The Valparaiso University softball team earned its first victory of the 2016 campaign Saturday at the Spartan Invitational in Spartanburg, S.C., as sophomore Taylor Nadler (New Haven, Mo./St. Francis Borgia) connected on a two-run walk-off homer to give the Crusaders a 4-2 win over Presbyterian in their first game of the day. Valpo fell in its tournament finale to Elon by a 10-5 final.
The day’s opener against Presbyterian saw both teams squander chances to score in the opening inning. The Blue Hose had runners on second and third with nobody out, but Crusader starter Taylor Weissenhofer (Orland Park, Ill./Lockport Township) struck out back-to-back hitters and then induced a flyout. The bottom of the first saw junior Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) lead off the frame with a walk and then steal second and third base with nobody out, but she couldn’t complete the journey as the game remained scoreless.
It would be a 0-0 game until the top of the fifth, when Presbyterian’s Kelsie Sanchez connected on a two-run, two-out homer to give the Blue Hose a 2-0 advantage. PC looked to add to its lead in the sixth, putting runners on second and third with one out, but Sierra Pico (Las Vegas, Nev./Legacy) picked up a key strikeout and then got a groundout to keep it a two-run game.
The bottom of the sixth saw the Crusaders even things up at 2-2. Nadler got things going with a one-out triple and came home on an infield single by sophomore Brenna Boyle (St. John, Ind./Andrean). A two-out single from junior Sam Stewart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) moved Boyle to second, and senior Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) followed with a single to left-center to plate Boyle and make it a brand-new ballgame.
A 1-2-3 top of the seventh set the stage for the Crusaders’ walk-off win. Lawson led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, but back-to-back popouts left the junior on first. She would swipe second to move 60 feet closer to scoring the game-winning run, but it proved unnecessary, as Nadler drove a 2-2 pitch over the left-center wall to give Valpo the 4-2 victory.
Ranieri and Stewart joined Nadler with two hits apiece as the Crusaders tallied nine hits in the win over the Blue Hose. Pico earned the win in relief for Valpo to improve to 1-5, tossing two shutout innings, while Katie Brown fell to 3-2 for Presbyterian (7-7) as she entered in relief in the sixth.
In the nightcap, Elon jumped on top quickly, as the Phoenix scored three runs in the top of the first. The Crusaders cut the deficit to just one run in their half of the second, though, as Ranieri delivered an RBI single to score Nadler. Later in the inning, Lawson watched four straight balls go by to draw a bases-loaded walk and force in Stewart to make it a 3-2 game.
However, Elon scored five runs over its next two turns at the plate to push the lead to 8-2. Valpo would score two in the sixth on a two-run homer by Stewart – her second home run in as many days – and added one final run in the seventh on a solo shot from sophomore Stephanie Moreno (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley) – also her second round-tripper of the tournament.
Stewart tallied multiple hits in the nightcap for her second two-hit game of the day, leading the way as the Crusaders tallied seven hits. Lawson reached base twice as well on a single and a walk. Pico took the loss in the start for the Crusaders, falling to 1-6 as she threw the first three innings. Abby Barker improve to 2-3 for Elon (8-7) as she came out of the bullpen and tossed the final 5.1 innings.
Valparaiso (1-12) will conclude its spring break trip from Las Vegas, Nev. as the Crusaders head west to play in UNLV’s Rebel Classic. Valpo’s first games of the tournament will be next Friday, Mar. 11 as the Crusaders take on DePaul and Utah State.