Valparaiso (26-23, 12-13 MVC)
May 11-12 - at MVC Tournament (Des Moines, Iowa)
Next Up in Crusader Softball: The Valparaiso University softball team heads to the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament for the first time this week, as the Crusaders travel to Des Moines for the postseason event. The fourth seed, Valpo needs three victories to capture the single-elimination tournament and claim the conference championship in its first season of MVC play.
Previously: Valpo closed the regular season on a high note last weekend, traveling on the road to Illinois State and taking two of three games from the Redbirds. Kelsie Packard picked up both wins in the circle for the Crusaders to continue her recent strong run.
Following the Crusaders: The entirety of the MVC Tournament will be broadcast live on ESPN+, available through the newly-redesigned ESPN app and online for $4.99/month. Live stats for all tournament games will be available via ValpoAthletics.com 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 88 victories (88-115). 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. She played her collegiate softball at fellow MVC member Illinois State and is a 2005 graduate of ISU.
Series Records: Indiana State - 0-3 this year, 2-11 overall (Last meeting before this year: 2010)
Bradley - 3-0 this year, 4-4 overall (Last meeting before this year: 2004)
Drake - 0-2 this year, 1-7 overall (Last meeting before this year: 2015)
Missouri State - 2-1 this year, 3-3 overall (Last meeting before this year: 2010)
Southern Illinois - 1-1 this year, 1-2 overall (Last meeting before this year: 2005)
UNI - 1-2 this year, 1-8 overall (Last meeting before this year: 2012)
Illinois State - 2-1 this year, 2-3 overall (Last meeting before this year: 1995)
Outperforming the Projections: Valparaiso entered its first season of MVC play picked in the preseason poll to finish in ninth position, but closed strong to finish the regular season in fourth place, five spots above the preseason pick. The Crusaders matched Indiana State (picked 10th, finished fifth) for the best performance relative to their preseason pick.
Making the Leap: Valpo’s fourth-place regular season finish is all the more impressive when you consider the jump in conferences the Crusaders made this year, moving from the Horizon League to the MVC. The Horizon League is currently ranked 28th nationally based on RPI league rankings, while the Valley is ranked 12th. Every MVC team has a stronger RPI than all but one Horizon League team as well.
Closing the Season Strong: Valpo rolls into the Valley tournament with plenty of momentum, as the Crusaders won seven of their final eight conference games of the season - winning a doubleheader at Loyola, sweeping a three-game set from Bradley and taking two of three at Illinois State. Prior to the Loyola twinbill, Valpo was in last place in the MVC standings, a full three games out of fourth place with five additional teams to leapfrog.
Reeling Off the Wins: The leap to fourth was driven by the Crusaders’ six-game winning streak versus MVC teams. You have to go back to 2012, when Valpo started Horizon League play with 13 consecutive wins, to find a longer winning streak for the Crusaders against conference opposition.
Success in the Tournaments: While this week marks Valpo’s first experience with the MVC Tournament, the Crusaders have had more than a modicum of recent success in postseason play. Valpo claimed the Horizon League Tournament championship in three of its final six years in the league and owned a 19-8 mark in tournament play over that span. Current head coach Kate Stake led the Crusaders to the 2016 tournament title, and while the league tournament format was double-elimination, the Crusaders swept through the tournament that season with a perfect 4-0 record.
Leader of the Pack: Junior Kelsie Packard, who was MVC Pitcher and Newcomer of the Week for the penultimate week of the regular season, continued her stellar recent run of performances in conference play against Illinois State, tossing a pair of complete games and surrendering just one run to the Redbirds. Packard finished off the regular season by winning her last five starts against MVC opponents and gave up just two runs combined in those five complete-game victories, finishing the year 6-3 with a 1.78 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 67 innings of work in Valley play.
Grossmann Finishing Strong: Senior Kenzie Grossmann has been a consistent presence in the circle for the Crusaders in her final season. The senior has allowed just two earned runs combined over her last four starts and has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 21 of her 23 starts this season. Grossmann currently boasts a season ERA of 1.69, which ranks third in the Valley and would be fifth-best in a single season in program history and the best single-season mark since 1990. She also owns 13 victories, just one shy of Valpo’s single-season top-10. Her 33 career wins ranks seventh in program history, while Grossmann moved into the career top-10 in strikeouts late this season as well and is 10th all-time at Valpo with 206 K’s.
On the Charts: Grossmann is one of many Crusader seniors who are looking to close out their careers among Valpo’s top-10 all-time in various categories. Taylor Lawson swiped her 24th base of the year against Illinois State - fifth-best in a season in program history - and now has 69 career stolen bases, third-most all-time at Valpo. Lawson also is sixth in Crusader history in runs scored (117) and seventh in hits (181). Meanwhile, a trio of seniors - Jasmine Ramirez, Brenna Boyle and Jenna Stauffenberg - are poised to finish their time at Valpo among the top-10 in career fielding percentage, while Ramirez also ranks sixth with 664 career putouts and Stauffenberg is 10th with 571 putouts.
Trepanier Gets Things Started: Junior Carly Trepanier returned to the leadoff spot in the Crusader order a few weeks ago and has led the way from the top of the lineup since then. Over Valpo’s last 12 games, Trepanier is hitting .447 (17-for-38) with six runs scored and nine RBIs. She is slugging at a .684 clip over that stretch, picking up five doubles and a pair of triples, and has also walked four times as well for a .512 on-base percentage. Trepanier now owns an MVC-best five triples on the season, second-most in a single season in program history.