Valparaiso (1-2, 0-0 MVC)
at Jacksonville State (1-3, 0-0 OVC)
Rudy Abbott Field (2,020) | Jacksonville, Ala.
Friday, Feb. 26, 4 p.m. CT – RHP Easton Rhodehouse
Saturday, Feb. 27 (Game 1), 1 p.m. CT – RHP Trent Turzenski
Saturday, Feb. 27 (Game 2), approx. 4 p.m. – RHP Colin Fields
Next Up in Valpo Baseball: After an opening weekend that featured strong pitching from head coach Brian Schmack’s staff and a season-opening victory for the first time in seven years, the Valparaiso University baseball team will play three more in the state of Alabama this weekend in series at Jacksonville State. Valpo and the Gamecocks begin the set with a single game on Friday before playing a doubleheader to round out the set on Saturday.
Last Time Out: Valpo won the series opener 6-2 at UAB behind a three-run homer by Jeremy Drudge and six innings of one-run relief by Ryan Mintz, but the host Blazers battled back to take the series by capturing the Saturday game 8-2 and the Sunday finale 4-1. The Sunday setback came in spite of a valiant pitching performance by starter Colin Fields, who fanned eight and permitted just one hit while working into the fifth inning.
On the Air: The series opener on Friday will be streamed on ESPN+, while no video or audio will be available for Saturday’s twinbill. Live stats will be available for all three games, with all coverage links posted on ValpoAthletics.com.
Series Notes: Jacksonville State owns a 6-2 lead in the all-time series, which dates back to 1979. Most recently, Valpo opened the 2016 season at Jacksonville State and dropped the first two games before capturing the series finale 14-4. Six of eight meetings between the two teams have coming during head coach Brian Schmack’s tenure.
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 Accomplishments
- For the first time since 2014, Valpo notched an Opening Day victory by besting UAB 6-2 in Friday’s series opener. This marked the first time Valpo began a season with a triumph since topping Samford 6-5 to start the 2014 campaign, snapping a streak of six straight setbacks in season lid-lifters.
- Jeremy Drudge launched a three-run homer, becoming the first Valpo player to go deep in a season opener since Blake Billinger against Alabama in 2018.
- Easton Rhodehouse started on the mound, becoming the first Valpo pitcher to start consecutive openers since Dalton Lundeen in 2015 and 2016, ending a run of five Opening Day starters in as many years.
Nothing Comes Free
- The pitching and defense highlighted Valpo’s season-opening 6-2 victory at UAB by making sure the Blazers had to earn everything at the dish.
- Valpo did not commit any errors, issue any walks or hit any batters.
- This marked the first time Valpo did not allow a free pass in a game since March 19, 2019 at South Carolina.
In the Other Dugout: Jacksonville State
- Lost 5-2 to No. 22 Alabama on Tuesday after a 1-2 weekend that featured a pair of one-run setbacks.
- Fell 8-7 to Missouri Valley Conference member Southern Illinois in the season opener.
- Under the direction of 20th-year head coach Jim Case, who has led his team to seven Ohio Valley Conference championships in his tenure.
- Went 39-23 in the most recently completed season of 2019 en route to an OVC crown, NCAA Regional appearance and a pair of victories in the Oxford Regional.
Pitching Profiles – Projected Starters
- RHP Easton Rhodehouse (R-Sr., Gilbert, Ariz. / Gilbert) – Expected to start the Friday game in an “opener” role each weekend… 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… Picked up the win by allowing one run on two hits over two innings in the Feb. 19 season opener at UAB, when he became the first Valpo pitcher since Dalton Lundeen (2014, 2015) to start consecutive Opening Days.
- 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… Equaled a career high with five strikeouts over six innings of relief in Valpo’s season-opening win at UAB on Feb. 19.
- 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… Took the defeat after allowing two runs on just three hits in four innings in his first outing of the season on Feb. 20 at UAB.
- 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… Carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning before taking a tough-luck loss in his first outing of the year on Feb. 21 at UAB. He permitted one hit and was charged with one unearned run that crossed the dish following his departure over his 4 1/3 inning start that featured eight strikeouts. That marked the third game in his career with eight strikeouts or more.
Position Player Profiles – Projected Lineup Based on Last Game
- 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… Had a two-hit day in the Saturday game at UAB on Feb. 20, his first two collegiate knocks on a day where freshman accounted for four of the team’s eight hits.
- 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.
- 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… Reached base three times via a hit and two walks in the Feb. 21 series finale at UAB.
- 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… Had two hits in the Saturday game at UAB on Feb. 20, his 10th career multi-hit output.
- 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… Batted a team-best .308 over the opening series at UAB including a three-hit performance in the Feb. 19 victory. He posted his first game with three or more hits since mid-May 2019 while also scoring a career-high three runs and accounting for half of the team’s hits in the season-opening triumph.
- 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.
- 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.
- Alex Thurston, 2B, 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… Started two games during Valpo’s opening weekend at UAB, filling in for the injured Nolan Tucker.
Other Key Position Players
- Nolan Tucker, 2B, So. (Cedar Lake, Ind. / Hanover Central) – Forms an all-local right side of the infield alongside Kyle 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.
- 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… Launched his third career home run (one in each of his three seasons) on Opening Day at UAB, a three-run blow that helped Valpo beat the Blazers 6-2 on Feb. 19.
- 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 Ryan, OF/DH, Fr. (Lake Mills, Wis. / Lakeside Lutheran) – Made his first career start at DH in the series finale at UAB… Three-time all-conference pick in high school… Milwaukee Brewers fans… Has a twin sister, Olivia… Hobbies include hiking and playing card games.
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… Logged three innings over two appearances during the opening weekend of the season at UAB, striking out one to inch to within three of the 200-strikeout mark for his career.
- 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.