When it was Matt Olive’s turn to pick up his teammates, the Valparaiso University baseball freshman came through in the most significant moment possible.
With two outs and two strikes in the top of the ninth inning of a 5-5 tie on Thursday in a Missouri Valley Conference Tournament elimination game, Olive (Minneapolis, Minn. / Blake School) delivered a go-ahead solo homer to left, lifting Valpo to a come-from-behind, 6-5 victory over Illinois State. The Brown & Gold advance to Friday after the team’s second victory in the event, which is being hosted at Itchy Jones Stadium in Carbondale, Ill.
Two days earlier, Olive’s teammates picked him up to render a late error insignificant by beating Missouri State 6-4 in extra innings. With a touch of poetry that only the sport of baseball could provide, it was the other way around on Thursday, as Olive’s late blast carried his team past the Redbirds.
The bottom of the ninth provided another heart-pounding moment as a wild throw to first with two outs pulled first baseman Kyle Schmack (Wanatah, Ind. / South Central) off the bag, and the runner was initially ruled safe as the tying run scored. However, the call was overturned on replay review, sending the Valpo dugout into a state of celebration.
How It Happened
- Valpo struck first in the opening inning, using aggressive baserunning to manufacture a run without the benefit of a hit. A double steal with Steven Fitzsimmons (Golden Valley, Minn. / Robbinsdale Cooper) sprinting for third prompted a wild throw by the Illinois State catcher, allowing Fitzsimmons to trot home.
- A bases-clearing double by Jack Butler put Illinois State in front in the bottom of the first. The Redbirds added another run in the opening frame to make it 4-1.
- Valpo got even with a two-out uprising in the sixth inning. Brady Renfro (Antigo, Wis. / Antigo) rammed a base hit to cut the lead to two, then Schmack ripped a double that drove in Renfro. Schmack scored a moment later when Parker Johnson (Golden Valley, Minn. / Hopkins) added another clutch hit to his tournament resume, lashing a single to right center that tied the game at four.
- The sixth inning was a breakthrough frame for Valpo, which had sent only three men to the plate in each of the previous three innings and hadn’t recorded a hit since the second.
- After the opening inning, Colin Fields (Libertyville, Ill. / Libertyville) settled in. He held the Redbirds off the board for five consecutive innings from the second through sixth, limiting Illinois State to one hit in that span.
- Illinois State got back on top in the bottom of the seventh after a pair of two-out hits.
- Valpo had another response in the top of the eighth. The team was down to four outs left to work with as the Brown & Gold had two outs in the eighth with the bases clear. That’s when Riley Dent (Long Beach, Calif. / Wilson) and Renfro ripped back-to-back doubles to produce the tying run.
- Nolan Lebamoff (Fort Wayne, Ind. / Carroll [Kankakee CC]) came in to get the final out of the seventh with a runner in scoring position, then worked a scoreless eighth.
- After Olive’s aforementioned heroics made it 6-5 Valpo, the Brown & Gold got a double from Alex Thurston (Fowler, Ind. / Benton Central) that was followed by two walks. However, the bases were left loaded to keep the drama high heading to the bottom of the inning.
- Nathan Chasey (Ames, Iowa / Gilbert [Indian Hills CC]) entered the game for the bottom of the ninth. After a single and a sacrifice bunt, he recorded a key strikeout. The righty induced the ground ball to short that turned into the final out after replay review, nailing down his first save in the process.
Inside the Game
- Valpo played in its 15th one-run game of the season and improved to 7-8 in such contests. The team had 10 one-run games in MVC play alone, its most in league play since competing in 16 one-run affairs in Horizon League action in 2012.
- For the first time since joining the league, Valpo has won two games in an MVC Tournament. The team has at least one victory in two of its three MVC Tournament appearances and three total MVC Tournament triumphs.
- Lebamoff earned the victory to improve his flawless record to 3-0, while Chasey’s save was his first in a Valpo uniform.
- Olive’s home run was his second of the season with the prior long ball coming on May 14 vs. Evansville.
- Valpo successfully cut down on its strikeouts as Valpo batters totaled just five strikeouts, the team’s lowest total in the last eight games.
- Renfro had two hits, accounting for his eighth multi-hit contest. He has at least one hit in all three MVC Tournament games.
- Dent is hitting a team-high .364 in the MVC Tournament, while Renfro and Johnson are both hitting .333 with 3 RBIs apiece this week in Carbondale.
- While the win over Missouri State earlier in the week was Valpo’s first-ever victory against the Bears, the triumph over Illinois State sustained a run of success against the Redbirds (23-34). Valpo has won five out of the last six matchups dating back to the final meeting in 2019.
- After totaling three walks in his previous 11 games combined, Steven Fitzsimmons worked three walks on Thursday. The three bases on balls marked an outright career high for the Valpo fifth-year senior. He scored two runs in the victory.
- Valpo played error-free defense for the second straight game and 19th time this season.
- Freshman Kaleb Hannahs (West Terre Haute, Ind. / West Vigo) drew a walk to extend his on-base streak to 19, the second-longest by a Valpo player this season. The longest is Renfro’s 21 gamer.
- After Valpo had just one extra-base hit in each of its first two MVC Tournament games, five of the team’s eight hits went for extra bases on Thursday.
Valpo (16-34) will play at either 10 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. on Friday. If DBU beats Bradley on Friday afternoon, Valpo will play at 10 a.m. against the loser of Southern Illinois vs. Indiana State. If Bradley beats DBU, Valpo will play Bradley at 2:30 p.m. The game will air on ESPN+ with links to live video and stats available on ValpoAthletics.com.