Valparaiso (0-0, 0-0 MVC)
at UAB (0-0, 0-0 Conference USA)
Young Memorial Field (1,000) | Birmingham, Ala.
Friday, Feb. 19, 4 p.m. CT – RHP Easton Rhodehouse
Saturday, Feb. 20, 2 p.m. CT – RHP Trent Turzenski
Sunday, Feb. 21, 1 p.m. – RHP Colin Fields
Next Up in Valpo Baseball: The Valparaiso University baseball team will return to the diamond in a game situation for the first time in over 11 months this weekend as the club makes the trip to Birmingham, Ala. to match up with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Valpo will begin a 54-game slate that leads into the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament with this weekend’s set at UAB. The Brown & Gold are slated to play 17 nonconference games prior to the April 1 Missouri Valley Conference opener at Dallas Baptist (DBU).
Last Time Out: Valpo last took the diamond for a game on March 11, 2020 at Alabama State, a 4-2 setback during which the Hornets snapped a 2-2 tie with a two-run triple in the sixth. While that game was taking place, the news of Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19 came out, and the NBA season was suspended. The game between Valpo and Alabama State proved to be the final Valpo event in any sport during the 2019-20 academic year.
On the Air: This weekend’s games will be streamed on Blazer Vision via Conference USA TV. A subscription is required. Live stats will also be available. Links to live coverage will be posted on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes: Valpo holds a 3-12 record in an all-time series that dates back to 1979. This marks the most recent matchups since a three-game set at UAB on Feb. 24-26, 2017. Valpo dropped two of three but salvaged the final game with a 9-5 triumph. Jon Tieman, Steven Fitzsimmons, Easton Rhodehouse and Riley Dent all played in that series as freshmen and are still members of Valpo’s team. Grant Inman was the winning pitcher with five scoreless innings in the series finale. The two teams met for a single game in Winter Haven, Fla. in March 2013, and before that hadn’t matched up since 1979.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head baseball coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his eighth season in charge of the program. Entering the 2021 season, he has served as the head coach for 336 games at Valpo, the fourth-most in program history with Tracy Woodson third at 397. This year, he moves into a tie for third in program history for number of seasons coached with eight, matching Donald Warnke (1946-1953). Schmack has now been at Valpo longer than his predecessor Woodson, whose seven-year run lasted from 2007-2013. Schmack’s win total of 137 ranks fifth in program history, with Rick Ferchen fourth at 147. The former big-league pitcher led Valparaiso to 25 wins in his inaugural campaign in 2014, a school record for victories by a first-year skipper. He 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 managing a youthful roster that featured 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers. He led his team to 24 wins, including a strong finish to the regular season that saw them win eight of their last 11. The 2018 season saw Valpo transition to the Missouri Valley Conference. The Brown & Gold made an immediate splash in the highly-respected baseball league, putting together a strong showing in the 2018 MVC Tournament, including a 13-10 victory over host Dallas Baptist, a team that went on to receive an at-large NCAA Regional berth. During the 2019 season, Schmack’s squad equaled its win total from the year prior despite playing in a conference that was ranked sixth nationally in RPI and sent three teams to NCAA Regionals. Schmack, a member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, served as pitching coach/associate head coach at Valpo for seven seasons prior to his promotion.
Opening Day History
- Valpo will look to start the season with a victory for the first time since beating Samford 6-5 on Feb. 14, 2014.
- Valpo has dropped six straight openers including a pair of one-run setbacks.
- The team started the 2020 season with a 9-3 loss at Western Kentucky.
- Albeit in unusual fashion as an “opener,” Easton Rhodehouse is expected to become the first Valpo pitcher to start consecutive Opening Days since Dalton Lundeen in 2015 and 2016. Rhodehouse (2020), Mike Kornacker (2019), Jon Tieman (2018), Mario Losi (2017) and Lundeen (2016) formed a stretch of five opening day starters in as many years.
In the Other Dugout: UAB
- Picked to finish sixth of six in the Conference USA West Division Preseason Poll.
- Led by preseason all-conference catcher J Paul Fullerton, a senior who hit .317 and slugged .517 with 19 hits and 13 RBIs during the shortened season.
- Under the direction of interim head coach Perry Roth, who spent the last 14 years as an assistant for the recently-retired Brian Shoop. Roth is familiar with the Missouri Valley Conference, having spent time as an assistant at both Bradley (2004) and Illinois State (2000-2002).
- Finished 7-9 a year ago and 27-29 in 2019.
- The late Gene Bartow, a legendary college basketball coach, provides a link between these two institutions as Bartow was the head men’s basketball coach at Valpo from 1964-1970 before holding the same position at UAB from 1978-1996.
Pitching Profiles – Projected Starters
- RHP Easton Rhodehouse (R-Sr., Gilbert, Ariz. / Gilbert) – Expected to start the Friday game in an “opener” role… Named 2019 All-MVC Honorable Mention and to the Horizon League All-Freshman Team in 2017. Also received 2020 MVC Scholar-Athlete Honorable Mention… Did not allow an earned run in any of his five conference outings in 2018 with opponents hitting just .211 against him in conference play… Finished the 2019 season with a team-best 3.82 ERA over 22 appearances out of the bullpen, grabbing two wins to go along with four saves… Secured 44 strikeouts while walking 13 in 35 1/3 innings in 2019… Was one of four players in the nation to start six games during the 2020 season, tying for the NCAA Division-I lead in that category. Ranked third on the team with a 3.45 ERA and struck out a team-high 20 while issuing just four bases on balls over 15 2/3 innings… 2020 Valparaiso University graduate with a degree in political science… Currently pursuing an MBA... Spent the 2018 summer doing grassroots volunteer work for a political campaign… Hobbies include skateboarding and mountain biking.
- RHP Ryan Mintz (So., Lombard, Ill. / Willowbrook) – Although not technically a starter this weekend, Mintz is expected to follow Rhodehouse in long relief on Friday… Set his high school’s record for wins by a pitcher in the program’s 60-year history… Was named West Suburban Gold Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2019 for his work at Willowbrook… The Lombard, Ill. native is majoring in computer engineering… Hobbies include snowboarding and other extreme sports… Made five appearances and two starts during the COVID-19 shortened season… Notched a season-high five strikeouts in just three innings on March 10 at Alabama State, his final outing of the year.
- RHP Trent Turzenski (So., Burlington, Wis. / Burlington) – Expected to serve as Valpo’s Saturday starter… Ranked seventh in the MVC in ERA and 11th in opponents’ batting average (.236) as a freshman in 2020… Ranked No. 18 on D1Baseball.com’s 2020 list of the Top 50 freshmen pitchers in the nation based on analytics… Had a team-best 2.48 ERA in 2020 over four games out of the bullpen… Struck out 16 against just six walks over 19 innings, sharing the team’s heaviest workload… Struck out 11 while walking just one in six innings on Feb. 28, 2020 at McNeese… Played in the Little League World Series Regional Tournament on ESPN twice, when he was 11 and 12 years old.
- RHP Colin Fields (Jr. / Libertyville, Ill. / Libertyville) – Father Timm is a 1990 Valpo graduate and played baseball for the Brown & Gold… Favorite MLB team is the Cubs and favorite current player is Kyle Hendricks… Finished 2019 second on the team in strikeouts with 52… Made four starts during the 2020 season and ranked second on the team with 17 strikeouts, including a season-high six on Feb. 29 vs. Southern Miss.
Position Player Profiles – Projected Lineup
- Kyle Schmack, 1B, So. (Wanatah, Ind. / South Central) – After graduating from nearby South Central High School in 2019, Kyle joined his father Brian’s program at Valpo… Is the first Valpo student-athlete to play for his or her parent as a head coach since Bryce Drew in 1998… Was the MVP of the Indiana North/South All-Star Game in June 2019 following his senior year of high school… Also played football during his prep days… Appeared in 20 games and made nine starts during the shortened 2020 season.
- Nolan Tucker, 2B, So. (Cedar Lake, Ind. / Hanover Central) – Forms an all-local right side of the infield alongside Schmack… Earned all-conference honors in three high school seasons in baseball and was a two-time conference champion in wrestling… Was the 2019-20 President of Brandt Hall (dorm)… Hobbies include kayaking… Can juggle and walk on his hands… Can drink a bottle of water in 1.5 seconds… Was a three-year class president in high school… Spanked a home run and drove in four in a Feb. 23, 2020 game at No. 3 Louisville. He had three hits while becoming the first Valpo freshman with a four-RBI game since Grant Yoder on April 24, 2012 at Purdue Fort Wayne (then IPFW)… Collected 10 hits and drove in six runs during the 2020 campaign… Played in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational on June 4, 2020 on ESPN2 in the first live baseball event since the pandemic.
- Damon Jorgensen, SS, R-Sr. (Blair, Neb. / Blair [Coffeyville]) – Junior college transfer who started his career at Coffeyville before coming to Valpo for the 2019 season… Hobbies include hunting, snowboarding and wakeboarding… Hit his first home run (and extra-base knock) in a Valpo uniform on March 12, 2019 at Tennessee Tech… Drove in the go-ahead run with a bases-loaded squeeze bunt in the top of the 10th of Valpo’s 5-3 victory at Western Kentucky on Feb. 17, 2020. That completed the first three-hit day of his Valpo tenure… Started all 14 games in 2020 and ranked second on the team in batting average at .264.
- Kaleb Hannahs, 3B, Fr. (West Terre Haute, Ind. / West Vigo) – In a very unusual and possibly even unprecedented occurrence, both of Valpo’s starting corner infielders are the sons of Missouri Valley Conference head baseball coaches… Hannah’s father Mitch is the head coach at Indiana State… Civil engineering major… Fan of Luke Combs, the St. Louis Cardinals and Fernando Tatis Jr… Three-sport athlete in high school, where he earned four letters apiece in football, basketball and baseball.
- Jake Kapers, C, Jr. (Schererville, Ind. / Mount Carmel) – One of three catchers who saw time behind the dish in 2019 in an effort to replace his older brother Scott, who started each of the previous three seasons before leaving a year early to sign with the Texas Rangers after being selected in the 17th round of the 2018 MLB Draft… Hit .357 over the final four games of the 2019 regular season to lead the team during that stretch… Played in 11 games and made 10 starts in 2020.
- Riley Dent, OF, R-Sr. (Long Beach, Calif. / Wilson) – Was a 2019 All-MVC Honorable Mention recipient… Entered the 2019 season with a .207 career batting average, but had a breakout year that saw him hit .290 as a junior. Moved to the leadoff spot and transitioned to center field for his junior campaign… Tied for the 2019 team lead with 15 multi-hit outputs… Led the team in batting average at .311 while starting all 16 games in 2020 in addition to ranking second on the team with 11 bases on balls and leading the team in both slugging percentage (.410) and on-base percentage (.417)… Graduated in May 2020 with a degree in marketing and is now enrolled in Valpo’s graduate school.
- Jonathan Temple, OF, Sr. (Turlock, Calif. / Turlock [Modesto JC]) – The junior college transfer joined the program for the 2020 season… Attended Oregon State as a freshman…Was named the MVP of the Central California Conference in 2016 after earning first-team all-conference honors in 2015 and second-team all-conference as a sophomore on varsity in 2014… Is from the most agriculturally diverse area in the nation with over 400 commodities grown in the region… Enjoys golfing and snowboarding… Started all 16 games last year during the COVID-19 shortened season and tied for the team lead with three doubles.
- Steven Fitzsimmons, OF, R-Sr. (Golden Valley, Minn. / Robbinsdale Cooper) – Was a member of the 2019 and 2020 MVC Scholar-Athlete First Team… Had a breakout junior season in 2019, playing in 49 of the team’s 50 games and making 45 starts after playing in 16 games and making three starts as a sophomore… Went from a career .195 hitter with one double over his first two seasons to batting .268 with nine doubles as a junior… … Graduated in May 2020 with a 3.96 GPA in political science… Pursuing a master’s in sports administration… Played in 13 games and made 12 starts during the 2020 season.
Other Key Position Players
- Jeremy Drudge, OF/DH, Jr. (Plymouth, Ind. / Plymouth) – Spent the 2019 summer playing for the Normal CornBelters of the Prospect League… Came to Valpo as a rookie in 2019 after seeing limited action as a senior in high school due to a torn ACL… Raced go-karts during his youth…Appeared in 12 games and made 10 starts in 2020, collecting six hits including a triple and a home run.
- Angel DiFederico, C, So. (New Haven, Ind. / New Haven) – Projected to share starting catching duties with Kapers… Earned a spot in the 2019 North/South All-Star Game after his senior year at New Haven in Indiana… Had the highest batting average on the team in a limited sample size in 2020, hitting .348 in seven games (six starts).
- Brady Renfro, 1B/DH, Fr. (Antigo, Wis. / Antigo) – Exercise science major… Is an only child… Hobbies include hunting and fishing… Favorite MLB player is Clayton Kershaw and team is the Milwaukee Brewers… Played with STiKS Baseball Academy and the Chicago Scouts Association.
- Alex Thurston, INF, Fr. (Fowler, Ind. / Benton Central) – Expected to serve as the team’s utility infielder… Finished as the Valedictorian of his high school senior class… Won the 2019 Nanoline Automation National Championship with three classmates after creating an automated paint brush cleaner… Three-year all-conference honoree on the diamond while also playing four years of tennis and one year of basketball in high school.
Other Key Pitchers
- RHP Jon Tieman, R-Sr. (Crystal, Lake, Ill. / Prairie Ridge) – Three-time MVC Scholar-Athlete First Team, 2018 All-MVC Honorable Mention selection, 2017 Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Freshman All-American… Racked up 78 strikeouts to lead the team in 2019, the most by a Valpo pitcher since 2015… Led the team in strikeouts for three consecutive seasons (2017-2019), becoming the second consecutive Valpo pitcher to do so as Dalton Lundeen led the team in that area from 2014-2016. Before Lundeen, the last pitcher to lead Valpo in strikeouts in three straight years was Shawn Barker from 1988-1990… Enters the 2021 season with 196 career strikeouts, needing to get to 202 to crack the Top 10 in program history… Has lived in Missouri, Georgia and Illinois.
- LHP Jake Miller, R-Fr. (Chester, N.Y. / Don Bosco Prep) – Was a 2018 Rawlings Perfect Game Preseason All-American… Is just the second Valpo player to hail from the state of New York since 2005, joining Zack Leone… Redshirted last season in his first year on campus.
- RHP Nathan Chasey, Jr. (Ames, Iowa / Gilbert [Indian Hills CC] – Joined the program for the 2021 season after two years of JUCO baseball… NJCAA Region 11 Honorable Mention in 2019… Enjoys fishing… Favorite MLB team is the Atlanta Braves and player is Chipper Jones.
- RHP Nolan Lebamoff, Jr. (Fort Wayne, Ind. / Carroll [Kankakee CC]) – Joined the program for the 2021 season as a JUCO transfer… Majoring in political science… 2019 Second Team All-Region Four NJCAA… 2019 Kankakee CC Pitcher of the Year… Tied for third in the nation in NJCAA D-II in saves in 2019… Finished third on Kankakee’s all-time saves list.
Inside the Assistants: Brian Schmack’s staff will have a familiar feel in 2021 as all four coaches return from the 2020 campaign.
- After spending three seasons as a volunteer assistant, Kory Winter was hired as Schmack’s top assistant and hitting coach beginning with the 2019 campaign. Winter played collegiately at Wittenberg and has completed coaching stints at Muskingum University and Shippensburg University. He is also Valpo’s outfield instructor.
- Casey Fletcher is in his third year as an assistant coach. He spent the previous two seasons at Illinois, where he was a volunteer assistant. Prior to joining the Fighting Illini staff, Fletcher played professionally for two seasons with the Joliet Slammers of the Frontier League. He enjoyed a prosperous collegiate playing career that featured two seasons as an All-Big Ten honoree at Illinois (2014-2015) and helped Illinois to the NCAA Super Regional for the first time in program history by hitting .326 with 48 runs, three homers and 33 RBIs as a senior. Fletcher was an outfielder in college before moving to catcher in the professional ranks. His father Darrin played in the big leagues from 1989-2002 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. His grandfather Tom also reached the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers in 1962 and his great grandfather Glenn spent 10 seasons in the minor leagues.
- A familiar name to Valpo fans took over as the volunteer assistant coach prior to the 2020 season. Sam Shaikin spent the previous four years on the left side of Valpo’s infield while earning a degree in business management from the University in 2019. He clubbed 21 home runs and drove in 106 over 187 career games. Shaikin finished ninth in program history in runs scored with 133, while his home run total ranks tied for ninth. He had a propensity for drawing walks during his playing days, ranking third all-time with 104 bases on balls. Shaikin, who ranks fifth in program history with 392 assists, is the team’s infield coach.