Crusaders Ready to Return to the Field for Five Games
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Crusaders Ready to Return to the Field for Five Games
Jordan Rutkowski ranks second in the league in batting average. (Ray Acevedo)

Valparaiso at IPFW - Wednesday, March 24 - 2 p.m. CT (DH)

Green Bay at Valparaiso - Saturday, March 27 - noon (DH); Sunday, March 28 - noon

The Matchup: Valparaiso (15-6) takes the field for the first time since its spring break trip with a five-game slate this week.  The Crusaders travel to IPFW (12-9) on Wednesday for a non-league doubleheader and then host Green Bay (11-4) this weekend at the Valparaiso University Softball Field for a three-game series.

Previously in Valpo Softball: The Crusaders had the earliest start in program history this year, kicking off the 2010 campaign at the UNI Dome Classic in mid February, going 3-1.  Valpo then embarked on a 15 day, 17 game, 3,442 mile spring break trip that saw it take the field in five different states.  The Crusaders ended the lengthy journey 12-5, bringing them back home with a 15-6 overall record.  Valpo attempted to take the field last Wednesday for its home opener against Western Illinois, but unplayable field conditions forced the cancellation of the twinbill.

Series Histories: Valpo owns a 19-11 advantage in the all-time series over IPFW and has defeated the Mastodons in four straight games, including a doubleheader sweep in Fort Wayne on April 9, 2008 by scores of 12-3 and 8-4.  The Crusaders scored eight runs before making their first out in the opener and never looked back, and then overcame a 4-2 deficit in the nightcap for the sweep.  Mallory Gill led the Valpo effort at the plate, going 5-for-7 with two HRs and eight RBIs on the day.
Green Bay leads the all-time series over Valpo, 16-3, and earned a victory in first-round action at the Horizon League Championship on May 7, 2009, 7-4.  The Crusaders led 4-1 entering the seventh inning, but the Phoenix scored six times in the final frame to earn the win.  Whitney Warner led Valpo with a 3-for-3 performance at the plate.

Following the Crusaders:  Valpo’s student-run radio station, WVUR, 95.1 FM, will not be carrying any games this week.  WVUR will be broadcasting selected Crusader home games throughout the season, and all their broadcasts will also be webcast online at  Live stats for all home games and most road games will also be available through the official Crusader athletics website.

A Record Start: Valpo got off to a quick start yet again this year, continuing a trend from the past few seasons, but this season’s beginning was above and beyond the best that preceded it.  The Crusaders went 12-3 over their first 15 games, the most wins before incurring their fourth loss in program history, bettering the 9-3 mark of the 2007 team.

Stringing Together Wins: Included in that 12-3 start was a stretch of eight straight victories.  Following a loss to Indiana State, the Crusaders won their final game at the Tiger Softball Classic and then won four straight at the Rebel Spring Games.  Valpo then swept through their first three games at the War Eagle Classic before falling to SEC host Auburn in extra innings.  The eight-game winning streak matches the second longest in program history, falling just shy of the 1987 team’s nine-game streak.

Tough Foes:
While Valpo has posted just a 3-3 record over its last six games, five of those six games were played on the road at teams which ended last season among the top-100 nationally in RPI.  The Crusaders earned splits at Marshall (Conference USA, 59 RPI) and Kansas (Big 12, 95 RPI) and dropped an extra-inning affair at Auburn (SEC, 35 RPI).

Offensive Production: Last year’s Crusader squad was an offensive juggernaut, as ten team and six individual single-season marks were set by the 2009 Valpo offense.  This year’s team has been even better when at bat so far, posting a team batting average of .329 through 21 games, as seven regulars are batting above the .300 mark.  Valpo is also scoring 5.38 runs/game, as compared to last year’s record-setting pace of 5.18 runs/game.

Pitching Steps Up:
This year’s Crusader team has also shown improvement in the circle.  The Valpo pitching staff has a combined ERA of 2.26 to date this year and is allowing opponents to hit just .241 against it this season, compared to numbers of 3.29 and .281, respectively, in the same categories last year.

Raking in the Honors:
Valparaiso has dominated the Horizon League weekly awards to this point of the season, bringing home five honors while competing in just four weeks.  Kelsey Phalen and Shaleigh Jansen swept the Batter and Pitcher of the Week honors, respectively, following the Crusaders’ opening weekend of action Feb. 15.  Jordan Rutkowski was named the Batter of the Week Mar. 1, while Alex Lagesse earned Pitcher of the Week accolades Mar. 8.  Most recently, Lisa DeBruzzi was awarded Batter of the Week honors Mar. 15.

Picked Sixth: Valpo was tabbed sixth in this year's Horizon League preseason polling of head coaches, just one point out of a tie for fourth place with Butler and Loyola.  Cleveland State, the 2009 tournament champion, was picked to finish atop the standings, followed by UIC and Wright State.  Rounding out the field behind the Crusaders are Green Bay, Youngstown State and Detroit.

Youth Shall Be Served:
The 2010 edition of the Valparaiso softball team is an extremely young edition, as this year’s Crusaders have just two seniors (catcher Whitney Warner; pitcher Carrie Franson).  Five juniors, seven sophomores and five freshmen round out the 19-player squad.

Rutkowski Leads the Way: Sophomore Jordan Rutkowski has been nearly unstoppable at the plate in the early portion of the 2010 campaign.  Rutkowski, who is mainly splitting time between catcher and designated player this year after playing third base last season, is hitting at a team-best .483 clip on the year and also leads the Crusaders in both on-base percentage (.537) and slugging percentage (.724).  Her 16 RBIs are second-most on the team, while she has scored 15 runs, third-best among Crusaders.  She hit .538 with five runs scored and four RBIs over Valpo’s four games at the War Eagle Classic to earn HL Batter of the Week honors March 1.

Phalen Returns Better than Ever: Sophomore Kelsey Phalen suffered a season-ending injury 30 games into her freshman year, but has bounced back this year and has been a force in the middle of the Crusader batting order.  Phalen earned HL Batter of the Week accolades in Valpo’s first week of competition this year and hasn’t looked back, as she currently is batting .431 on the year, second-best on the team.  She has driven in a team-best 17 runs, already surpassing her RBI total from her freshman year, and has scored 16 times, just one shy of the team lead in the category.

Strickland Still Solid: Sophomore Sara Strickland, coming off a 2009 rookie season in which she was named HL Newcomer of the Year, has moved back to her natural outfield position this year and has continued to be consistent at the plate.  Splitting time between the top two spots in the order, Strickland is hitting .354 on the year and has scored a team-best 17 runs.  She has also proven to be the Crusaders’ best at drawing walks, tallying 12 base-on-balls already this season.  Currently, the sophomore has a four-game hitting streak, in which she has tallied two hits in every game.

Marinec Makes Her Mark: Freshman Jessie Marinec has fit right into the Crusader lineup with the numbers she has posted already this year.  She carries a team-best six-game hitting streak into Wednesday’s action and is hitting .380 on the season, third-best on the team.  The shortstop has already scored 14 runs this year and has five doubles and two homers already as well, helping her to a slugging percentage of .600 to date.

No Blemishs for McGee: For the second straight season, sophomore Sam McGee has made it through the spring break trip without suffering a loss for the Crusaders.  This year, McGee holds a 6-0 record through ten appearances, all starts.  Her numbers across the board are improved from her rookie year stats, as she currently boasts a 2.15 ERA, over a full run better than what she closed last year at.  Opponents this season are hitting just .237 off McGee, as compared to .289 a year ago, and she also has bettered her strikeout numbers, punching out 40 batters through 52 innings this year.

Lagesse Shuts Down Foes:
Sophomore Alex Lagesse has also shown immense improvement for the Crusaders in the circle this year.  Lagesse, while carriyng just a 5-3 record, has allowed opponents to hit just .218 against her in her 50.1 innings of work.  The sophomore, who has appeared in 12 games, including five starts, also owns a team-best 1.95 ERA.  She went 25 straight innings without allowing an earned tally earlier this year, most of which came during the week of March 1-7, in which she tallied a 0.31 ERA and earned HL Pitcher of the Week accolades.

Jansen Closes Games Out: If the early season is any indication, sophomore Shaleigh Jansen has found her role on the Valpo pitching staff as the squad’s closer.  Jansen, who was named HL Pitcher of the Week on Feb. 15, has made nine relief appearances this year and has earned saves in five of those outings, tying her for second on Valpo’s single-season saves chart and putting her in second place alone on the career chart.  During her relief appearances, Jansen has registered a 1.27 ERA and has struck out 15 batters while walking just three in 11 innings of work.

Quickly: Junior Lisa DeBruzzi was named HL Batter of the Week on March 15 after batting .545 (6-for-11) with three runs scored and three RBIs in five games last week ... DeBruzzi and junior Sadie Conner are also regulars hitting above the .300 mark this year ... Conner had the walk-off single for Valpo in its 6-5 victory at Kansas on March 13 ... freshman Tori Brown has been stellar in limited action this year, going 7-for-22 with five extra-base hits, five runs scored and ten RBIs.

Scouting the Opposition: IPFW - The Mastodons enter Wednesday’s twinbill performing well under first-year mentor Amy Tudor, owning a 12-9 record, including a 5-1 mark in Summit League play.  Three Mastodons are batting over the .300 mark, led by Kristina Karpun’s .377 pace.  In the circle, a trio of hurlers have combined for a 2.89 ERA and eight shutouts.
Green Bay - The Phoenix have enjoyed a strong start to the season, carrying a 11-4 mark into the league openers this weekend.  Green Bay went 3-1 at the UNI Dome Invitational to open the year, the same tournament Valpo went 3-1 at, and then went 8-3 at the Rebel Spring Games.