The Valparaiso University baseball team came within one out of opening the season with a victory on Friday afternoon in Bowling Green, Ky., but Western Kentucky’s Kaleb Duckworth belted a walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Hilltoppers a 6-5 victory over the Crusaders.
How It Happened
- After throwing out 32.7 percent of would-be base stealers last season, Valpo catcher Scott Kapers (Schererville, Ind. / Mt. Carmel) wasted no time in showing off his arm this year. Western Kentucky leadoff man Colie Currie worked a walk to start the bottom of the first, but was quickly erased by Kapers when he tried to steal second.
- Kapers came to the dish in a key moment in the top of the second inning, facing Western Kentucky starter Ryan Thurston with two on and two outs. Both runners on base had reached via free passes – one walk and one hit batsman. Kapers belted a tape-measure home run to left, putting Valpo ahead 3-0.
- The Hilltoppers manufactured a run in the bottom of the inning when Kevin Lambert lashed a leadoff single and eventually crossed the dish on a sacrifice fly by Steven DiPuglia.
- The Crusaders boosted the lead back to three when Giovanni Garbella (San Diego, Calif. / Cathedral Catholic) and Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif. / Oaks Christian) drilled back-to-back two-out doubles in the third.
- The Hilltoppers wasted a leadoff double in the third, then let a bases-loaded, one-out chance slip away in the fourth. Currie rolled into a 4-6-3 twin killing to conclude the inning.
- After Losi posted another goose egg in the fifth, sophomore Sam Shaikin (West Hills, Calif. / Chatsworth) led off the sixth by clubbing a solo homer off reliever Devon Loomis to make it 5-1 Crusaders.
- Losi notched the first out of the sixth inning, but then issued back-to-back walks, spelling his departure. Luke VanLanen (Pulaski, Wis. / Pulaski) entered from the Valpo bullpen and eventually surrendered a two-out, two-run double to Currie, with both runs charged to Losi.
- With Valpo still leading 5-3, VanLanen found himself in a jam with runners at first and third and nobody out in the seventh. Valpo head coach Brian Schmack summoned fifth-year senior Ellis Foreman (Round Rock, Texas / Stony Point) for his season debut. Foreman artfully escaped the jam by virtue of a fly out and a line-drive double play.
- Foreman sustained his success in the eighth, mowing down the Hilltoppers in order.
- Back-to-back one-out bases on balls handed the Crusaders a scoring chance in the top of the ninth, but Jake Hanson and Shaikin lifted consecutive fly balls to center to end the threat. The Crusaders still led 5-3 with three outs to get.
- Freshman Jon Tieman (Crystal Lake, Ill. / Prairie Ridge) made his Valpo debut in a save situation. He struck out Currie to begin the frame, before Steven Kraft singled and Paul Murray doubled to slice the lead in half. Tieman induced a fly ball to center for the second out, allowing pinch runner Tyler Robertson to scoot to third. That set up Duckworth’s game ending big fly to left.
Inside the Game
- Shaikin and Palace both turned in multi-hit performances on Opening Day.
- Losi was charged with three earned runs on five hits and six walks over 5 1/3 innings in his first game as Valpo’s Friday starter.
- Foreman turned in Valpo’s most impressive pitching performance of the day with two clean innings out of the bullpen.
- Western Kentucky’s starter Thurston received no decision after allowing four runs on five hits while walking one and striking out five in 4 2/3 innings. The winning pitcher was Bailey Sutton in relief (0.2 IP, 0 R, 2 BB, 0 H), while Tieman (0.2 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 H) was charged with the defeat.
- Shaikin’s home run was the first of his collegiate career. Kapers’ round-tripper was his third in a Valpo uniform. After homering once in his first 43 college games, Kapers has now homered in two of his last three, as he went yard in the Horizon League semifinal against Milwaukee a year ago.
- The three RBIs matched a career high for Kapers. It was the first time he drove in three in a game since March 20, 2016 at Northern Kentucky.
The series continues on Saturday at 1 p.m. Central Time with junior college transfer RHP Wes Gordon slated to go for the Crusaders against Western Kentucky right-hander Cody Coll. This weekend’s games have a video feed available on WKUSports.tv. To access the online stream, fans must purchase a WKUSports.tv subscription ($9.95 monthly, $79.95 yearly). Links to live video and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com.