Leadoff hitter Jorgi Calombaris (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) enjoyed a 7-for-8 day at the plate on Friday at the opening day of the Samford Invitational from Birmingham, Ala., but it would not be enough to lead Valparaiso to a win, as the Crusaders fell in their opener to Houston Baptist, 13-8, and then gave up two runs in the bottom of the seventh in a 6-5 loss to host Samford.
Despite putting its leadoff hitter on board in each of the first two innings in the opener against Houston Baptist, Valpo was unable to push any runs across the plate. Meanwhile, the Huskies scored three runs in each of the first two frames and added two more tallies in the third to take an 8-0 lead.
The Crusaders started to slice into the HBU lead in the fourth, as senior Tarah McShane (Streamwood, Ill./St. Edward) led off the frame with a first-pitch homer to left center. Later in the inning, with two on and two outs, fellow senior Lindsey Norway (Chicago, Ill./Chicago Christian) delivered a two-run double to plate junior Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) and freshman Stephanie Moreno (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley). Two batters later, Calombaris connected on a two-bagger of her own to score Norway, cutting the Huskies’ lead to 8-4.
Houston Baptist got a two-run double from Caitlin Gunn in its half of the fourth to push the lead back to six runs, but Valpo would continue to close in its next time at-bat. Sophomore Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) led off the inning with a triple, and McShane followed with her second home run in as many innings – the first multi-homer game by a Crusader since Ranieri did it against UIC last March. Later in the inning, freshman Brenna Boyle (St. John, Ind./Andrean) brought home Ranieri with a run-scoring single, and Norway drove in junior Sierra Pico (Las Vegas, Nev./Legacy) with a groundout to make it a 10-8 ballgame.
But that would be as close as Valpo would get, as Houston Baptist scored three runs on four hits in the bottom of the fifth to make it a 13-8 game. The Crusaders got a leadoff double from Calombaris in the sixth and a leadoff walk by Moreno in the seventh, but were unable to push any more runs across the plate.
Calombaris picked up three hits in the opener, briefly setting a career-high for hits in a game. Her effort paced a 13-hit Crusader attack, as McShane and Moreno each tallied two hits as well. McShane and Ranieri both scored a pair of runs, while seniors McShane and Norway both drove in three runs.
Nicole Shedd went 4-for-4 at the plate to lead Houston Baptist (4-7), which finished the game with 17 hits. Huskies starter Laci Belovsky earned the win in the circle to improve to 3-2 on the season despite allowing eight runs in 4.1 innings of work, while Boyle made her debut at pitcher for the Crusaders and took the loss in 2.1 innings.
“I think we had a difficult time adjusting to the cold weather the first couple innings – Houston Baptist did a better job early on beating us and adjusting to the weather,” said Crusader head coach Kate Stake. “Tarah got us going with her pair of home runs, but we have to capitalize a bit more when we have runners in scoring position. A lot of that today was Houston Baptist bearing down and pitching well against us in those situations. Really, both teams’ pitchers were having trouble with their command and feeling the ball, which resulted in the high-scoring game – we just need to do a better job of converting when we have chances with runners in position to score.”
Calombaris made sure the Crusaders would not find themselves behind the eight-ball in their second game of the day against Samford, tallying a single on the game’s first pitch and moving up to third base on a pair of pitches to the backstop. Then, with one out, Calombaris alertly tagged up on a pop-up to shallow right center, and when the second baseman caught it with her back to the plate, the sophomore sprinted home with the game’s first run.
Samford loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the first, but junior Taylor Weissenhofer (Orland Park, Ill./Lockport Township) registered a strikeout and then induced a 1-2-3 double play to keep the Bulldogs off the board. Moreno knocked in Calombaris with an RBI single in the top of the third, but Samford’s Caitlin Bice answered with a two-out run-scoring double in the bottom of the frame.
The Bulldogs would take the lead in the fourth on a two-run homer by Abbie Miranda before Norway answered with an RBI double in the top of the fifth to score pinch-runner Lanie Callaghan (Elburn, Ill./Kaneland) to tie the game at 3-3. Then, after a one-out walk by freshman Jenna Stauffenberg (Kankakee, Ill./Bishop McNamara) in the sixth, the lineup turned over to Calombaris. The sophomore, already working on her second straight three-hit game, took a 2-1 pitch and drove it down the left-field line for a two-run homer – her second career round-tripper and capping a 4-for-4 effort – to give Valpo a 5-3 lead.
But the two-run advantage would prove not to be enough for the Crusaders. Samford’s Megan Dowdy delivered a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to cut the lead to one run, and then the Bulldogs tallied three consecutive doubles in the last of the seventh, the final a walk-off base hit from Hannah Taylor.
“Although the result was the same today, and going back to last weekend losing a pair of one-run games, the way we lost today was different,” said Stake. “We wanted to make them earn it, and Samford earned it, with back-to-back-to-back hits. Last weekend, we walked way too many batters and gave away runs by walking them in, and today that wasn’t the case. While the result was the same, and it’s certainly frustrating, it was different from last weekend in that regard.”
Calombaris’ four-hit day led a nine-hit effort from the Crusaders, while the sophomore also scored three runs and drove in a pair. Samford (9-2) reliever Grey Adams earned the win with two innings of work, improving to 4-0 on the season, while Weissenhofer took the complete-game loss for Valpo, falling to 0-2 on the year.
“Jorgi’s been a tone-setter at practice for us, so I knew she'd be a tone-setter for us in the one spot in the order,” said Stake. “She’s done a great job there so far for us, putting together consistent at-bats and jumping on pitches. Her bat speed has been up there, which is why she’s hitting doubles and home runs. Jorgi won’t be outworked and deserves every single hit she gets.”
Valparaiso (2-5) closes out action from the Samford Invitational with two more games on Saturday, opening against Alabama State at 9 a.m. before taking on Samford for a second time. Links for live coverage will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.