Valparaiso University clinched its first Mid-Continent Conference Tournament berth since 2000 and earned its first victory over Western Illinois since 1997 with a 7-5 win in the opening game of a doubleheader on Friday afternoon in Macomb, Ill. The Westerwinds bounced back with a 2-1 victory in the nightcap.
The Crusaders, which had dropped 28 straight to the Westerwinds and were just 1-43 all-time prior to today guaranteed themselves a trip to the conference tournament for just the third time in school history. Valpo has also set a new school record with 13 Mid-Con victories on the season.
In the opener, Valpo overcame five defensive miscues led by Karen Constien's (Carol Stream, Ill./Glenbard North H.S.) 3-for-3 performance at the plate including a pair of solo homeruns.
The Crusaders put a four spot on the scoreboard in the second inning. Lisa Setzler's (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso H.S.) RBI single to left scored Constien with the game's first run. Stephanie Reinke (Parker, Colo./J.K. Mullen H.S.) doubled to left center with the bases loaded to score three and give the Crusaders a 4-0 lead.
The Brown and Gold added a fifth run in the third on Constien's first homer of the game to leftfield. Western Illinois answered with a pair in the bottom of the inning on Jessica Stanforth's ninth homer of the season while Amber Lessen singled in the fourth to plate a pair of unearned runs bringing the Westerwinds within a run, 5-4. Constien increased the lead back to two in the fifth with her ninth round-tripper of the year, setting a new single season school record. The senior now has 12 in her career, second most in Valpo history.
Three Valpo errors in the fifth allowed Western Illinois to score their fifth run of the contest, but the Crusaders added an insurance tally in the sixth with an unearned run to secure the victory.
Amanda Gilbertson (Murrieta, Calif./West Albany H.S., Ore.) went the distance for the win for the Crusaders, allowing seven hits and just two earned runs. She also struck out four. KarenMarie Pena suffered the loss for the hosts, striking out five but also walking five in five innings of work.
Game two saw Valpo score first in the third inning as Taylor Callahan (Grayson, Ga./Greater Atlanta Christian H.S.) singled to center to score Kelly Silvey (Indianapolis, Ind./Bishop Chatard H.S.). Each had two hits in the game. Western Illinois tied the game in the fourth as Melissa Dempsky singled home Meghan Strazar for an unearned run.
The game remained tied until the seventh when Cass Hallstrom doulbed to left center with two outs to plate Stanforth with the winning run.
Ashlee Blankenbaker (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso H.S.) scattered five hits while going the distance for the Crusaders but suffered the loss despite striking out nine. Kim King started for Western Illinois but Pena recorded the win in relief.
Valpo (19-30, 13-9 Mid-Con) and Western Illinois (23-27, 12-10) will conclude the regular season on Saturday afternoon with another doubleheader. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m.