Another day just called for more walk-off heroics from the Valparaiso softball team, this time courtesy of junior Tarah McShane (Streamwood, Ill./St. Edward Central Catholic), who lined a two-run, two-out single into left field to give the Crusaders a 5-4 win in eight innings over UIC and send Valpo to Championship Saturday. The Crusaders lost their first game of the day to Green Bay, 9-1, and will have to beat the Phoenix twice on Saturday to earn the league title.
Trailing by a run entering the bottom of the first extra inning, senior Angie Doerffler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) got the rally started with a liner into center for a leadoff single. Freshman Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) followed with a two-strike infield single, as the UIC second baseman dove to stop it but couldn’t make a play, giving Valpo runners on first and second with nobody out.
Back-to-back outs had the Crusaders down to their final breath, but senior Amanda Wisniewski (Skokie, Ill./Huntley) kept hope alive, lining a shot off the third baseman’s glove for an infield single to load the bases. McShane then stepped up and lined the first pitch she saw into left, with Doerffler scoring the tying run and Lawson, who was being waved home all the way, scoring standing up behind her as the UIC left fielder couldn’t come up with the ball.
The teams traded leadoff solo homers in the first to open the scoring, as the Flames started the game with a solo shot by Natalie Hernandez and the Crusaders countered with a first-pitch bomb to straightaway center by sophomore Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central). Valpo took the lead in the bottom of the third as Ranieri, who led off the inning with a walk, scored on a single into center by McShane.
UIC went back on top thanks to a two-out, two-run triple in the top of the fifth from Jacki Fletcher, but the Crusaders answered immediately to tie the game in the bottom half of the frame on a run-scoring single by sophomore Janelle Bouchard (Kennebunk, Maine/Kennebunk). Both teams had runners on base in both the sixth and seventh innings, but were unable to score as the game went to extra innings, where the Flames struck in the top of the eighth on a two-out RBI double by Courtney Heeley, setting the stage for the Crusader heroics.
Valpo starter Mollie Lindeman (Hebron, Ind./Hebron [PNC]) threw a solid game in the circle, going 7.2 innings and surrendering just two earned runs – four in all – while scattering nine hits and striking out nine batters. Sophomore Taylor Weissenhofer (Orland Park, Ill./Lockport Township) entered with one on and two out in the eighth and threw one pitch to end the frame, earning the win to improve to 16-12. UIC (16-28) reliever Alice Fitzpatrick took the loss to fall to 6-12. Lawson went 3-for-4 to lead the Valpo attack, while Wisniewski and McShane each had multi-hit games as well.
The Crusaders struggled in their opener against Green Bay, scoring their lone run in the top of the second as Bouchard drilled a one-out double and came around to score on a throwing error following an infield single by Jessie Marinec (Alsip, Ill./Marist). The Phoenix scored two in the first to take the lead for good, and added one run in the second, two in the third and four in the fourth. Weissenhofer went two-plus innings and took the loss for the Crusaders, while Ashley Nannemann went the distance for Green Bay (26-12) to improve to 10-7.
Valparaiso (24-33) finds itself in the same position it has been in each of the last two years entering Championship Saturday of the Horizon League Championship – having to win two games to claim the league title and the corresponding automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. Game one will start at noon CT on Saturday, with live video and stats available at ValpoAthletics.com.