The Valparaiso University softball team fell in a pair of non-league contests Tuesday afternoon in DeKalb, Ill., dropping 12-4 and 4-2 decisions to Northern Illinois.
The Crusaders found themselves behind the eight-ball in the opener after the first inning, as five of Northern Illinois’ first six batters recorded base hits – capped by a two-run home run from Jessica Sturm – to claim a 4-0 lead after its first turn at-bat.
Valpo responded immediately with a pair of runs in the top of the second, however. Sophomore Jorgi Calombaris (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) got hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, and senior Tarah McShane (Streamwood, Ill./St. Edward) reached on an NIU error. Two batters later, junior Mollie Lindeman (Hebron, Ind./Hebron [PNC]) lined a single into shallow center field to load the bases. Junior Sierra Pico (Las Vegas, Nev./Legacy) followed by working a bases-loaded walk, scoring Calombaris with Valpo’s first run, and the Crusaders added another tally on a sacrifice fly from freshman Brenna Boyle (St. John, Ind./Andrean).
The Huskies hit right back, however, taking advantage of four hits and four walks in the bottom of the second to put five runs on the board and extend their lead to 9-2. Neither team would score again until the fifth inning, when Calombaris sliced a couple runs off the deficit by lining a two-run double down the right-field line, scoring sophomore Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) and junior Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central). But Calombaris would get thrown out attempting to score on a single by McShane to end the top of the fifth, and NIU scored three times in the bottom of the inning to end the game via run rule.
Freshman Ashlyn Montgomery (Lebanon, Ind./Lebanon) took the loss for the Crusaders, falling to 6-6 on the year as she threw 3.2 innings in the starting assignment. Tara Thacker picked up the complete-game win for NIU to improve to 1-1. Lindeman had the sole multi-hit game in the opener for Valpo, as seven different Crusaders combined for the team’s eight hits.
The Crusaders looked to strike early in the nightcap, as freshman Stephanie Moreno (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley) and Ranieri drew back-to-back one-out walks. But Valpo wasn’t able to capitalize, and NIU took the lead in the bottom of the inning on a two-out solo home run by Kayti Grable.
After a scoreless second inning, Valpo clawed the run back in the top of the third. Lawson reached on a soft infield single back up the middle and moved up to second on a successful sacrifice by Moreno. Ranieri stepped in and delivered a line-drive single into center to plate Lawson and make it a 1-1 game. But the Huskies needed just three pitches to regain the lead, as Alaynie Woollard led off the bottom of the inning with a solo homer.
McShane made sure that the Crusaders would not trail for long, however. The senior led off the top of the fourth with a double to right, and three batters later, Pico went the other way for a single into shallow right-center field. McShane originally stopped at third, but following a misplay on the ball by NIU’s right fielder, scampered home to tie the game at 2-2.
But the Huskies would claim the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth. NIU loaded the bases on a walk and a pair of slap hits, and then Crusader starter Taylor Weissenhofer (Orland Park, Ill./Lockport Township) couldn’t get the call on a close 3-2 pitch to Kali Kossakowski, forcing in a run. The Huskies added another run on a bloop single into left-center by Grable. Valpo got the potential tying run to the plate in both the sixth and seventh innings, but double plays would eliminate both threats.
Weissenhofer took the loss for the Crusaders despite a solid effort in the circle, as the junior struck out seven against just three walks in six innings of work. Keegan Hayes improved to 11-7 with the complete-game win for Northern Illinois (21-17). McShane and Ranieri each tallied multiple hits in the nightcap, the latter reaching base in all three of her plate appearances as she also walked once.
“Taylor threw the best she has thrown all season,” said Crusader head coach Kate Stake. “She had seven strikeouts and popped up a lot of batters as well. She made it easy to play defense and to keep our momentum today.”
Valparaiso (9-29) returns to Horizon League play with a key series this weekend at Cleveland State – the Crusaders’ first road series of the league slate. The three-game set begins Friday afternoon with a single game at 2 p.m. CT, with live stats and live video available through ValpoAthletics.com.
“It’s not a disappointment to waste a solid pitching performance with a lack of offense,” said Crusader head coach Kate Stake. “Certainly we would have liked to come out on top in the second game and get Taylor the win, but we have our sights set on conference. There were some important takeaways in today’s two games to help us this weekend, and that’s what I care about.”