Valparaiso (6-2, 0-0 Horizon)
Wednesday, March 8 - at #9/11 Alabama (19-2, 0-0 SEC)
March 10-12 - at Leon Smith Classic (Oxford, Ala.)
Next Up in Crusader Softball: The Valparaiso University softball team faces a perennial national championship contender in mid-week action as the Crusaders face #9/11 Alabama. Valpo will move on to the Leon Smith Classic over the weekend, hosted by SE Missouri State in Oxford, Ala., where the Crusaders will take on Belmont, Tennessee State, Eastern Illinois and Alabama State in addition to host SE Missouri State.
Previously: The Crusaders went 2-2 last weekend at the Purple/Gold Challenge at Nashville, Tenn. Valpo bookended the weekend with victories over Stony Brook, while dropping decisions on Saturday to Lipscomb and Eastern Illinois.
Looking Ahead: Valpo will close out its early-season schedule March 17-18 at the Hawkeye Invitational, facing four games in a two-day span.
Following the Crusaders: Wednesday's game at Alabama will be broadcast live on the SEC Network+, ESPN3, WatchESPN and the ESPN app. Select games this weekend will have live stats, while all league home games will will be available on ESPN3 and the ESPN apps.
Head Coach Kate Stake: Kate Stake was hired as head coach of the Valparaiso softball program on July 23, 2014 and is in her third season as head coach, owning 40 victories. Stake led the Crusaders to the 2016 Horizon League Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament - the third in program history. Stake arrived at Valpo with eight seasons of assistant coaching experience at the Division I level, most recently serving as an assistant at mid-major power Hofstra.
Series Notes: Wednesday night's game marks the first matchup all-time for Valpo against the Crimson Tide. This weekend, the Crusaders will face Tennessee State for the first time. Versus their other opponents, the Crusaders are 1-2 all-time versus Belmont, 4-1 against SE Missouri State, 3-13 versus Eastern Illinois and 2-0 against Alabama State.
Crusaders Picked Third in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in third place in the Horizon League standings in 2017 in the preseason poll, as picked by the league’s head coaches. UIC claimed seven of the nine first-place votes and finished with 62 points, while Wright State received the other first-place nod and 55 total points. The Crusaders tallied 47 points in the polling.
Looking Back at 2016: The 2016 season saw Valpo make a run for the ages, as the Crusaders needed a win on the final day of the regular season just to make the Horizon League Championship. But once there, Valpo more than proved it belonged, rolling through the first three days of the tournament before rallying from a four-run deficit in the seventh inning to defeat Wright State and claim the Horizon League title and the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Returning award winners include Sam Stewart (league tournament MVP), Lanie Callaghan (league tournament batting champion) and Carly Trepanier (Second Team All-League; All-Tournament Team).
Experienced, Yet Youthful: The 2017 Crusader softball team features a distinct mix of veterans and newcomers. Seven starters return from last year's lineup, but the Crusaders also welcome nine first-year players to the program this season - seven of whom are true freshmen.
Best Start in Program History: The Crusaders' win over Stony Brook on Friday was their fifth consecutive to open the season, setting a new program record for the best start in team history at 5-0. Valpo had previously started 4-0 in 1986, 2000 and 2002, but all three of those squads dropped their fifth game of the season.
Taking On Ranked Opposition: Valpo is in search of its first victory over a nationally-ranked team under Kate Stake when it takes on Alabama on Wednesday. The Crusaders faced four top-25 teams last season, including a pair in the NCAA Tournament. The program's last win over a nationally-ranked foe came on March 15, 2008, when Valpo bested #23 Maryland in College Park, 7-5.
A Wild Win: Valpo closed out last weekend with a wild 10-9 victory over Stony Brook in Nashville. The Crusaders jumped out to a 7-0 lead through two innings before surrendering seven runs in the fourth inning. Valpo then plated three in the top of the sixth, and needed all three, as Stony Brook scored two in the seventh and had the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position. The nine runs surrendered were the most given up by Valpo in a win since defeating Youngstown State 11-9 in the 2013 Horizon League Championship title game, while the Crusaders tallied 15 hits - matching a season high and tying the most in a single game by a Crusader squad since February of 2014.
Trepanier Picks Up League Accolade: The Crusaders have played two weekends of softball and have had players earn Horizon League Player of the Week honors both weekends. Most recently, it was Carly Trepanier who was named Player of the Week on Monday for her performances in Nashville. Trepanier tallied multiple hits in all four games, including a three-hit effort versus Eastern Illinois. The sophomore hit .600 for the weekend (9-for-15) while also drawing a pair of walks and scoring four runs. Trepanier joins Sam Stewart, who was named Player of the Week on Feb. 20, as Crusaders honored by the league office this season.
Stewart's Hot Start: Senior Sam Stewart continued her terrific start to the 2017 campaign last weekend, as while she wasn't tabbed league Player of the Week for a second time, she still went 5-for-11 at the plate with three walks, three doubles and seven RBIs. On the year, Stewart is hitting .500 with four doubles, four home runs, six walks and 14 RBIs. She ranks fourth in the nation in slugging percentage (1.227), fourth in RBIs/game, fifth in home runs/game, 13th in on-base percentage (.621) and 27th in batting average.
Top Performances at the Plate: A trio of Crusaders had standout single-game performances in the opening weekend of action to help the Crusaders to a 4-0 start. Stewart connected for two home runs twice on Feb. 18, against both UMBC and North Carolina A&T - tying the Crusaders' single-game home run record. Meanwhile, in Valpo's victory over Howard, Taylor Lawson picked up a career-best four hits, matching the second-most hits in a single game dating back to 1999 (when the program's single-game record books begin). Junior Jenna Stauffenberg cleared the bases twice in that same game for six RBIs - third-most in a single game in that time span.
A Helping Hand: Sophomore Jaymee Lawton matched a program single-game best (since 1999) as well last weekend in the opener against Stony Brook. The Crusader shortstop recorded nine assists without committing an error, tying the most assists in a single game in that time span - accomplished previously by Joylyn Ichiyama in 2012 and Mallory Gill in 2005.
Going Yard: Valpo's bats turned up in a big way in the victory over North Carolina A&T on Feb. 18, as the Crusaders connected on five home runs - the most home runs in a single game in program history. Junior Jasmine Ramirez got things started with a homer in the second inning, followed the next frame by a round-tripper from Stewart. Freshman Gabby Magnifico made the first official at-bat of her career a memorable one, going yard in the fourth inning. Sophomore Carly Trepanier led off the seventh inning with a home run, and Stewart went deep later in the Crusaders' final turn at the plate to cap the scoring.