The Valparaiso University softball team snapped its losing streak in style Sunday afternoon at the Valparaiso University Softball Field, coming from four runs down to score a 9-4 victory over UIC in Horizon League play. Sophomore Jorgi Calombaris (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) led the way offensively with a career-best five RBIs.
“I think we hit well all weekend,” said Crusader head coach Kate Stake. “I told our players yesterday I thought we were playing better, but just being better is not good enough in league play until we get wins out of it. Today, I thought we were a little bit better again, and it was good enough to bring home a win.”
Sunday’s game got off to a rough start for the Crusaders, as UIC jumped out to a 3-0 lead after its first turn at-bat. The Flames tallied five hits in the opening inning - all singles, including a couple of the seeing-eye variety that drove home runs. UIC added another run in the top of the third on an RBI infield single from Amanda Mener, her second run-scoring hit of the game.
“I went out there and told our infielders they needed to make better plays behind Ashlyn and get dirty,” said Stake. “UIC would still have gotten hits, but we wouldn’t have given up as many runs if we kept some of those balls in the infield. When a pitcher is throwing well, the players behind her need to play solid defense. Ashlyn’s job is absolutely to feed our defense – it wasn’t strong in the first inning, but then our defense stepped up the rest of the game and Ashlyn continued to do her job well.”
Trailing 4-0 entering their turn at bat in the third after falling in both games to the Flames on Saturday, Valpo struck back with a vengeance. Junior Sierra Pico (Las Vegas, Nev./Legacy) led off the frame with the Crusaders’ first base hit, a single back through the middle. Freshman Brenna Boyle (St. John, Ind./Andrean), facing her cousin – UIC pitcher Bridget Boyle – worked a full count, fouled off two pitches and then lined a pitch the other way, splitting the outfielders for a run-scoring double.
Following a sacrifice bunt and a walk, Valpo had runners on the corners with one out. Junior Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) sent a grounder to the first baseman, but Brenna Boyle beat the Flames’ attempt at coming home for the out, scoring the Crusaders’ second run. Calombaris stepped up to bat, fouled off her first three pitches and then took two balls before driving a 2-2 pitch well over the left-field wall for her second home run of the season, putting Valpo on top, 5-4.
Given the lead for the first time on the day, Valpo starting pitcher Ashlyn Montgomery (Lebanon, Ind./Lebanon) came out and set the side down in order in the fourth. Montgomery was then rewarded by the offense with two more insurance runs in the bottom of the frame. Sophomore Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) lofted a fly ball over the Flames’ outfield to score Pico with an RBI double. Following a pitching change, freshman Stephanie Moreno (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley) rudely greeted Elaine Heflin with a first-pitch line-drive single to right, scoring pinch-runner Lanie Callaghan (Elburn, Ill./Kaneland) to make it 7-4 Valpo.
From there, it was smooth sailing for Montgomery in the circle, as the potential tying run would never make it to the plate in the final three innings – UIC put just one runner on base in each of the three frames. Meanwhile, the Crusaders weren’t done offensively, as Valpo tacked on another pair of runs in the sixth. Lawson led off the inning with a 10-pitch walk, and two batters later, Ranieri drove a single into center to put two on base for Calombaris. The sophomore took full advantage, again working a 2-2 count and then lining a pitch the other way inside the right-field line all the way to the wall – her fourth triple in league play this year – to score both Lawson and Ranieri for the final margin.
“Jorgi had a great day for us today,” said Stake. “She did exactly what a cleanup hitter is supposed to do at the plate, and stepped it up on defense as well, making a couple of really big plays in key situations. She has done a good job being a leader on both sides of the ball lately.”
Montgomery earned the complete-game win in the circle for the Crusaders, scattering 10 hits over her seven innings of work while not walking a single Flames batter. Bridget Boyle took the loss for UIC (17-15, 8-3 Horizon), as she gave up seven runs in 3.1 innings. Calombaris was the only Crusader to finish with a multi-hit game, as eight different Valpo hitters picked up base knocks. Moreno went 1-for-2 with two runs scored and two walks out of the two spot in the order as well.
“I think that our success driving in runs, especially with runners in scoring position, has come about since our offense has been a bit looser the last couple days,” said Stake. “We have continued to hit well over the last week or two, but we had been stagnant offensively when there were runners in scoring position. It seemed like we were pressing, with each batter feeling like the game was in their hands, whereas this weekend, I felt like we played a lot looser and were looking to just get on base and move the line when we came to the plate.”
Valpo (9-27, 3-8 Horizon) steps out of league play on Tuesday, heading to Northern Illinois for a Tuesday afternoon doubleheader. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. from DeKalb, Ill., and live stats for both games will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.