April 25, 2018123456789RHE
Notre Dame31100100X6120
Win: Tommy Sheehan (2-4) 6.041134
Loss: Mommersteeg (1-1) 2.245430
Leone (VALPO) 503100
Nick Podkul (ND) 414110
Valpo Makes Annual Visit to Notre Dame on Wednesday
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Valpo Makes Annual Visit to Notre Dame on Wednesday
Michael Mommersteeg will start at Notre Dame for the second straight season on Tuesday.

Valparaiso (14-20, 4-5 MVC)
at Notre Dame (17-23, 8-13 ACC)

Frank Eck Stadium | Notre Dame, Ind.
Wednesday, April 25, 5 p.m. CT – Michael Mommersteeg (L) vs. Tommy Sheehan (L)

Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will be back in action on Wednesday as the Crusaders head to Notre Dame, Ind. to clash with the Fighting Irish, an instate foe from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Valpo will look to sustain the momentum from a successful week that saw the Crusaders win three of their four contests.

Last Time Out: After knocking off No. 25 Illinois 11-7 last Tuesday, the Crusaders enjoyed their first conference series win as members of the Missouri Valley Conference, taking two of three at Evansville over the weekend. Each of Valpo’s series in Valley play have hinged on a Sunday rubber match, and this past weekend was no exception after Valpo won Friday’s opener 7-2 and dropped Saturday’s middle-game 9-8. The Crusaders prevailed 6-1 in the Sunday finale to come home with a series victory.

On the Air: Tuesday’s game will be available on ACC Network Extra and Notre Dame radio. Links to live video, audio and stats are available on ValpoAthletics.com. 

Series Notes: The Fighting Irish own a 74-21 edge in the all-time series, which started in 1958. The Fighting Irish are on the Valpo schedule for the seventh consecutive season. The 2011 season is the only one since 2000 the two teams haven’t met at least once. The Crusaders knocked off the Fighting Irish in 2012, but have dropped six straight since. Notre Dame beat Valpo 10-3 a year ago with Giovanni Garbella notching two of his team’s five hits.

Welcome to the Watch List: Valpo shortstop Sam Shaikin was named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List, which was announced by the College Baseball Foundation late last week. The honor puts Shaikin in elite company, a group of 53 of the most talented athletes in Division I college baseball. The award honors the nation’s top shortstop and will be presented this summer. The award is named after former Texas Tech shortstop Brooks Wallace, who played for the Red Raiders from 1977-1980. Wallace died of leukemia at the age of 27. Shaikin is one of five MVC shortstops on the list, joining Missouri State’s Jeremy Eierman, DBU’s Jimmy Glowenke, Southern Illinois’ Connor Kopach and Illinois State’s Owen Miller. The Missouri Valley Conference trails only the ACC (9) and the SEC (8) in number of players on the watch list.

Top 25 Win: On the exact 55-year anniversary of Valpo’s most recent win over Illinois, the Crusaders beat the No. 25 Fighting Illini 11-7 last Tuesday in Champagne. It marked just the second time all season Illinois had lost a game by more than three runs. The Crusaders also beat a Top 25 team in 2016, topping No. 25 Dallas Baptist 6-1. Illinois entered the game ranked 25th by Baseball America, 27th in the RPI and 17th by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Illinois had won five straight and 22 of its previous 27. The 11 runs are the most Illinois has given up in a loss all year.

Early Offense: Valpo has scored a first-inning run in five straight games, jumping out to the early edge before the Crusader starting pitcher ever takes the mound in each of those contests. This past week, the Crusaders made early exits for opposing hurlers a trend. They bounced Illinois' starter from the game before he recorded an out and scored four earned runs against him on Tuesday. In the weekend series, Evansville's starters lasted 3 2/3 innings, one inning and 1/3 of an inning against the Valpo offense. Opposing starting pitchers worked five total innings and had a 28.80 ERA against Valpo this past week.

To further illustrate the point, here’s a look at how the four starting pitchers who faced Valpo this past week faired.

Player              Team               IP        H         ER       BB       Dec.

Schmit             Illinois             0.0       3          4          2          ND

Lukas              Evansville        3.2       6          7          5          L

Weigand          Evansville        1.0       3          3          2          ND

Croner             Evansville        0.1       1          2          3          L

Providing Relief: Valpo senior Hayden Kissee had a strong week out of the Valpo bullpen. First, he worked two scoreless frames to gain the win against nationally-ranked Illinois on Tuesday, his first victory of the season. Then, the right-hander worked out of a challenging jam after inheriting two baserunners with nobody out in the seventh inning in Sunday's 6-1 win over Evansville. Kissee induced a double play, got out of the inning with a shallow fly ball and went on to pitch three scoreless frames to close out Valpo's first conference series win since joining the MVC. Kissee was awarded his first save of the season.

Beating Big Ten Competition: After dropping the first game of a doubleheader at Michigan State in 12 innings on Friday, April 13, Valpo picked up a 7-6 win in the nightcap. This marks the third straight season Valpo has beaten a team from the Big Ten Conference, as the Crusaders knocked off instate foe Purdue each of the last two years. It was also Valpo's first one-run win of the season, as the Crusaders were previously 0-8 in games decided by the slimmest of margins. The Crusaders followed that with the 11-7 win over the Fighting Illini, the fourth Big Ten win Valpo has notched in the last three years and the second in a row.

Four-Hit Outputs: When Giovanni Garbella set a career high with four hits last week at Illinois, that marked the ninth time this season a Valpo player has had four hits or more in a game. In 2017, Valpo went the whole season without any four-hit games. Valpo also had nine in 2015, but the team hasn’t had 10 four-hit games in a year since 2010. Garbella had a string of five straight multi-hit games that lasted until Saturday at Evansville.

More on Gio: Garbella had seven hits in 15 at-bats (.467) while ripping a double and a homer as Valpo took three of four last week. He drove in six runs in four games and played a key role as Valpo knocked off No. 25 Illinois on Tuesday and then won its first Missouri Valley Conference series since joining the league over the weekend at Evansville. Garbella had a career-high four hits in the 11-7 victory over the nationally-ranked Fighting Illini on Tuesday. The Valpo senior also made significant contributions in Friday's 7-2 win over Evansville, launching his team-leading sixth home run of the season, racking up a season-high five RBIs (all in the first two innings) and recording his fifth straight multi-hit game.

Tieman Time: Sophomore RHP Tieman threw his first career complete game in Friday's 7-2 win over Evansville to open the three-game series. He scattered nine hits and permitted only two earned runs while racking up a season-high eight strikeouts. He earned his fourth win of the year, matching his season win total from his rookie campaign. The CG marked the third by a Valpo pitcher this season, all in the last three weeks.

Pitching Matchup: Canadian-born lefty Michael Mommersteeg will get the nod after receiving no decision last week at Illinois. He owns a 1-0 record with an 11.01 ERA. This will mark his ninth appearance and fourth start. He’ll be opposed by fellow southpaw Tommy Sheehan, who is 1-4 with a 6.59 ERA and will make his 10th start. Mommersteeg took the loss last year at Notre Dame, but three of the four runs he allowed in his two-inning start were unearned.

In The Other Dugout – Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are coming off a series win against Virginia Tech over the weekend. After losing the opener 9-1, they used a pair of one-run victories on Saturday and Sunday to take the series, which featured a 12-inning marathon in the middle game. Nick Podkul, an Andrean product and high school teammate of Chase Dawson’s, is the team’s top hiter in terms of batting average at .320. He’s joined over the .300 line by Jake Johnson (.310) and Matt Vierling (.301), who also leads the team in home runs (6) and RBIs (31). Mike Aoki is in his eighth season in charge of Notre Dame baseball.

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… Is the first Valpo player with five triples since Kyle Gaedele had eight in 2010… Leads The Valley in triples.
  • Sam Shaikin, SS: Was the only Crusader to start all 53 games last season. Has started all every game this year… Led Valpo in batting average at .317 a year ago… Started at third base for the first 12 games of the season, has started at shortstop every game since. .. Has batted second for Valpo in every game this season… Launched his sixth home run of the year last week at Evansville, lifting his career total to 10… Named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List by College Baseball Foundation for an award that goes to the top shortstop in the nation… Is the only Crusader to have earned MVC Player of the Week Honors as he did so in the second week of the year, hitting a robust .700 in three games against Oklahoma.
  • Blake Billinger, LF: Was a unanimous first team all-conference selection in both seasons he played at Mission College (JUCO)… Has batted third 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… Holds the conference lead with 16 doubles… 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 April 11 vs. Milwaukee… Belted his third homer of the year on April 17 at Illinois... Leads the team with 17 multi-hit games and seven games with three hits or more.
  • Giovanni Garbella, DH/RF: 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… Followed that with his 12th career homer and fifth of the season on April 13 at Michigan State, ripping three extra-base hits and recording the go-ahead RBI in a 7-6 win over the Spartans in the second game of a doubleheader. .. Had a career-high four hits on April 17 at Illinois… Had a season-high five RBIs, all in his first two plate appearances, in a win over Evansville on April 20. That included his sixth home run of the season, which is tied for the team lead.
  • 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 .386… Ranks second in 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 26 RBIs, 22 have come with two outs… Returned to the lineup on April 13 at Michigan State after missing the previous four games with a hand injury… Owns a 15-game on-base streak, one shy of matching Billinger for the longest by any Crusader this season.
  • 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.
  • 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 42.9 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… Brother Jake, also a catcher, has signed his NLI to play at Valpo starting next season… On the Johnny Bench Award Watch List for an award given annually to the nation’s top catcher.
  • DH spot – Valpo used three different players at designated hitter and in the eighth spot in the batting order this past weekend at Evasnville – Steven Fitzsimmons, Christian Barczi and Blake Lutgen.
  • Jayden Eggimann, CF: Has 31 RBIs after having 13 all of last season… Ranks second on the team in RBIs despite batting ninth in the order… 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.   

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.