For the first time all season, the Valparaiso softball team lost back-to-back games, dropping both of its contests at the opening day of the Diamond Devil Invitational in Tempe, Ariz. The Crusaders lost their opener against New Mexico State, 8-5, and battled the defending College World Series champions, #5 Arizona State, before eventually falling, 6-2.
“Despite the two losses, we didn’t play poorly today,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “We again swung the bats well and played tough, but need to put forward complete efforts together tomorrow in order to get back into the win column.”
The Crusaders found themselves playing from behind the entire way in the opener against the Aggies, who they had just beaten on Tuesday. A two-run homer in the second put NMSU on the board before senior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) responded with a solo shot in the bottom half of the frame to cut the lead in half. New Mexico State added a pair of runs apiece in the top of the third and fourth innings to push its lead to 6-1.
Valpo rallied in its next two at-bats, however. The bottom of the fourth saw freshman Brittany Duncan (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn) lead off with a walk before redshirt junior Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) smacked a two-run round-tripper two batters later. Redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist) added a solo shot later in the inning to cut the deficit to 6-4.
The Crusaders then added another run in the bottom of the fifth. Freshman Lindsey Norway (Chicago, Ill./Chicago Christian) reached on an error to lead off the frame and moved up station-by-station before eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly from senior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) to make it a 6-5 game. Valpo put runners on the corners with two outs in the sixth, but could not push across the tying run, and NMSU then scored two runs in the seventh to cement its victory.
Ichiyama-Drewry and Marinec led the Crusaders with two hits apiece in the opener, while five different Valpo players crossed the plate. Senior Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) started and took the loss for the Crusaders, falling to 5-2 after giving up four runs in three innings of work. Celisha Walker earned the win for New Mexico State (15-10).
The nightcap saw the Crusaders answer the first two scores by one of the nation’s top teams before eventually succumbing. ASU scored two in the top of the first, playing as the visiting team, and had runners on the corners with one out before Marinec turned a line drive into an unassisted double play to end the frame. Valpo then responded in its half of the first, as Norway led off with a walk, moved over to second on a groundout and scored two batters later on an RBI single by Duncan to cut the deficit to 2-1.
A sacrifice fly added a run to the Sun Devils’ lead in the top of the second, but Marinec answered in the bottom half of the inning, launching a solo home run with two outs, her third straight game with a homer. The crucial blows came in the top of the fifth, as ASU connected on back-to-back round-trippers to push the lead to 5-2. The Sun Devils added another run in the top of the sixth on an RBI double, and while the Crusaders put two runners on in the seventh, they were unable to cut into the four-run lead against the nation’s fifth-ranked team.
Senior Sam McGee (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) took the loss for Valpo, falling to 4-2 after starting and throwing the opening 4.1 innings. Hillary Bach improved to a perfect 10-0 for Arizona State (22-2), but gave up as many earned runs in her 6.2 innings of work as she had in her first 49.2 innings of the season.
Valparaiso (11-5) will look to get back on the winning track with a pair of games on Saturday from Tempe. The Crusaders will face Creighton at 10 a.m. CST before following up with a 2 p.m. meeting with Pacific.