Valparaiso (10-18, 2-4 MVC)
at Michigan State (9-20, 3-5 Big Ten)
McLane Baseball Stadium (2,500) | East Lansing, Mich.
Friday, April 13, 11 a.m. CT (Game 1) – Tieman (R) vs. Landon (R)
Friday, April 13, To Follow (Game 2) – Ferketic (R) vs. Erla (R)
Saturday, April 14, noon CT – Gordon (R) vs. TBA
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will step outside of Missouri Valley Conference action this weekend for a three-game series against Big Ten foe Michigan State. This marks the second of three Big Ten squads Valpo will oppose this season, as they played Purdue earlier in the year and will visit Illinois next week. The Crusaders and Spartans altered this weekend’s slate to dodge raindrops and will now play a doubleheader on Friday and a single game on Saturday.
Last Time Out: The Crusaders scored in seven of their eight offensive innings, posted crooked numbers in five of the first six frames and plated seven runs in both the first and sixth on their way to a 23-5 rout of former Horizon League foe Milwaukee on a warm and windy Wednesday at Emory G. Bauer Field. Jayden Eggimann had a grand slam, finished a double shy of the cycle and drove in seven. Michael Mommersteeg was the winning pitcher after limiting the Panthers to three runs on six hits over six innings.
On the Air: All three games will air on BTN2Go ($) and the Spartan Sports Network. Links to live video, audio and stats will be available on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes: The Crusaders and Spartans haven’t met since 1994 and have locked horns just three times in the history of the programs. Michigan State has won two of the three games, but Valpo took the most recent matchup 8-6 on March 14, 1994 at the Derby City Classic in Louisville, Ky. The other two games took place in Lansing, a doubleheader on May 3, 1987.
Runs Upon Runs: The Crusaders enjoyed their most prosperous offensive showing since April 2, 2010 in Wednesday’s 23-5 win over Milwaukee. That marked Valpo’s highest run total since scoring 26 runs against Chicago State eight years ago. In addition, Valpo has reached the 20-run mark twice this season (W 20-6 vs. Holy Cross on Feb. 24) after not scoring 20 runs in a game in any of the previous seven seasons. Valpo had 18 hits in the win over the Panthers, equaling a season high set on March 3 at Grand Canyon.
Eggimann’s Extraordinary Effort: Jayden Eggimann launched a grand slam, a two-run triple and an RBI single in Wednesday’s win over Milwaukee, becoming the second Valpo player this season to drive in seven runs in a game. Only four players in the entire Missouri Valley Conference have enjoyed seven RBI games this year, and two of them are Crusaders as Zack Leone drove in seven on March 17 at Arkansas Pine Bluff. Eggimann also became the second Valpo player to hit a grand slam this year, joining Chase Dawson (March 16 at Arkansas Pine Bluff).
Driving in Seven: Eggimann and Leone have joined a list that includes four other Valpo players who have had seven or more RBIs in a Valpo game over the last 10 years. Jake Hanson had eight RBIs against Oakland on May 15, 2016, and a pair of Crusaders enjoyed seven RBI outputs in 2015 – Dustin Beasley (March 3 at Western Carolina) and Nate Palace (March 7 at USC Upstate). Before that, no Valpo player had seven RBIs in a game since Steven Scoby on April 14, 2010 against IU Northwest.
Grand Slam Tracker: Like many offensive areas, Valpo has seen a considerable uptick in grand slams over the last four seasons. Valpo had one total grand slam from 2009-2014, and now has eight from 2015-2018.
RBI Machine: Eggimann has climbed into the team lead with 28 RBIs out of the No. 9 spot in the batting order. He is tied for fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference in that area. The other five players in the top six in the league in RBIs all hit in the top four in their respective batting orders.
Going the Distance: Valpo starting pitcher Trey Ferketic hurled a 130-pitch complete game in the middle game of this past weekend’s series at Southern Illinois, limiting the Salukis to two runs on two walks and nine hits while striking out seven. Ferketic became the first Crusader to throw a complete game since April 23, 2017, when Ellis Foreman went the distance in a 9-0 win over Wright State.
Five-Hit Day: Blake Billinger racked up five hits in Valpo’s 6-2 win over Southern Illinois on Saturday. He became the second Valpo hitter to post a five-hit game this season, joining Chase Dawson, who went 5-for-6 against CSUN on March 2, a 14-13 loss. Valpo has two five-hit games this season after having one (Nolan Lodden, 2016) in the previous seven years combined. Furthermore, Billinger became the first Crusader since Justin Frane on April 3, 2010 against Chicago State to go 5-for-5 in a game.
More Billinger ‘Bits: With leading hitter Zack Leone sidelined by an injury, Blake Billinger stepped up in a big way in the three-game series at Southern Illinois. He and Chase Dawson combined for all five of Valpo’s hits in Sunday’s series finale, three of which belonged to Billinger. The junior college transfer has a team-leading 14 multi-hit games and also leads the club with four three-hit contests. Billinger ranks second in The Valley in doubles with 13, behind only Dallas Baptist’s Jameson Hannah (14).
Triple Time: Valpo’s Chase Dawson notched his fourth triple of the season on Sunday at Southern Illinois. He took over sole possession of the MVC lead with four triples on the season. In the process, the Valpo junior became the first Crusader since Andy Burns in 2013 to have four triples in a single season.
Quick Hits – Weekend Rotation
- Jon Tieman: Freshman All-American last season… Started his freshman year as Valpo’s closer before moving into the weekend rotation by season’s end… Became the first Valpo underclassman to get the Opening Day start for the Crusaders since Bryce Shafer in 2009. Six of Valpo’s last seven Opening Day starters had been seniors before Tieman got the ball at Alabama this season… Got the win on March 16 at Arkansas Pine Bluff after throwing eight innings and allowing seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits. The most impressive aspect of his start was that he struck out seven and issued no walks. The Crusaders didn’t allow any walks in that game, the first time they’d done that since April 23 of last season… One of his strongest starts of the season was when he pitched Valpo to a 9-2 win over the school’s instate rival Butler on March 23. He yielded two runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out four in 7 1/3 innings. Tieman did not allow a run over the first seven innings and both runs charged to him scored after he had left the game. He sent down 11 straight batters from the third to the sixth. Tieman's outing came against Big East foe Butler, a team that entered that game with a 16-3 record… Has allowed two walks or fewer in each of his last four starts… In the conference opener at Bradley he left in position for the win but wound up with no decision after allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits and two walks in seven innings… Has lasted seven innings or more in each of his last four starts… Took the loss after allowing six runs (three earned) in 7 1/3 innings in his most recent start on April 6 at Southern Illinois.
- Trey Ferketic: Valpo is his fourth school (Saddleback, Long Beach State, UC San Diego)… Didn’t pitch last spring and threw just 3 2/3 innings at UC San Diego in 2016… Has allowed just 36 hits in 40 2/3 innings… Went seven innings and allowed two runs on five hits and one walk on March 30 against Bradley, a game Valpo eventually won in 10 innings. He received no decision…. Became the first Valpo player this season to throw a complete game in a 6-2 win over Southern Illinois on April 7. He threw 130 pitches.
- Wes Gordon: Pitched in nine games, all starts, in his first year as a Crusader last season after transferring from Lake County (JUCO), but didn’t appear after April 14 due to an injury… Has issued only five walks in 34 2/3 innings this season… Left in position for the win in his first conference start, scattering seven hits and yielding two runs (one earned) while walking none in seven innings on April 1 against Bradley, but eventually received no decision… Worked four scoreless innings but was charged with five runs in the fifth in his most recent outing April 8 at Southern Illinois.
Player-by-Player Quick Hits – Position Players
- Chase Dawson, 2B: Had already surpassed his career high for RBIs in a single season before conference play even began. Had 15 RBIs in 52 games last season after having 17 in 49 games as a freshman. Hit a grand slam against Arkansas Pine Bluff on March 16… Hit .221 over the first 29 games last season before batting .364 over the final month (April 23 – May 24, 16 games), leading the team in batting average and on-base percentage (.364) during that stretch… Has led off and started at second base for Valpo every game this season… A local to Northwest Indiana – Andrean High School alum and Chesterton native… Has four triples this season, which ranks first in the MVC… First Valpo player with four triples since Andy Burns in 2013… Had a six-game slump where he went 0-for-19 before busting out of it with a hit last Saturday at Southern Illinois and followed with a two-hit day on Sunday against the Salukis.
- Sam Shaikin, SS: Was the only Crusader to start all 53 games last season. Has started all 27 games this year… Led Valpo in batting average at .317 a year ago… Has started at shortstop the last 16 games after starting the first 12 games at third base. Switched positions with Chad Jacob… Has batted second for Valpo in every game this season… Drilled his fourth home run of the year last Friday at Southern Illinois, equaling his season total from a year ago and lifting his career total to eight.
- Blake Billinger, LF: Was a unanimous first team all-conference selection in both seasons he played at Mission College (JUCO)… Has batted third and started in left field in every game this season… Hit a home run against Alabama in his first at-bat as a Crusader… Had a three-double game on March 2 vs. CSUN, becoming the first Valpo player with three doubles in a game since Andrew Quinnette on April 26, 2008 against Butler… Ranks second in the MVC in doubles with 13, behind only DBU’s Jameson Hannah (14)… Hit .769 (10-for-13) in a three-game series at Southern Illinois (April 6-8), becoming the first Crusader since 2010 to go 5-for-5 in a game… Saw his 16-game on-base streak snapped on Wednesday vs. Milwaukee.
- Giovanni Garbella, DH: Missed nine games with an injury this season … Entered April 9 of last season hitting .213 with no home runs and eight RBIs in 26 games and was a career .204 hitter over three years. He hit .380 the rest of the way with five home runs and 24 RBIs over the final 25 games of the season… Drove in a season-high four runs and launched his fourth homer of the season in Valpo’s 6-2 win on April 7 at SIU. The long ball was the 11th of his career.
- Zack Leone, 1B: Transferred to Valpo this season after having tremendous success from 2014-2017 at Susquehanna, where he was named an All-American by D3Baseball.com and the ABCA… Racked up 178 hits (fourth all-time), a .405 average (second all-time), 112 RBIs (second all-time), 49 doubles (program record), 18 home runs (second all-time), a .470 career OBP and a .641 career slugging percentage in his time at the Division III level… Valpo’s leading hitter at .423 in 20 games… Leads The Valley in batting average… Had seven RBIs in a game on March 17 at Arkansas Pine Bluff, becoming just the second player in the Missouri Valley Conference with a seven RBI game this season… Of his 23 RBIs, 21 have come with two outs. With runners in scoring position and two outs, Leone is hitting .611 (11-for-18) with 20 RBIs… Has missed the last four games with a hand injury.
- Chad Jacob, 3B: Before March 9 at Loyola Marymount, hadn’t started a game at third base since his freshman year in 2015, but has started at third every game since, switching positions with SS Sam Shaikin… Has played in every game this season after dealing with various injuries through his first three collegiate campaigns… Leader on Valpo’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee… Batted fifth for the first time this season and the second time in his career (2016) on Sunday at Southern Illinois.
- Scott Kapers, C: Missed three games this season before returning to the lineup on March 28 at Purdue after starting 52 of 53 games last season … Threw out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers last year and has upped that to 52.4 percent this year… Batted a team-best .378 over the final 14 games of 2017 and started this season with a .317 average over the first 18 games. Has made tremendous offensive strides since batting .196 as a freshman… Batted sixth for the first time this season at SIU on Sunday… Brother Jake, also a catcher, has signed his NLI to play at Valpo starting next season.
- Riley Dent, RF: Brother Ryan has played 10 minor league seasons in the Red Sox and Cubs organizations, reaching as high as Triple-A… Leads the team with 15 walks.
- Jayden Eggimann, CF: Has 28 RBIs after having 13 all of last season… Leads the team in RBIs and is tied for fifth in the league… The other five players in the Top 6 in the MVC hit in the top four spots in the batting order, while Leone bats ninth… Drilled a three-run homer in the ninth inning of an 11-7 victory over Grand Canyon on March 4. The homer was extra special for Eggimann, who started his collegiate career at Grand Canyon and is a native of the Phoenix area… Racked up seven RBIs on April 11 vs. Milwaukee, finishing a double shy of the cycle. Launched a first-inning grand slam in the win over the Panthers.
A Weekend To Remember: The Crusaders picked up several signature wins in the same day on Feb. 24 in Norman, Okla. Valpo upended host Oklahoma, a team ranked 28th nationally, 11-4 in the first game of the day, before routing Holy Cross 20-6. Both Oklahoma and Holy Cross reached the NCAA Tournament last season. The 20 runs in a game were Valpo’s most since April 2, 2010 (26 against Chicago State). The final game of the weekend in Norman saw the Crusaders take the Sooners to extra innings, but Oklahoma prevailed 3-2.
Ninth Inning Magic: On March 2 against CSUN – a neutral site game at GCU Ballpark in Phoenix – Valpo scored nine times in the top of the ninth to create a 13-13 tie. Chase Dawson capped the miraculous rally with a two-run homer, but CSUN walked off with a run in the bottom of the ninth for a 14-13 victory.
Walk-Off Winner: Valpo reversed the ghosts of years past on March 30 when Zack Leone crushed a three-run, walk-off home run, Valpo's first game-ending long ball in over 15 years. The swing that sent Valpo to a 5-2, 10 inning victory over Bradley for its first Missouri Valley Conference triumph also allowed the team to lay to rest the ghosts of the program's recent past. Three of the Crusaders’ first five losses this season came in walk-off fashion, while Valpo has been hurt by walk-off home runs in the past as well – most recently last year’s season opener at Western Kentucky and most notably a 2013 NCAA Tournament game against Indiana.
In The Other Dugout – Michigan State: The Spartans are coming off an 8-7 loss on Tuesday night as their rally from an eight-run deficit came up short, ending a three-game winning streak. Head coach Jake Boss Jr. earned his 300th win on April 30, becoming the fastest coach to 300 wins in program history. Michigan State has 21 players from the state of Michigan on its roster. No Spartan is hitting above .300 with Justin Antoncic leading the way at .294. Michigan State is hitting .242 as a team and owns a 4.42 team ERA.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his fifth season at the helm of the Crusaders. He led Valparaiso to 25 wins in his inaugural campaign, a school record for victories by a first-year skipper. The former big leaguer followed that up with a 22-win season in 2015, then guided the team to its first winning record since 2013 in 2016. In 2017, Schmack continued his success despite guiding a youthful roster that featured 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers. He led the Crusaders to 24 wins, including a strong finish to the regular season that saw them win eight of their last 11. Schmack, a member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, served as pitching coach/associate head coach at Valpo for seven seasons prior to his promotion.
Looking Back: Valpo finished 2017 with a 24-29 record and a 13-15 mark in the Horizon League. Three Crusaders earned all-league freshman team honors, the first time Valpo had three players on the all-freshman team since 2013 and the seventh straight year the Crusaders had multiple players on the all-freshman squad. After posting a 4-1 record, 2.93 ERA and seven saves, right-handed pitcher Jon Tieman was named a Freshman All-American, becoming the first Crusader to earn that high honor since shortstop Spencer Mahoney in 2012. The 2017 season also saw the Crusaders set the program record for team fielding percentage, as they put together a .971 fielding percentage that bested the previous mark of .968, which had stood since 1998. The Valpo offense has enjoyed a significant statistical uptick over the last three seasons. The Crusaders held a combined average of .279, slugging percentage of .387 and on-base percentage of .372 from 2015-2017, all improvements from a .265/.351/.337 slash line from 2012-2014.
Preseason Poll: The Crusaders were picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll in their first season in The Valley. Dallas Baptist is the preseason favorite to win the league and is ranked 18th nationally by D1Baseball.com, 20th by the NCBWA and 17th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Missouri State, picked second in The Valley, is ranked 35th nationally by the NCBWA and received 35 votes in the USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll.