Valparaiso senior pitcher Alex Lagesse (Beecher, Ill./Beecher) was stellar in a two-hit effort in the circle, matching Valpo’s individual single-season wins record, while the Crusaders’ offense gave her three early runs to work with as Valpo remained alive in the 2012 Horizon League Softball Championship with a 3-0 victory over UIC Thursday evening.
The win came in the first-ever game played under the lights at night at the Valparaiso University Softball Field. With the victory, the Crusaders advance in the loser’s bracket and will take on Youngstown State on Friday morning at 11 a.m. in an elimination game.
Lagesse mowed the Flames down all night long to improve to 19-9 on the season, her 19 victories matching Andrea Zappia’s 2008 season for the most victories in a single season in Crusader history. The only two hits the senior allowed came back-to-back in the second, as UIC picked up a bunt single and a bloop single into shallow center with two outs. But Lagesse set down Erica Hampton looking on strikes to avert the threat.
Other than that, only two other Flames batters even reached base on Thursday night. Melissa Priesh reached on an error to lead off the fifth, ending a streak of seven straight retired by Lagesse, but Priesh was later called out for leaving first base early. Jacki Fletcher walked with one out in the seventh as well, but Lagesse induced consecutive flyouts to straight-away center to close out the gem.
“I thought that Alex threw well for us all day long,” said Crusader head coach Jordan Stevens. “She threw well in the first game too, and I think she just carried that over and was good for us tonight.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Crusaders got the only offense they would need in the bottom of the first. Redshirt sophomore Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist) picked up a one-out infield single and then replaced senior Sara Strickland (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) as the lead runner at second base when Strickland was erased on a grounder to third. Senior Jordan Rutkowski (Alden, N.Y./Alden) stepped up and blooped a ball that landed in shallow left field, just inside the foul line, to plate Marinec without a throw for the game’s first run.
Valpo then picked up a couple of critical insurance tallies in the second inning. Senior Kelsey Phalen (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) led off the frame with a walk, and after moving up to second on a sacrifice bunt, came around to score on a solid single back through the middle by Strickland. Strickland, who advanced to second on the throw to the plate, took advantage of a passed ball to take third base and scored on another base knock back up the middle, this one by sophomore Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) to make it 3-0.
“I thought getting on the board early was important, because UIC is a tough team with two good pitchers and batters throughout their lineup who can do damage,” said Stevens. “It was also good for our confidence to get out to the lead, especially after the way our first game ended. Even though they didn't all end up with hits on the board, I still thought we had better at-bats this game with runners in scoring position.”
Devin Miller took the loss for UIC (26-27), going 2.1 innings and giving up all three runs in the starting assignment. Valpo tallied just four hits by four different players, but also worked five walks and got hit by a pitch once. Strickland, Rutkowski and senior Joylyn Ichiyama-Drewry (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) all reached base twice in the winning effort.
Valparaiso (38-17) looks to remain alive in the 11 a.m. contest against Youngstown State Friday morning. With a win, the Crusaders would play another elimination game at 4 p.m. against either Butler or Loyola. All the action tomorrow can be seen live on the Horizon League Network, with links for the live video and live stats available at www.valpoathletics.com.