in the fourth inning, tying the game at three and jump-starting the Valpo offense as it scored 10 unanswered runs. Then, in Saturday’s opener, Stewart connected on a key insurance homer in the fifth which put the Crusaders up two runs in an eventual 2-1 win. For the weekend, Stewart went 3-for-9 with a team-best four RBIs.
Another Ho-Hum Week for Ranieri: It’s a rough week when going 4-for-9 with a pair of walks, a double and a homer lower a player’s slash lines within league play, but that was what happened for sophomore Kaitlyn Ranieri last week. Ranieri opened the series versus OU with a leadoff homer in the first and also drew two walks, scored two runs and drove in two. She then delivered an RBI double to open the scoring in Valpo’s 2-1 win in the middle game, and went 2-for-4 with a run scored in the finale. Ranieri now boasts a slash line of .571/.633/1.071 within Horizon League play and has scored 14 runs and driven in 18 in 13 games.
Winning the Close Games: Valpo entered its homestand just 1-4 in one-run games to that point in the season, but went 3-1 on the homestand in games decided by a single tally, including 2-1 in Horizon League play. The Crusaders also played their first three extra inning games of the year during the homestand, going 2-1.
Coming From Behind: Of the Crusaders’ first seven wins of the season, in only one of them - the win over BYU in Hawaii - did Valpo trail at any point after its first turn at-bat. But during the 14-game homestand, over their 10 wins, the Crusaders had to rally for victories six times, including overcoming multi-run deficits in five of the wins. Valpo was a perfect 5-0 on the homestand when scoring first and was 5-4 when the opponent scored first, after entering the stretch 1-19 on the year when the opponent was first to score.
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).