Valparaiso held Youngstown State without a field goal for the final 6:47 of the game, and the defense propelled the Crusader offense into a late 10-0 run as the Brown and Gold defeated the Penguins 70-59 on Saturday evening in Youngstown, Ohio.
With the victory, Valpo remains in a tie for fifth place in the Horizon League standings, and have virtually clinched a bye for the first round of the Horizon League Tournament. The Crusaders have also pulled within a half game of third place in the league.
Valpo started the game hitting five of its first eight shots from the floor, building a 12-5 lead just four minutes into the contest. Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztacace H.S.) scored eight straight points for the Crusaders during one stretch as the lead grew to nine, 19-10, at the 11:57 mark.
The Crusaders maintained the nine-point advantage, 25-16, before the Penguins defense held Valpo to just two field goals over the final six minutes of the first half. Youngstown State took advantage, with an 18-7 run to close the half, rallying to take a 37-34 lead.
The Brown and Gold scored the first five points out of the break, and made four of their first five shots of the second half to retake the lead. The lead bounced back and forth for most of the second half, with neither team being able to grab more than a three-point advantage until Aimee Litka’s (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph’s H.S.) jumper put the Crusaders in top 58-53 with 7:02 to play in the game.
After Heather Karner hit her three-pointer of the game for the Penguins with 6:47 left, Valpo kept the hosts from scoring from the field the rest of the way. The Crusaders slowly extended the lead, pushing it to six with just under five minutes to play on a Kulaga jumper.
“The second half we were certainly solid defensively,” head coach Keith Freeman said afterwards. “Offensively, I really liked us outscoring them 40-6 in the paint (for the game).”
A Sarah Ott (Chippewa Falls, Wis./Chippewa Falls H.S.) lay-in with 2:25 to play gave Valpo a double-digit advantage for the first time in the game, and Launa Hochstetler (Berlin, Ohio/Hiland H.S.) added two free throws for the Crusaders’ largest lead of the game, 68-56, with 2:07 to play and the Crusaders won back-to-back games on the road for the first time this season.
“It was nice putting two games back-to-back on the road together and be solid defensively,” Freeman said.
Kulaga led the Crusaders in scoring with 14 points while Hochstetler added 13 points, eight assists, and four steals. Litka had 11 points and five assists for the Crusaders in the win. Whitney Farris (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.) grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
“We had good balanced scoring tonight and Whitney Farris did a great job rebounding the basketball,” said Freeman.
Karner led Youngstown State (12-15, 7-9 Horizon League) with 21 points while Jessica Schloemp had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Valparaiso (14-14, 9-8) will close out the 2007-2008 regular season next Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, Ind. against Butler. Tip-off against the Bulldogs is set for 11 a.m. CST, earlier than previously announced, with all the action available on WVUR (95.1-FM, Valparaiso) and on the Horizon League Network.