Valparaiso (29-13, 13-2 Horizon)
Wednesday, April 25 - Butler
(20-27, 10-8 Horizon) - 3 p.m. [DH] - Valparaiso, Ind.
Thursday, April 26 - Butler - 3 p.m.
Saturday, April 28 - Loyola
(18-20, 11-7 Horizon) - 1 p.m. [DH] - Valparaiso, Ind.
Sunday, April 29 - Loyola - noon
Next Up in Crusader Softball: Valparaiso faces a key week of Horizon League play as it looks to secure its spot atop the league standings. The Crusaders host a three-game series against Butler in mid-week action from the Valparaiso University Softball Field before welcoming second-place Loyola to Valpo for three games this weekend. Sunday’s series finale against the Ramblers will be Senior Day for the Crusaders, as they honor a group of seven players in their final season with the Valpo softball program.
Previously: Valpo struggled to a 1-3 record last week in four road games. The week started at Notre Dame in mid-week action, with the Crusaders unable to overcome an early six-run deficit in a 6-3 loss. Then, at UIC for a weekend series, Valpo captured the first game in eight innings, 7-3, before suffering its first two Horizon League losses of the season, dropping the nightcap of the doubleheader 5-3 and falling in nine innings on Sunday, 1-0.
Following the Crusaders: Valpo’s campus radio station, WVUR (95.1 FM), will be broadcasting all six games this week live over its airwaves. Live stats for all six contests will also be available through www.valpoathletics.com.
Head Coach Jordan Stevens: Jordan Stevens is in his second season at the helm of the Valparaiso University softball program in 2012 after leading the Crusaders to a successful season in his first year in charge in 2011. Stevens, who now owns a record of 63-34-1 at the helm of the Crusaders, guided Valpo to 34 victories in his debut campaign, just one win shy of the program's single-season record. Valpo finished Horizon League play with a 15-7 record, finishing just one-half game out of the regular season championship, and was within one run of advancing to the league tournament championship.
Series Notes: Butler - The Crusaders lead the all-time series against the Bulldogs, 19-17, but Butler holds a 7-5 edge since Valpo joined the Horizon League. Valpo struggled last year against the Bulldogs, taking just one of three in the regular season series at Butler and suffering both its losses in the Horizon League Championship against its in-state rival. Sara Strickland is 11-for-30 in her career against the Bulldogs and has also drawn six walks.
Loyola - The Crusaders trail the all-time series with Loyola, 32-21, but are 7-6 against the Ramblers since joining the Horizon League. Valpo took just one out of three at Loyola in the regular season series last year, a series that proved decisive as Loyola earned the regular season title by one-half game. But the Crusaders downed the Ramblers in an elimination game at the Horizon League Championship, 4-1.
Crusaders Picked Fourth in Preseason Poll: The head coaches selected Valparaiso to finish fourth in the Horizon League this season according to the preseason poll. UIC topped the polling with 60 points and six first-place votes, while Butler had two first-place votes and 55 points to place second. The Crusaders, who totaled 45 points, finished just behind Loyola in the voting.
Plenty of Experience Returns: For the second straight year, the Crusaders bring back the vast majority of their team from a season ago. Of last year’s 18 letterwinners, 15 are back on the Valpo roster for 2012, including seven of the nine regular position players, as well as all four pitchers.
Historic League Start: While the Crusaders finally dropped a Horizon League game in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader at UIC, the loss merely halted one of the best starts ever in league play by a softball team. Valpo won each of its first four league series by sweeping all three contests and then took the series opener against the Flames for a 13-0 start, the second-best start in league play ever by a Horizon League program. Only the 1997 UIC squad, which went 14-0 in Horizon League action, won more consecutive games to start off the league season.
What’s On the Line: Entering the next-to-last week of regular season play, the Crusaders have their destiny in their own hands this week. Assuming no rainouts, Valpo can secure at least a share of the Horizon League regular season championship with four wins over their last nine games. Four wins would leave the Crusaders with a maximum of seven losses in league play, a mark which no team would be able to better. One win over Loyola among those four wins would also ensure that Valpo would earn the #1 seed for the Horizon League Championship and the right to host the tournament on its campus.
Senior Day: Valpo will be honoring a group of seven seniors on Sunday prior to its season finale against the Ramblers: Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry, Shaleigh Jansen, Alex Lagesse, Sam McGee, Kelsey Phalen, Jordan Rutkowski and Sara Strickland. The seven have been the foundation of the Crusaders’ success over the last four years, a stretch in which Valpo won 123 games (entering this week) and finished one-half game out of the Horizon League title last season. This season, they have helped lead Valpo to 29 victories already and have the Crusaders atop the Horizon League. The highly decorated group owns 11 of Valpo’s career records and nine of the Crusaders’ single-season records.
Double-Digit Winning Streak: The Crusaders’ loss to Notre Dame in non-league action last week snapped just the second double-digit winning streak in program history. Valpo carried an 11-game winning streak prior to the loss against the Fighting Irish, trailing just the 2011 squad, which won 13 straight at one point, for the longest winning streak all-time. The Crusaders, who went nearly three full weeks between losses, won nine of their 11 during this winning streak within Horizon League play, as opposed to the record streak, in which just three of the 13 games were league contests.
Comeback Kids: After needing to rally from any sort of deficit in just four of its first 22 victories this season, Valpo has come from behind in five of its last seven victories. Most recently, the Crusaders rallied from a 2-1 deficit through five innings for an extra-inning win at UIC. Among the comeback victories was a rally from a 6-2 deficit through four innings in the series finale at Wright State, but even that would pale in comparison to what happened two days later...
The Record Rally: Given that the first game of the Saturday doubleheader against YSU was a 4-3 decision, nobody could have seen coming what happened in the nightcap. The Penguins torched Valpo for 11 first-inning runs and added another tally in the second to go up 12-0 through two frames. But that only set the stage for the largest come-from-behind win in Crusader softball history and what is believed to be the largest comeback in NCAA Division I softball this season. Valpo scored four in the third, three in the fourth and four in the fifth to cut the deficit to just one run before scoring one in the sixth to tie it and getting a walkoff single in the seventh for the 13-12 win. The 12 runs also marks the most Valpo has ever surrendered in a victory.
Record Margin: Valpo’s high-powered offense rose to a new level earlier this year in a 17-0 win over Green Bay on March 31, setting a new program record for largest margin of victory. The Crusaders defeated the Phoenix by 17 runs, surpassing the previous mark of 16 set on April 2, 2010 when Valpo downed Detroit, 18-2. Valpo’s 17 runs matches the third-most in a single game in program history (4/21/84 vs. Illinois Insitute of Technology; 3/30/11 at Northern Illinois) and was just one run shy of the single-game record. In addition, Valpo plated 12 runs in the fourth inning of that contest, the highest known single-inning tally all-time at Valpo.
Return to the Friendly Confines: After playing four road games last week, Valpo returns to the Valparaiso University Softball Field this week for six league games to start an eight-game homestand. So far this year, the Crusaders are 8-1 at home, suffering only a one-run loss to Purdue. Over the last three seasons, Valpo owns an impressive 30-5-1 record at home, including a 23-3 record in Horizon League play.
Near the Top Offensively: The Valpo offense only cobbled together 13 runs over four games last week, including getting shut out for the first time since returning from its spring break trip, but still rank among the nation’s top teams in a number of categories. The Crusaders are still averaging 6.29 runs/game on the season, good for tenth nationally, and also rank among the nation’s top-30 offensively in doubles/game (1.76, 3rd), batting average (.319, 14th), slugging percentage (.500, 14th) and home runs/game (0.98, 30th). Valpo has now scored at least six runs in 22 of its 42 games, going 21-1 in those contests.
Winning by Run Rule: The Crusaders won the middle game of their three-game set at Wright State 10-0 in six innings, their seventh victory via run rule this season. Valpo still has yet to be on the wrong end of a shortened victory in 2012. Last season, the Crusaders won eight games by run rule and lost three times. Since joining the Horizon League, Valpo boasts a 20-3 record in league games shortened via run rule.
League Honorees: Through nine weekends of play, the Crusaders have tallied seven Horizon League weekly award winners, most recently Sam McGee on April 16 after she broke Valpo’s career wins record and threw her fourth consecutive shutout the previous week. Senior Jordan Rutkowski has earned three Player of the Week nods this season, while redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec, freshman Brittany Duncan and senior Alex Lagesse have each also captured one weekly honor from the league office.
National Player of the Year Finalist: Senior catcher Jordan Rutkowski was one of just 25 softball players nationwide on the Finalist list for the 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year honor, which came out two weeks ago. Rutkowski is the only Horizon League player on the list, which is dominated by players from major college programs. The senior is hitting .423 on the year, good for 33rd nationally, while she also ranks among the top-40 in the nation in RBIs/game (1.21, 9th), doubles/game (0.33, 14th), slugging percentage (.823, 20th) and home runs/game (0.29, 40th).
Sterling Rookie Season: Freshman Brittany Duncan is making her case not only to be named the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year, but to earn a spot on the league’s First Team. Duncan went 6-for-10 with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs last week over the Crusaders’ four games to continue her standout rookie season. The Crusaders’ cleanup hitter ranks among the top-seven in the Horizon League and leads all league freshmen in batting average (.390), on-base percentage (.475), slugging percentage (.636), doubles (11), home runs (6) and RBIs (34). She has especially stood out within Horizon League play, where she leads the league with a .512 batting average through five league series and ranks second in on-base percentage (.593) and slugging percentage (.837).
Marinec Also Over .400: Redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec continues to stand out at the plate for the Crusaders as well in 2012. Marinec is now hitting .417 on the season, good for third in the Horizon League and 35th nationally. In Valpo’s 21 games since returning from spring break, a stretch in which the Crusaders have gone 17-4, Marinec has led the way, hitting .492 (32-of-65) with 16 runs scored and 13 RBIs.
Lagesse Continues Strong Campaign: While the offense has gotten much of the accolades this year, senior pitcher Alex Lagesse has been strong as ever in the circle for the Crusaders. Lagesse, who posted a 1.56 ERA over 18 innings of work last week, including 4.2 innings of shutout softball at Notre Dame, currently is tied for the league lead with 13 victories and ranks second with a 2.42 ERA. The senior is second all-time in Crusader history with 376 strikeouts and also ranks third with 46 wins.