The Valparaiso softball team opened up Horizon League play on Saturday afternoon in Youngstown, Ohio, splitting a pair of high-scoring games with Youngstown State. The Crusaders captured the opener 7-4 before falling in the nightcap, 12-9. The third game of the series, scheduled for Sunday afternoon, has been canceled due to forecasted cold conditions.
The Crusaders wasted little time touching up YSU ace Casey Crozier in the first game, plating a pair of runs in the top of the first. With one out, freshman Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) sent a single through the left side and sophomore Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) followed with a bloop single into left field.
Junior Tarah McShane (Streamwood, Ill./St. Edward Central Catholic) and sophomore Janelle Bouchard (Kennebunk, Maine/Kennebunk) then drew back-to-back walks, the latter forcing home Lawson with the game’s first run. Two batters later, it was freshman Sam Stewart’s (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) turn to work a free pass, this one scoring Ranieri and making it 2-0 Valpo.
Crusader starter Sierra Pico (Las Vegas, Nev./Legacy) worked around trouble in each of the first few innings, stranding six Penguins on base through four to maintain the two-run edge. The Crusaders would double their lead in the top of the fifth, as Lawson reached on a fielder’s choice and Ranieri walked to set up a two-run double to the left-center fence from McShane, making it 4-0 Valpo.
The four-run advantage proved to be short-lived, however, as the Penguins tied the game in the bottom of the fifth. Two walks and a single forced Pico from the circle, and sophomore Taylor Weissenhofer (Orland Park, Ill./Lockport Township) was greeted rudely by YSU left fielder Sarah Dowd, who connected on a game-tying grand slam to tie the game at four apiece.
Both teams had chances to break the tie in the sixth – Valpo with two on and two outs, YSU with runners on the corners and two outs – but neither side was able to push a run across. The Crusaders would score the decisive runs in the top of the seventh, however. Lawson led off with a bunt single, and Ranieri lined a base hit of her own into right. Three batters later, senior Amanda Wisniewski (Skokie, Ill./Huntley) launched a towering home run over the left-field fence, her fifth of the season, to give Valpo the 7-4 lead. Weissenhofer pitched around a one-out single in the seventh to secure the win.
Wisniewski’s game-winning homer was her third hit of the day, while Lawson (2-for-4, 3 runs) and Ranieri (2-for-3, 3 runs) each had multi-hit days as well. Weissenhofer improved to 4-5 as she earned the win for the Crusaders, giving up just one run in three innings of relief work. Crozier took the complete-game loss for the Penguins to fall to 7-3.
Valpo jumped out to a quick lead in the second game of the day as well, plating four runs in its half of the first. RBI doubles from McShane and Bouchard staked the Crusaders to a quick 2-0 lead, and Wisniewski made it 4-0 Valpo with her second consecutive homer, this one a two-run shot well over the right-center fence.
But this time, the Penguins would strike back to take their first lead of either game. YSU pitcher Kayla Haslett connected on a three-run homer in the bottom of the second to cut Valpo’s advantage to 4-3, and then in the third inning, the Penguins pushed four more runs across the plate – three of them unearned – to go ahead 7-4.
Valpo responded immediately in the top of the fourth, posting a five-spot on the board to re-take the lead. Senior Kimberlin Wallace (Newton, Ill./Community [Lake Land C.C.]) drove in a run with an infield single, and Lawson turned on a pitch and sent it into right-center field for a two-run single. Ranieri capped the five-run frame with her second home run of the year, a two-run round-tripper to right field to give the Crusaders a 9-7 lead.
But YSU scored five runs of its own in the bottom half of the fourth to go back ahead by three runs, 12-9. The Crusaders had a chance to again put runs on the board in the fifth, loading the bases with one away, but a groundout and a strikeout ended that threat, and Valpo could only muster up a one-out single in the sixth over the final two innings.
Eight of the Crusaders’ nine hitters picked up base knocks in the nightcap, with Lawson, McShane, Ranieri and freshman Jorgi Calombaris (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) all tallying two hits. Lawson, Ranieri and Wisniewski all totaled four hits over the two games on Saturday, while Lawson scored five runs and Wisniewski drove in five runs. Senior Ashlyn Michalak (Temperance, Mich./Springfield [Owens C.C.]) took the loss for Valpo, falling to 0-2 after giving up three earned runs in 1.2 innings of relief, while Caitlyn Minney improved to 1-3 with the win in relief for Youngstown State (13-10, 1-1 Horizon).
Valparaiso (6-19, 1-1 Horizon) returns to action next Thursday, March 27 at Eastern Illinois at 4 p.m. for a single game. The game was originally scheduled to be played on Wednesday, but has been pushed back 24 hours.