May 13, 20161234567RHE
Win: WEISSENHOFER (10-12) 7.0300511
Loss: HEFLIN (19-9) 7.011049
WATTS (UIC) 401000
SOPPET (UIC) 301000
CAPOCCI (UIC) 301000
Softball Wins Thriller Over UIC, Advances to Championship Saturday
Friday, May 13, 2016
Softball Wins Thriller Over UIC, Advances to Championship Saturday
Taylor Weissenhofer tossed a three-hit shutout Friday - her second consecutive shutout.

The Valparaiso University softball team’s run through the Horizon League Championship continued Friday in a thriller, as the arm of Taylor Weissenhofer (Orland Park, Ill./Lockport Township) and the bat of Sam Stewart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) combined to give Valpo a 1-0 win over UIC in Chicago. With the victory, the Crusaders advance to Championship Saturday at Flames Field, where they will take on Wright State starting at noon, needing just one win to earn the league title.

Weissenhofer, who had been given the ball for all 14 innings of the tournament entering Friday, was called upon again for the starting assignment and was brilliant throughout in tossing her second straight shutout. The senior gave up just three singles and scattered five walks while striking out 11 batters, her fourth double-digit strikeout total of the season.

“Taylor’s trucking right now,” said Crusader head coach Kate Stake. “She’s throwing well, she’s fighting hard and she has nothing but positivity and total faith in her behind her, both in the field and in the dugout.”

Meanwhile, the Crusader offense ended up with just one base hit on the day, but it turned out to be the game-winning RBI as well. With one out in the third, freshman Carly Trepanier (Manteno, Ill./Manteno) sent a grounder towards short which took a bad hop, allowing Trepanier to reach on what was ruled an error. The rookie took second base during the next at-bat, and then Stewart worked a full count before driving a pitch to the wall in right-center as the Crusaders took the 1-0 lead.

“Carly did little things well to put herself into scoring position that inning – putting a ball into play to the left side, and then being alert on the basepaths to advance to second,” said Stake. “Then Sam had a great at-bat and put a very good swing on the ball she hit. When you’re facing a pitcher the caliber of Heflin, the need to be able to capitalize on opportunities becomes magnified, especially when you have runners in scoring position, and Sam came through in a big way for us in that at-bat.”

Limited to just the one base knock, scoring opportunities were scarce for the Crusaders on Friday, but they very nearly added to their advantage in the top of the seventh. With two outs, senior Mollie Lindeman (Hebron, Ind./Hebron [PNC]) was hit by a pitch and sophomore Lanie Callaghan (Elburn, Ill./Kaneland) drew a walk to put two on base. Trepanier sent a looping liner back up the middle which looked destined to be a run-scoring single, but UIC second baseman Taylor Cairns laid out and caught it to keep the lead at just one run.

But one run would be all Weissenhofer would need on this day. While she didn’t pitch a 1-2-3 inning until the bottom of the seventh, the senior worked her way out of a few jams throughout the game. UIC had a runner on second with nobody out in the first, but a pair of strikeouts and a pop-up kept the Flames off the board. The fifth inning saw two of UIC’s first three batters reach via walk, but Weissenhofer came through against the Flames’ two and three hitters with strikeouts to keep the 1-0 lead.

UIC’s best chance at scoring came in the sixth inning, as a leadoff walk was followed by back-to-back one-out singles to load the bases. Once more, Weissenhofer reared back, striking out a UIC pinch-hitter for the second out and then getting a ground ball to first – the lone groundout against her on the day – to end the threat. The seventh inning saw Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) race in to catch a fly ball in center for the first out, and Trepanier – pulled in with a slapper at the plate – track a ball into shallow center for the second out. Then, fittingly enough, Weissenhofer ended the game with a strikeout, freezing Laura Swan looking on a 2-2 pitch to send the Crusaders to the championship.

Weissenhofer’s effort was nearly matched by UIC (33-17) pitcher Elaine Heflin, who gave up just the one hit and one unearned run in the tough-luck loss while striking out nine Crusader hitters. Stewart enjoyed Valpo’s best day at the plate, drawing a pair of walks in addition to her run-scoring double.

“Heflin is a very good pitcher and a great competitor – that’s the reason she was named Pitcher of the Year,” said Stake. “But we feel like we have in Taylor a pitcher who’s just as talented when she’s on her game, and the last couple games have showcased that ability that she has to dominate opposing hitters.”

Valparaiso (17-32) will face Wright State on Saturday for the Horizon League title, as the Raiders defeated UIC, 3-1, in Friday’s final game. Coming out of the winner’s bracket, Valpo will need to win just once to claim the championship, while the Raiders would have to win twice to earn the title. First pitch is slated for noon, and all the action can be seen live on ESPN3, with links for the live video and live stats available via Saturday’s winner not only claims the title of Horizon League champions, but will also represent the league in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

“Like I said yesterday, we have a group of players right now who are playing together and having fun at the same time,” said Stake. “Today was more of the same – another great team victory, everybody feeding off of each other and making each other better. We’re happy to advance to the championship game, but at the same time, we’re not satisfied yet. We need to win one more game to achieve our goal for this week, but I’m confident our group will come out tomorrow with the same approach and same mindset they’ve had all week.”