It took two totally different paths to get there, but in the end, the result was the same, as the Valpo softball team earned a pair of one-run victories to close the Thundering Herd Round Robin on Sunday. Valpo bested Saint Francis (Pa.) early Sunday morning, 4-3, and then took down a perennially strong Marshall team with a rally in the tournament finale, 5-4.
How It Happened – Saint Francis (Pa.)
- Valpo jumped out to the lead in its first turn at-bat. Junior Taylor Herschbach (Lockport, Ill./Lockport Township) knocked a one-out single into right, and junior Taylor Tonoian (Saugus, Calif./Saugus) followed with a homer down the left-field line to give Valpo a 2-0 advantage.
- The Red Flash cut the lead in half with a solo homer in the top of the third, but Valpo got that run back immediately. Junior Peyton Moeder (Shawnee, Kan./Mill Valley) led off the bottom of the third with a base hit, stole second and eventually came home on an RBI groundout from sophomore Ryan Milkowski (Olathe, Kan./Olathe West).
- The speed of Moeder once again played a part as Valpo added to its lead in the fifth inning. The junior led off the frame with an infield single and swiped second for the second time on the day. Herschbach followed with a run-scoring single to push Valpo’s lead to 4-1.
- Saint Francis put together a rally in the top of the sixth, loading the bases with nobody out and then scoring two runs on a combination fielder’s choice and Valpo error.
- With the lead down to 4-3 and two runners in scoring position with nobody out, sophomore Easton Seib (Blue Springs, Mo./Blue Springs South) bore down to maintain the advantage. Seib induced a pair of infield pop-ups around a huge strikeout to keep the Red Flash from tying the game or taking the lead.
- Seib recorded the first two outs of the seventh without issue before a single and a walk put the potential tying run in scoring position, but the sophomore came through with one last big pitch, getting a fly ball to center to close out the victory.
How It Happened – Marshall
- After jumping out to a lead and holding on for the win in the opener, Valpo faced the opposite scenario in its second game against the Thundering Herd in as many days.
- Marshall jumped out to a 4-0 lead through three innings, getting a two-run homer in the first, a solo homer in the second and a two-out RBI single in the third.
- Valpo cracked the scoreboard in the fourth frame. Milkowski notched a one-out single, senior Addi Burke (Mesquite, Texas/John Horn) moved her over to third with a two-bagger, and senior Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) laid down a perfect squeeze to plate Milkowski to make it a 4-1 game.
- The Thundering Herd threatened to get that run back and potentially more in their half of the fourth, putting two runners in scoring position with just one out. But freshman Caitlin Kowalski (Temperance, Mich./Notre Dame Academy) reared back and registered back-to-back strikeouts to keep those runners adhered to their respective bases.
- The rally continued in the fifth inning, kicked off by a pair of rookies. Freshman Regi Hecker (Lee’s Summit, Mo./Blue Springs South) led off the inning with an infield single, and fellow rookie Kayla Skapyak (Macomb, Mich./Dakota) used her speed to reach on an infield hit as well. Later in the inning, with both in scoring position and two out, Tonoian knocked a single into left-center to score both and cut the deficit to 4-3.
- Valpo evened the score in the top of the sixth. Burke led off the inning with a single and moved to second on a double from Anderson. Two batters later, with a runner on third and less than two out, Hecker got the job done, lifting the ball into left for a sacrifice fly which plated Burke to make it 4-4.
- The decisive run came for Valpo in the top of the seventh. Herschbach worked a one-out walk, Tonoian fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches before recording a single and Milkowski took ball four on a full count to load the bases with one away. Burke swung at the first pitch she saw and hit a sharp grounder to the Marshall third baseman, who made a nice diving stop. But her attempt to come home for the force wasn’t able to be corralled by the catcher as Herschbach touched the plate to put Valpo in the lead.
- Marshall put the potential tying run on base in the bottom of the seventh via a two-out walk, but a grounder to third closed out the game in Valpo’s favor.
Inside the Games
- Valpo won two games in the same day for the first time since defeating Lipscomb and Buffalo on March 10, 2019.
- Sunday’s two wins both came over quality opponents. Saint Francis entered the game with a 9-2 record this year, while the Brown and Gold handed Marshall its first loss, as it was 6-0 prior to the game.
- The Marshall win is an especially strong one, as the Thundering Herd went 18-7 last year and have been a top-100 RPI team in each of the last five full seasons.
- Valpo’s rally from four down for the win over Marshall was the program’s biggest rally since overcoming a five-run deficit for a victory against Indiana State on April 20, 2019.
- Impressively, Valpo scored in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings of the come-from-behind win over the Thundering Herd. That marked the first time the Brown and Gold have scored in each of those four frames in a victory since they scored the final nine runs of their comeback from down 12 runs in that span to win 13-12 over Youngstown State on April 14, 2012.
- One day after tallying a multi-hit game against Marshall, Herschbach was a perfect 3-for-3 in the win over Saint Francis – one of six Valpo players to post a multi-hit game in one of the two victories Sunday.
- Moeder went 2-for-3 in the win over the Red Flash, stealing two bases and scoring two runs.
- Tonoian’s home run against Saint Francis was her second long ball in as many weekends. After not homering in the first 62 games of her career, Tonoian has three home runs in her last seven games.
- Milkowski reached base twice in the win over SFU, going 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI.
- Seib earned her first victory of the year with the complete-game effort against the Red Flash, giving up just two earned runs and striking out five.
- Valpo pounded out a season-best 10 hits in the victory over Marshall, with four players recording multi-hit games.
- Hecker was a perfect 2-for-2 with a double and a sacrifice fly in the win, while Tonoian drove in two more runs on two hits.
- Both of Valpo’s seniors registered a pair of hits in the weekend’s finale, with both Burke and Anderson counting a double among their base knocks.
- Kowalski shut Marshall down over the final four innings to improve to 3-2 on the year, striking out five batters in the complete-game victory.
Thoughts From Coach Stake
“Last night, we installed some adjustments into the offensive side of the game. Credit to our players for jumping in with both feet and buying right into it. I think the changes helped, but I think their buy-in itself helped as well.”
“Marshall beat us soundly yesterday, and they can flat out hit, so going down four runs against them could have deflated us — but it didn’t. The team wrestled the momentum away from Marshall and then hung onto it through the final out. I’m glad we won, of course, but the way we won is why I’m so proud of them today. That’s the team we went to be and expect to be.”
“I told the team the other day that in order to beat Marshall and Saint Francis, at least six of our starting 10 had to play great. We couldn’t have a lot of holes in the lineup or miscues on defense/pitching to beat teams like that. Looking at the box scores, I think we accomplished that today.”
“Easton threw well against Saint Francis from start to finish, but she really showed her mettle in the sixth inning when they got the tying run to third with nobody out to prevent it from scoring. I’m really proud of Easton — she continues to be a steady and competitive presence in the circle for us.”
“I have to give a shout-out to our two student managers, Alex Dixon and Gabi Westphal. They took on a ton of administrative responsibility this week, which allowed the coaching staff to spend more energy on coaching. There is no doubt that the work they put in this week contributed to our success.”
Valpo (4-6) will not play its originally scheduled home opener against Western Illinois on Wednesday afternoon, as that game has been canceled. Valpo will close out pre-conference play at Louisville this coming weekend with one game against the host Cardinals and two versus WKU.