Valpo Ready for 2010 Horizon League Championship
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Valpo Ready for 2010 Horizon League Championship
Alex Lagesse and the Crusaders head to the Horizon League Championship this weekend. (Ray Acevedo)

The Matchups: Valparaiso (32-19, 12-9 Horizon) takes aim at the 2010 Horizon League Championship and the corresponding automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament this weekend as the Crusaders head to the league tournament in Cleveland.  Valpo enters the tournament as the fourth seed and will open the double-elimination event on Thursday morning against fifth-seeded Green Bay (26-18, 11-11 Horizon) at 9 a.m. CDT.

Previously in Valpo Softball:
The Crusaders made the first of back-to-back trips to Cleveland last weekend, but could not come away with a victory, as league regular-season champion swept a doubleheader from Valpo on Saturday, 3-2 and 7-0, and then won the final game of the regular season on Sunday, 5-1.  Joylyn Ichiyama and Jordan Rutkowski each picked up three hits over the three games to lead the Crusader offense, while Ichiyama and Sara Strickland each tallied a home run.

Versus the Opponents: Green Bay - Valpo is now 5-16 all-time against the Phoenix after a doubleheader sweep, 8-0 and 3-0, on March 27 this year.  Sara Strickland went 5-for-6 with three doubles in that series.
Cleveland State - The Crusaders are now just 5-14 in program history against the Vikings following last weekend’s three-game sweep.
Wright State - The Crusaders and Raiders have each won nine games in the all-time series, but WSU won all three meetings this year on April 27/28: 5-4, 6-2 and 10-5.  Strickland went 5-for-11 with five runs scored over the three games, while Jordan Rutkowski picked up four extra-base hits.
UIC - Valpo trails the all-time series with the Flames, 50-8, after UIC won two of three this year on April 17/18 in Chicago.  UIC won by scores of 5-2 and 4-3, while the Crusaders won the middle game, 9-1.  Rutkowski drove in six runs in the series, while Jessie Marinec scored four times.
Butler - The Crusaders are 18-13 in program history against the Bulldogs after the two teams split a doubleheader this year on April 6 by identical 3-0 scores.  Sadie Conner had four hits, including a three-run homer to win the opener, while Alex Lagesse gave up just four hits in 9.1 innings of work.

Following the Crusaders:  Live statistics and live chats will be available for all of Valpo’s games at the Horizon League Championship through  The live chats will begin approximately half an hour before first pitch.  If the Crusaders make it to Saturday’s championship round, live video will also be available.

Valpo in the HL Championship: In its third season as a Horizon League member, Valparaiso is looking to improve on its 1-4 mark in HL Championship action.  The Crusaders went 0-2 in 2008 before going 1-2 last year in tournament play.  Also, this will be the third straight year that Valpo and Green Bay have faced off in the league’s postseason event, with the Phoenix earning an 8-1 win in 2008 and a 7-4 victory in both teams’ opener last year.

Improving on Preseason Pick:
Valpo was tabbed sixth in the preseason polling of the league’s head coaches and finished the regular season in fourth place, the second time in three years that the Crusaders have finished above where they were projected.  Valpo’s two-spot jump matched Green Bay for the largest finish above the preseason placement.

The Road is a Lonely Place:
Valpo’s road league schedule ended up tilted almost off the charts towards the league’s strength, as the Crusaders had to play each of the top three teams in the final league standings (CSU, WSU, UIC) on the road, going just 1-8 in those three series.  But Valpo took care of business in the rest of its league games, going 11-1, including an 8-1 mark at home, part of a record-setting 12-1 campaign at the Valparaiso University Softball Field.  The good news for the Crusaders, heading into the league tournament, is they are 12-2 in neutral-site contests this year.

Winningest Team: This year’s incarnation of the Crusaders became the winningest squad in program history with their second win against Youngstown State on May 1, breaking the 2008 team’s record of 30 wins.  This year’s squad now has 32 victories with at least five scheduled games remaining.  The senior class of Carrie Franson and Whitney Warner are also by far the winningest class in Valpo softball history, with 114 wins and counting over their four-year careers.

Danger - Falling Records: The wins record is just one of many set already this year by the 2010 Crusaders.  Last weekend, Valpo set a team record for hits in a single season, while in the field, Sadie Conner and Kelsey Phalen broke single-season records for assists and putdouts, respectively.  This comes after the team already set single-season marks for runs, RBIs, doubles, homers, total bases and saves earlier in the year.  In addition, Sara Strickland had already broken the individual single-season records for hits and total bases and Shaleigh Jansen set the saves record.  For updates on the single-season and career record books, see pages 4-6 of this week’s notes.

Raking in the Honors: Valparaiso has dominated the Horizon League weekly awards this season, bringing home nine honors this year.  Kelsey Phalen and Shaleigh Jansen swept the Batter and Pitcher of the Week honors, respectively, following the Crusaders’ opening weekend of action February 15.  Jordan Rutkowski was named the Batter of the Week March 1, while Alex Lagesse earned Pitcher of the Week accolades March 8.  Lisa DeBruzzi was awarded Batter of the Week honors March 15, and Lagesse earned her second Pitcher of the Week award March 22.  On March 29, Valpo again earned a double honor, as Sadie Conner was named Batter of the Week, while Lagesse repeated as Pitcher of the Week, her third honor of the season.  Most recently, Sara Strickland just was named Batter of the Week on May 3, meaning more than half of the Crusaders’ starting lineup has been honored by the league this season.

Youth Shall Be Served: While this year’s team has done things no other squad in program history has done, it’s worth noting that the 2010 edition of the Valparaiso softball team is extremely young, as this year’s Crusaders have just two seniors (catcher Whitney Warner; pitcher Carrie Franson).  Four juniors, seven sophomores and five freshmen round out the 19-player squad.

Strickland Stands Out: Sophomore Sara Strickland has been a consistent force at the top of the Crusader order all season long and closed the regular season among Valpo’s all-time leaders in a number of categories.  Strickland has already set new Crusader single-season records for hits (65) and total bases (98) and enters the Horizon League Championship tied for second in doubles (14) and triples (5), third in runs scored (41) and fifth in walks (23) and steals (20).  She also is on pace to place second in Valpo history for batting average and on-base percentage in a single season, as well as third in slugging percentage.  The sophomore especially shone during Horizon League play, finishing atop the league in league-only games with a .446 batting average and a .526 on-base percentage, the latter 32 points higher than anybody else in the league.

Rutkowski Powers Up: Sophomore Jordan Rutkowski was the catalyst for Valpo’s come-from-behind win over YSU back on May 2, hitting two home runs, including the game-tying three-run shot in the sixth inning, before drawing a bases-loaded walk-off walk to win the game.  Her five RBIs that day gave her 36 on the season, second-most in a single year in school history and good for fifth in the league.  She also has now drawn 27 walks, second-most on Valpo’s single-season charts as well and fifth in the league.  She enters the Horizon League Championship sixth in the league in batting average (.376) and slugging percentage (.632) and third in on-base percentage (.482).

Conner Dominates League: Junior Sadie Conner provided Valpo one of its biggest offensive sparks during Horizon League play.  The Crusader third baseman was one of just seven league players to hit better than .400 in league action, swinging at a .408 clip.  She also finished sixth during the Horizon League slate in slugging percentage (.662) and among the league’s top ten as well in total bases and RBIs.  Overall this year, Conner has broken into Valpo’s single-season top-fives, tallying 86 total bases (t-3rd), hitting seven home runs (4th) and recording 54 hits (t-5th).  Also a standout in the field, Conner broke Valpo’s single-season assists record last weekend and has now assisted on 141 putouts this year, a number which also leads the league.

Keep On Hitting, Joy:
Sophomore Joylyn Ichiyama has quietly racked up a season-best ten-game hitting streak heading into the Horizon League Championship.  Over Valpo’s last ten contests, all league games, the Crusader second baseman is 12-for-28 with five RBIs and is slugging at a .607 rate.  The hot close to the regular season enabled Ichiyama to close Horizon League play with a .393 batting average, just outside the league’s top-ten.

Marinec Produces as a Rookie:
Freshman Jessie Marinec has put together a stellar rookie season for the Crusaders this year at shortstop.  Marinec closed the regular season third on the team and 12th in the Horizon League with a .349 batting average while getting on base at a .429 clip, good for seventh in the league rankings.  The freshman has also proven adept at crossing the plate, scoring 36 runs on the season, which ranks second on the team and fourth in a single-season in school history.

McGee Shuts Down Bats: Sophomore Sam McGee concluded her solid Horizon League campaign last week, ending league play with a 2.06 ERA and a 6-4 record.  McGee’s numbers in league play mirror her performance all season long, as she closed the regular season at 14-6 with a 2.16 ERA, allowing opponents to hit just .254 off of her.  The sophomore walked just 24 batters on the year in 123.1 innings of work while setting down 93 hitters on strikes.  Her 14 wins overall this season are tied for third-most in a single year in program history and rank third in the Horizon League, while her 2.16 ERA also is good for third in the league rankings.

Lagesse Strikes Them Out:
Fellow sophomore pitcher Alex Lagesse stumbled a bit towards the end of the season, but still concluded the regular season with a 2.36 ERA and 13-10 record.  Her 13 victories are good for fourth in the league and fifth-most in a single year by a Crusader all-time.  Of the 383 outs she has registered in the circle this year, Lagesse has struck out 103 hitters, fifth-most among Horizon League pitchers.  Her 103 K’s also is just two strikeouts away from moving into the Valpo single-season top-five in that category.

Jansen Saves the Day: Sophomore Shaleigh Jansen stepped into the role as the Crusaders’ relief ace this season and put up good numbers off the bench all season long.  Jansen broke Valpo’s single-season saves record, registering eight saves this year, which also ranks second nationally.  Despite not picking up any saves as a freshman, she already ranks second on the Crusader all-time chart in the category as well.  Overall in 26 relief appearances this season, Jansen has posted a 2.21 ERA and has struck out 34 batters in 38 innings, allowing opponents to hit just .248 against her.

Quickly: This is the third time in four league tournament appearances under head coach Randy Schneider the Crusaders have headed into tournament play losing their last three regular season games ... Valpo enters the league tournament tops in the Horizon League in team batting average (.316) and second in team ERA (2.37), trailing only Butler ... the Crusaders’ 86 doubles this season have demolished the previous team single-season mark of 68, as five different players have picked up ten or more two-baggers this year, while two others have nine ... sophomore Kelsey Phalen, who has started all 51 games this season at first base, broke the Crusader individual single-season putouts record last weekend and now has recorded 372 outs this year.