The Valparaiso University softball team secured its spot in the field for the 2016 Horizon League Championship on the final day of the regular season Saturday in Dayton, Ohio, clinching the berth by virtue of a 6-5 win in the opener of a doubleheader with Wright State. The Raiders dealt the Crusaders a 9-1 loss in the nightcap. Valpo will open tournament play Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. against Youngstown State at UIC.
Entering the day knowing they would have to win at least one game to earn their place in the tournament, the Crusaders held the one-run lead over the Raiders for the final three innings of the opener to claim the victory. Then, minutes later, UIC closed out a win at Oakland to assure the Crusaders of their spot in the field. Valpo finished the regular season in a tie for sixth place in the league standings with Oakland, but won the tiebreak by virtue of besting the Golden Grizzlies in the season series, 2-1.
Valpo got off to the quickest start imaginable in the opener, as on the second pitch of the game, freshman Carly Trepanier (Manteno, Ill./Manteno) turned on a pitch and lined it over the right-field wall for her second home run of the season. The Crusaders looked to add to their lead in the second, putting the first two runners on base, but could not push across anything more in that frame, and Wright State scored an unearned run in the bottom of the second to tie the game.
The Crusaders answered in the top of the third, starting a string of multi-run half-innings. Trepanier and junior Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) led off the inning with back-to-back singles, and two batters later, senior Kaitlyn Ranieri (Schererville, Ind./Lake Central) dropped a single into right field to plate Trepanier. Later in the inning, junior Jorgi Calombaris (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) drove a ball to the fence in center to score junior Sam Stewart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) – who had reached on a fielder’s choice – to push the lead to 3-1.
Wright State would again even the game in the bottom of the third, needing just 10 pitches to score twice on a single, a triple and a wild pitch. But Valpo responded yet again in the fourth, putting together a two-out threat. Trepanier reached on an infield single, Lawson lined a single into shallow center and Stewart was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Ranieri stepped up and lined a 3-1 pitch the other way down the left-field line, and a diving effort by Wright State’s left fielder came up short and allowed the ball to scoot to the wall, clearing the bases as Valpo pulled ahead, 6-3.
The Raiders again rallied, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth, but senior Taylor Weissenhofer (Orland Park, Ill./Lockport Township) – who had entered in relief earlier in the inning – kept Valpo in the lead, picking up a fly out and a strikeout with a runner on to hold the one-run advantage.
Valpo would pick up a single in each of the next three innings, but was unable to add any insurance to the one-run lead. Meanwhile, Weissenhofer was strong in the circle, pitching around a two-out walk in the fifth and inducing three fly balls in the sixth. The Raiders drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, but the senior bore down, striking out the next three hitters she faced to close out the victory.
Weissenhofer surrendered just one hit in her 3.2 innings of relief work to earn the win, improving to 7-12 on the season, while sophomore Ashlyn Montgomery (Lebanon, Ind./Lebanon) started and tossed the first 3.1 innings. Montana Wear took the loss in relief for Wright State, falling to 6-11 on the year. Trepanier was a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate with three runs scored in the opener, while Calombaris tallied three base hits and Lawson and Ranieri picked up two hits apiece – the latter driving in four runs as well.
Valpo scored first in the nightcap as well, as Trepanier led off with another base hit and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly from Stewart. Wright State tied the game in the fourth, plating an unearned run on a sacrifice fly, and then closed out the game with eight runs on seven hits in the sixth inning. Ally Russell earned the win for Wright State (35-21, 18-6 Horizon) to improve to 10-4, while senior Mollie Lindeman (Hebron, Ind./Hebron [PNC]) started and took the loss for the Crusaders, falling to 5-9. Lawson tallied a pair of bunt singles in the losing effort.
Valparaiso (14-32, 8-14 Horizon) opens up action at the Horizon League Championship in Chicago, Ill. on Wednesday afternoon, as the sixth-seeded Crusaders face third-seeded Youngstown State at 2:30 p.m. All games of the tournament will be streamed on ESPN3, while live stats will also be available via ValpoAthletics.com.