A pair of clutch early-inning base hits gave the Valparaiso softball team a lead it would not relinquish in Sunday's nightcap at the Valparaiso University Softball Field, as pitcher Sierra Pico (North Las Vegas, Nev./Legacy) held UIC down in a 3-1 Crusader victory. The Flames took the day's opener, 10-0, as the two squads split the doubleheader.
After Valpo escaped a UIC threat in the top of the first, the Crusaders took the lead in the bottom half of the frame. Senior Tori Brown (Harrison, Ohio/Harrison) reached on a fielder's choice with one out, moving up to second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball. With Brown on third and two outs, the Flames chose to intentionally walk fifth-year senior Joylyn Ichiyama (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union). Sophomore Tarah McShane (Streamwood, Ill./St. Edward Central Catholic) made UIC pay for the intentional pass, working a full count before hitting a fly ball down the right-field line, where it would drop for a two-run double.
UIC put two on with two outs in the top of the second, but Pico induced a fly-out to keep the two-run edge, an advantage to which Valpo would add a run in its next turn at the plate. Junior Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) kicked off the inning with a single back through the middle and moved up to second on a successful sacrifice by senior Jennifer Hermanson (Beecher, Ill./Beecher). Two batters later, freshman Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) drove a ball over the left fielder's head down the left-field line, good for a two-bagger which was easily enough to plate Doerffler for a 3-0 lead.
Valpo would get just one more runner into scoring position over the game's final four innings, but it would not matter, as Pico made the three early runs stand up. The Flames plated their only tally in the top of the fourth on an RBI single from Courtney Heeley and had two on with two outs, but Pico struck out Natalie Hernandez to maintain the two-run lead. Pico stranded a leadoff single in the sixth on third base and also pitched around a two-out double in the seventh as the Crusaders captured the series finale.
Pico improved to 8-6 on the year with the complete-game five-hitter, while UIC's Devin Miller also went the distance, falling to 15-13 on the season. Ichiyama (two walks) and Ranieri (hit, walk) both reached base twice in the winning effort.
The first game saw the Flames score two in the third on a two-run double from Jenna Marsalli, and then add four runs apiece in the fourth and fifth as UIC (15-20, 9-3 Horizon) earned the run-rule win. Fifth-year senior Amanda Bolton (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon) fell to 3-2 for Valpo after starting and tossing the first 3.2 innings, while Miller earned the complete-game win for the Flames. The Crusaders were limited to just three hits in the opener, two of which came off the bat of redshirt junior Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist).
Valparaiso (21-19, 6-6 Horizon) steps out of league play for a single game on Thursday afternoon at Notre Dame at 4 p.m. CT. Live stats will be available through ValpoAthletics.com.