The Valparaiso University baseball team grabbed the lead thanks to a second-inning home run by Jeremy Drudge (Plymouth, Ind. / Plymouth), and never looked back courtesy of a quality pitching performance by Ryan Mintz (Lombard, Ill. / Willowbrook) on its way to a season-opening 6-2 victory over UAB in Birmingham, Ala. In the process, the 2021 team became the first Valpo squad to win a season opener in seven years.
How It Happened
- UAB scratched out a run on a two-out single in the bottom of the first, but Valpo had a quick response in the top of the second. Steven Fitzsimmons (Golden Valley, Minn. / Robbinsdale Cooper) stroked a single before scampering home on a wild pitch.
- Later in the inning, Drudge delivered a three-run, go-ahead home run to left center to put Valpo on top 4-1.
- Starting pitcher Easton Rhodehouse (Gilbert, Ariz. / Highland), serving in an “opener” role, retired the side in order in the second to close out his day with a three-run advantage. Rhodehouse did his job with two innings of one-run, two-hit ball, facing eight batters before Mintz came in to begin the third.
- Valpo tacked on in the top of the fourth as Fitzsimmons singled through the right side, stole a base and eventually scored his second run of the day. He crossed the dish when Jonathan Temple (Turlock, Calif. / Turlock [Modesto JC]) lined a single to center to make it 5-1 Valpo.
- The Blazers touched Mintz for a single tally in the seventh, but Nolan Tucker (Cedar Lake, Ind. / Hanover Central) worked a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the top of the eighth, forcing in a run to expand the Valpo lead to four at 6-2.
- Mintz cruised through his six innings, carving up Blazer hitters to the tune of one run on four hits while striking out five and issuing no walks.
- Fifth-year senior Jon Tieman (Crystal Lake, Ill. / Prairie Ridge) did the rest, taking over for the ninth and working a smooth 1-2-3 frame to preserve the win with a strikeout to punctuate the triumph.
Inside the Game
- Drudge’s home run was the third of his career as he has exactly one long ball in each of his three seasons (2019, 2020 and 2021). He became the first Valpo player to homer on Opening Day since Blake Billinger in 2018 at Alabama.
- Valpo picked up its first opening-day victory since starting the 2014 season with a 6-5 victory over Samford. This snapped a streak of six straight setbacks in season lid-lifters.
- Fitzsimmons enjoyed a three-hit day to pace his team, his first game with three hits or more since May 14, 2019 vs. Chicago State. He also scored a career-high three runs in Friday’s opener. The fifth-year senior accounted for three of his team’s six hits.
- Mintz’s outing was by far the best of his Valpo tenure as he permitted multiple runs in each of his five appearances in 2020, his first season with the Brown & Gold. The six innings on Friday put him within one out of a career high, while equaling a career watermark with the five strikeouts. He also punched out five in his final appearance of 2020.
- Each team had six hits, but Valpo played errorless defense and displayed great control on the mound. The Brown & Gold issued no walks or hit batters in the triumph, the team’s first game without issuing a free pass since March 19, 2019 at South Carolina.
Valpo (1-0) and UAB (0-1) will face off again on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT in Game 2 of the three-game, season-opening series at UAB. Live video is available on a subscription basis via C-USA TV, with links to the video stream and live stats available on ValpoAthletics.com.