The Valparaiso softball team faced elimination for the first time in the 2013 Horizon League Softball Championship in Chicago, Ill. on Thursday evening, but stayed alive with a 3-1 victory over host UIC to remain in the hunt for the league crown. Valpo will return to the field for another elimination game at noon on Friday.
The game’s early threats went UIC’s way, but Crusader starting pitcher Taylor Weissenhofer (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport Township) was able to keep the Flames off the board. UIC got a runner to second with one out in the first when a pair of Valpo outfielders collided chasing a fly ball, but Weissenhofer got a strikeout and a fly out to end the frame.
Then, the second inning saw the Flames pick up an infield single and a hit batsman with two away to put two runners on base, but again Weissenhofer, the league leader in strikeouts, reared back and picked up a big K to keep the game scoreless.
Meanwhile, Valpo sent the minimum to the plate through the first three innings, but were able to break through for the game’s first runs in the fourth. Freshman Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) led off the frame with a single inside the left-field line, and two batters later, fifth-year senior Joylyn Ichiyama (Torrance, Calif./Redondo Union) worked a full-count walk to put two runners on.
With two outs, freshman Janelle Bouchard (Kennebunk, Maine/Kennebunk) stepped up and showed why she leads the league in RBIs, driving a ball down the right-field line for her first career triple, plating both Ranieri and Ichiyama to make it 2-0 Crusaders.
UIC looked to have a chance to get at least one run back in the fourth inning, as Coryn Schmit led off the inning with a double, but Weissenhofer picked up a pair of strikeouts around a fly out to get out of the inning unscathed. The freshman would set the side down in order in the fifth and sixth innings as well.
The Crusaders were able to push a key insurance run across the plate in the top of the sixth inning, sparked by a leadoff double from Ranieri. Ichiyama reached on a walk two batters later and would prove critical to Valpo’s third run scoring. With the runners on first and second, Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist) grounded what looked like a possible double-play ball to second base.
But Ichiyama stopped in order to avoid being tagged out, and after the throw to first to force Marinec, got caught in a deliberate rundown. The rundown held UIC’s attention long enough for Ranieri to take off for home, where she slid in easily ahead of the tag to make it 3-0 Valpo.
Weissenhofer’s stretch of nine consecutive batters retired ended with the first hitter in the bottom of the seventh, as Jenna Marsalli sent a solo shot over the left-center fence on a 0-2 pitch. But five pitches later, the game was over, as the final three Flames were retired in order to secure the Crusader victory.
Weissenhofer was stellar in the circle on Thursday, surrendering just three hits and the lone run, striking out six batters without walking any as the freshman improved to 18-11 on the season. Devin Miller took the complete-game loss for UIC (23-25), dropping her record to 22-16.
Valparaiso (30-24) will now wait to learn its opponent for the next elimination game, scheduled for an noon first pitch on Friday. The Crusaders will face the winner of an elimination game between Loyola and Cleveland State, a game which started Thursday evening and was suspended due to rain in the fifth inning. Whichever team Valpo faces, fans will be able to watch live video on the Horizon League Network and listen to live audio on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso), with links for live video, audio and stats available on ValpoAthletics.com.