Valparaiso scored three runs in the seventh and added three more in the eighth inning to come from behind and defeat Southern Utah 8-3 on Friday afternoon at Emory G. Bauer Field to open up a key four-game Mid-Continent Conference series.
With the victory, the Crusaders moved within one win of earning a spot in the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament for the first time since 2003 and remain in third place in the league standings with three games to play.
Trailing 3-2 heading into the home half of the seventh inning, John Giusti (Coventry, R.I./Coventry H.S.) led off the inning being hit by a pitch. Jeff Rickert (Hamilton, Ohio/Fairfield H.S.) reached on a bunt single to put runners on first and second. Michael Arensdorff (Eldridge, Iowa/North Scott H.S.) laced a run-scoring double down the rightfield line to tie the game. For the senior, it was his 56th career two-bagger, tying him with Mark Pedersen for second on Valpo's career doubles list. After an infield groundout, Ryan Manthei (Kenosha, Wis./Tremper H.S.) singled through the drawn in infield to put the Crusaders in front 5-3.
The Crusaders added three insurance runs in the eight. Josh Piazza (Glenview, Ill./Notre Dame H.S.), who went 3-for-4 in the contest, led off the inning with a homer down the leftfield line. After two were out, Rickert and Arensdorff both reached and Zach Rodeghero (New Lenox, Ill./Providence Catholic H.S.) drilled his second double of the game down the leftfield line to plate the two runners.
Valpo jumped in front in the opening inning, as Manthei singled home Rickert. Manthei drove in three runs on the afternoon while Rickert crossed home plate three times. Southern Utah took the lead in the third, scoring on an error and a Kelii Zablan RBI double to put the Thunderbirds in front 2-1.
A Brian Rzepka (South Bend, Ind./Penn H.S.) fielder's choice scored Rodeghero in the bottom of the third to quickly retie the game at two. A triple to centerfield by Kelii Zablan, who was just a homer away from the cycle for the Thunderbirds, put the visitors in front again in the top of the seventh before Valpo quickly struck in the bottom of the inning to go ahead for good.
Nick Mazzone (Carol Stream, Ill./Glenbard North H.S.) worked 7.2 innings to earn the victory (4-6), allowing just two earned runs and nine hits while fanning three. Dallas Cawiezell (Long Grove, Iowa/North Scott H.S.) came on and recorded the final four outs to earn his sixth save of the season and ninth of his career, tying him for third with Adam Paetznick on the career saves list at Valparaiso.
Mac Nelson (2-9) suffered the loss for Southern Utah, pitching seven innings and allowing six runs on nine hits.
Valparaiso (18-32, 7-10 Mid-Con) and Southern Utah (11-42, 6-11) will continue their weekend series and the battle for Mid-Con Tournament berths on Saturday afternoon at Emory G. Bauer Field. First pitch is set for 12 p.m. with all the action carried live on WVUR (95.1-FM, Valparaiso) and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.