Valparaiso (17-18, 4-9 MVC)
April 18 (DH) - vs. Loyola (19-18, 5-8 MVC)
April 21 (DH) and 22 - vs. Evansville (11-26, 4-10 MVC)
Next Up in Crusader Softball: A key week is on tap for the Valparaiso University softball team, as the Crusaders play host to five Missouri Valley Conference games. Valpo welcomes Loyola in mid-week action on Wednesday afternoon before Evansville comes to town for a three-game series this weekend.
Previously: The Crusaders earned a 4-0 win over Fort Wayne in non-conference action last Wednesday and then headed to Iowa, making a brief pit stop in Des Moines before their games against Drake got moved to the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Valpo fell in both games against the conference-leading Bulldogs, 4-0 and 2-1, with the third game cancelled due to weather.
Following the Crusaders: Live stats for all five games this week will be available via ValpoAthletics.com. All five games will have audio broadcasts on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) and online as well.
Head Coach Kate Stake: Kate Stake was hired as head coach of the Valparaiso softball program on July 23, 2014 and is in her fourth season as head coach, owning 79 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: Loyola - The Ramblers are Valpo’s third-most common opponent in program history, as the two teams have met 62 times. Loyola holds a 38-24 advantage in the all-time series. The two teams shared conference affiliation in the Horizon League from 2008-2013, with the Ramblers owning a slight 11-10 edge in that time. The only meeting since then came last season in Chicago, a 4-3 Loyola win in eight innings.
Evansville - Valpo is just 3-12 all-time versus Evansville, but the two programs have not met since the 1998 season.
Scouting the Opposition: Loyola - The Ramblers enter Wednesday’s doubleheader just over .500 overall at 19-18, and with a 5-8 record in MVC play after taking two of three last weekend from UNI. Portage H.S. product Kiley Jones leads the Loyola pitching staff with a 14-7 record and a 1.98 ERA, while Shannon McGee paces the offense, hitting .414 with 26 runs scored.
Evansville - The Purple Aces own an 11-26 overall record and a 4-10 MVC record, with a Wednesday twinbill at Indiana State prior to visiting Valpo this weekend. Morgan Florey leads The Valley with 220 strikeouts and is 8-13 with a 2.05 ERA, while offensively, Eryn Gould hits .353 with 16 extra-base hits this year.
Crusaders Picked Ninth in Preseason Poll: Valpo was tabbed ninth in the 2018 Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll, picked to finish ahead of Indiana State in the preseason polling of the conference’s head coaches. Four different programs received at least two first place votes in the polling, with Illinois State edging out Southern Illinois and UNI for the top spot in the poll.
A New Journey: The Crusader softball program embarks on a new journey in 2018 as Valpo competes in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time. The conference move presents a challenging slate for the Crusaders, as each of the other nine MVC programs finished last season with an RPI ranking of 181 or better, whereas Valpo’s league opposition last season featured just one program with an RPI ranking better than 181.
Plenty of Experience Back: Valpo has welcomed back an experienced group for its first season of play in The Valley in 2018. 16 letterwinners return from last year’s squad, including seven starters on offense and a trio of pitchers who combined to throw nearly 88% of the team’s innings last season.
The Conference Race: With only eight of the 10 MVC teams making the conference tournament, the race to make the top eight is currently very tight. Only three games separate fourth place from tenth place just past the midway point of the conference schedule. While the Crusaders are just 4-9, they have already played four of the top five teams in the standings and their next nine conference games are against teams currently in the bottom half of the standings.
Returning Home: Having played just six home games to date, the Crusaders are slated to play 10 of their next 11 games at the Valpo Softball Complex over the next three weeks. Currently sitting with a 3-3 mark at home, Valpo has finished .500 or better at home in eight of the last nine seasons.
Packard Tosses a Shutout: Junior pitcher Kelsie Packard has become a regular starter for the Crusaders the second half of the season, and registered a first in mid-week action last week against Fort Wayne, throwing her first shutout in a Valpo uniform in the Crusaders’ 4-0 victory. Packard scattered five hits in the blanking and struck out a career-best eight Fort Wayne hitters. She followed with seven strikeouts in 5.1 innings of work against Drake on Sunday and has now struck out six or more batters in each of her last four starts.
Burke Leads It Off: Freshman Addi Burke was moved into the leadoff spot prior to the Crusaders’ mid-week game against Fort Wayne and showed well through one week atop the lineup, going 4-for-11 over Valpo’s three games. Burke had a multi-hit game against the Mastodons and also picked up a pair of hits in the nightcap against Drake, giving her a team-high nine multi-hit games on the season. She has also been strong at third base recently, committing just two errors over her last 25 starts at the hot corner.
Grossmann Stays Strong: Senior Kenzie Grossmann had another strong effort on Sunday in a tough-luck 2-1 loss against conference-leading Drake. Grossmann limited the Bulldogs, who came into the nightcap averaging better than five runs/game in conference action, to just two runs on four hits in a complete-game effort. The senior’s season ERA rose slightly to 1.76, but is still on pace for the best single-season ERA by a Valpo pitcher since 1990. As always, Grossmann got most of her outs on the ground against the Bulldogs, registering 14 ground-ball outs versus just one fly-ball out, and has now tallied 81 ground-ball outs and just six fly-ball outs in eight starts in Valley play.