Valparaiso (18-32, 8-14 Horizon)
NCAA Regional - Ann Arbor, Mich. (Alumni Field [2,800])
May 20, 2016 - at #2 Michigan (46-5, 22-2 Big Ten) - 6 p.m. CT
May 21, 2016 - vs. #23 Notre Dame (41-11, 13-7 ACC) OR vs. Miami [Ohio] (34-21, 15-7 MAC) - TBD
May 22, 2016 - TBD
Next Up in Crusader Softball: After a storybook run through the Horizon League Championship, the Valparaiso University softball team returns to the sport’s biggest stage as it embarks to Ann Arbor for the start of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The Crusaders open tournament play Friday evening against the national number two seed in Michigan, with #23 Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) on the other side of the four-team regional bracket.
Previously: The sixth seed for the 2016 Horizon League Championship, the Crusaders put together a storybook four-game run to claim the tournament title for the third time in the last five years. Valpo advanced to Championship Saturday with wins over third-seeded Youngstown State (10-6), second-seeded Wright State (4-0) and top-seeded UIC (1-0) before rallying from four runs down in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings and eventually earn a 5-4 walk-off win in eight innings over Wright State in the title game.
Following the Crusaders: All games on Friday and Sunday from Ann Arbor will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network and online via BTN2Go. Saturday's games will all be available on BTN2Go as well, with Big Ten Network coverage for Saturday to be determined following Friday's games. The @ValpoSoftball Twitter account will also be providing live updates all weekend long.
Head Coach Kate Stake: Kate Stake was hired as head coach of the Valparaiso softball program on July 23, 2014 and owns 34 wins in her second season as head coach. Stake arrived at Valpo with eight seasons of assistant coaching experience at the Division I level, most recently serving as an assistant at mid-major power Hofstra.
Series Notes: Michigan - Valpo is 0-4 all-time against the Wolverines, with the last meeting coming in 2013 at the Ann Arbor Regional of the NCAA Tournament - a 5-0 Michigan win. The Crusaders have actually been at the same regional as Michigan in both of their previous NCAA Tournament appearances, although the two squads did not meet in 2012.
Notre Dame - Valpo trails the all-time series with Notre Dame, 35-11, and is looking for its first win in the series since 1989. The two teams met earlier this season at Notre Dame on April 20, a 7-3 win for the Fighting Irish.
Miami (Ohio) - Despite being separated by just over four hours, Valpo and Miami have met just once in program history - an 11-3 win for the RedHawks in 1988.
Crusaders Picked Fourth in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in fourth place in the Horizon League standings in 2016 in the preseason poll, as picked by the league’s head coaches. Oakland and UIC tied for first place and split the nine first-place votes, while Wright State tallied 48 points and the Crusaders 40.
Valpo All-Time In the NCAA Tournament: 2016 marks the Crusaders’ third appearance all-time in the field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament, all three of which have come in the last five seasons. In 2012, Valpo was assigned to the Louisville regional - the #15 national seed - and was within one out of upsetting the Cardinals in the opening game before a two-out, three-run home run gave Louisville a 6-4 win. The Crusaders then fell to Kentucky, 5-4, the next day. In 2013, after falling 5-0 to the #8 seed in Michigan in the opener, Valpo earned its first tournament win in program history, eliminating Central Michigan by a 7-4 final before falling to California, 6-0.
The Improbable Run: On April 29, with eight days remaining in the regular season, the Crusaders sat in eighth place in the Horizon League standings. On the last day of the season, Valpo needed a win over Wright State and a UIC win over Oakland to earn its spot in the league tournament field. Having essentially played the previous two weeks with their season on the line, the Horizon League Championship was just more of the same for the Crusaders. Valpo took the lead for good against YSU in the tournament opener in the top of the second inning, and then scored the only runs it would need against WSU in the second inning and against UIC in the third inning in a pair of shutout wins.
Title Game Heroics: Coming out of the winner’s bracket, Valpo knew it would have to win just once on Saturday to claim the title, while Wright State would have to win twice. Entering the bottom of the seventh trailing 4-0, it looked like the winner-take-all game would be necessary for the Crusaders, but nobody in Valpo’s dugout felt that way. An error and three singles combined for the Crusaders’ first two runs, and Sam Stewart then delivered the two-out, two-run single to tie the game and force extra innings. In the eighth inning, Taylor Nadler led off with a single and came around to score on Stephanie Moreno’s double to the fence in right field as Valpo celebrated its third league tournament crown in the last five years.
An Appropriate Ending: For a team which had a three-week run as the Crusaders had just to reach Championship Saturday, it was only apropos that it be capped off in perhaps the most unlikely way possible. Prior to Saturday, the Crusaders had not won a game this season it had trailed after six innings. The last time Valpo had trailed by four or more runs with three outs to go and won a game? You have to go back 15 seasons to find it - a 6-5 home win over IUPUI on Apr. 27, 2001.
Stewart Earns MVP Honors: Junior catcher Sam Stewart took home the top individual hardware from the league tournament, as she was named Tournament MVP after the dust settled following the walk-off winner. Stewart went 5-for-12 with six RBIs at the plate over the Crusaders’ four wins, including the game-winning RBI in Valpo’s 1-0 win over UIC and the game-tying hit in the seventh inning of the title game. Defensively, she was just as instrumental, catching all 29 innings behind the plate.
Riding Weissenhofer In the Circle: As a freshman in 2013, Taylor Weissenhofer was named Pitcher of the Championship as the Crusaders won the Horizon League Championship in UIC. So it was like deja vu this year, with UIC hosting and the Crusaders winning it all, that Weissenhofer earn the honor as the tournament’s top pitcher for the second time in her career. Valpo rode the arm of Weissenhofer throughout last week’s tournament, as she recorded all but two outs in the circle over Valpo’s four wins, tallying 25 strikeouts and a 1.73 ERA. The senior tossed 477 pitches in a 72-hour span and shut out each of the tournament’s top two seeds in UIC and Wright State.
More All-Tournament Honors: Stewart and Weissenhofer were joined on the All-Tournament Team by two other Crusaders as Valpo boasted four representatives in all. Sophomore outfielder Lanie Callaghan earned her spot on the All-Tournament Team and was named the Batting Champion of the Tournament after going 5-for-11 at the plate with four runs scored and seven RBIs, including the grand slam versus Wright State on Thursday which accounted for all four runs and a seventh-inning RBI single in the rally in the title game. Freshman infielder Carly Trepanier picked up All-Tournament recognition as well as she went 5-for-15 at the plate with three RBIs and played an errorless second base.
Montgomery Picks Up the Win: When the Crusaders finally had to go to the bullpen in the title game against Wright State, head coach Kate Stake knew she had an arm in sophomore Ashlyn Montgomery she could count on. Montgomery, who pitched 26 innings in league play with a 2.15 ERA and allowed league foes to hit just .227 off of her, came in with two on and one out in the eighth inning and did her job, rolling a pair of ground ball outs. Then, when the Crusaders earned the walk-off victory in the bottom of the inning, Montgomery received credit for the win - just her second of the season, although the other was nearly as big - a complete-game win in the series finale versus Oakland that was instrumental in Valpo earning a berth in to the tournament.
Talk About Timely Hits: The Crusader offense slugged at just a .298 clip in their four wins in the Horizon League Championship, picking up just three extra-base hits over the four days. But the timing of those extra-base hits could hardly have been timed any better. The first came in the second inning Thursday versus Wright State - Lanie Callaghan’s grand slam which accounted for all four runs in the 4-0 win. Sam Stewart delivered a run-scoring double in the third inning Friday against UIC - the only run in the 1-0 victory. The third, of course, was the walk-off double from Stephanie Moreno to win the title game.
Clutch Hitting: A bugaboo for the Valpo offense all season long has been its hitting with runners in scoring position, as the Crusaders entered the league tournament hitting just .236 this year with runners on second and/or third. But Valpo flipped the script in that regard over their four tournament wins, going 17-for-37 (.459) with runners in scoring position. Stephanie Moreno was a perfect 3-for-3 in those scenarios, while Lanie Callaghan was 4-for-5 and Sam Stewart and Carly Trepanier both 4-for-6.
Stellar Defense: The Crusaders were nearly perfect defensively in the Horizon League Championship, committing just two errors and posting a .981 fielding percentage as a team. Perhaps the biggest defensive play of all came in the sixth inning of the title game, as Taylor Lawson threw a perfect two-hop strike to the plate from center field to throw out a WSU runner attempting to score and keeping the deficit at that point at just three runs. For Lawson, it was her second outfield assist of the tournament and the 10th time in her career she’s thrown out a runner at the plate.
Crusaders in the Horizon League Tournament: This season marks Valpo’s third Horizon League Championship title in the last five years, as the Crusaders have advanced to Championship Saturday four times in that stretch - although this year was the first time Valpo did so by advancing all the way through the winner’s bracket. The Crusaders now own a 24-14 mark in the Horizon League Championship in their nine years as a league member, including an 18-6 mark in the last five seasons. In winning the tournament as the sixth seed, Valpo became the lowest-seeded champion since the league’s move to a six-team field and the lowest overall since seventh-seeded Wright State claimed the 2007 crown.
Strong Recent Work From Weissenhofer: Taylor Weissenhofer’s performance in the circle in the tournament was an extension of her work over the last month or so as she comes to the close of her career. In 12 appearances since April 16, including 10 starts, Weissenhofer owns a 6-3 record with a 2.07 ERA, including six complete games and three shutouts. Over 77.2 innings of work in that stretch, she has struck out 82 batters while allowing opposing hitters to bat just .169 against her.
Last 12 Games: Valpo enters the NCAA Tournament with a 9-3 record over its last 12 games, averaging nearly five runs per game in that span. Carly Trepanier leads the offense, hitting .457 with 11 runs scored over the last 12 games, while Sam Stewart is hitting .343 with 16 RBIs in that stretch. Sophomore Taylor Nadler has been strong at the plate as well, drawing 11 walks and owning a .487 on-base percentage.
All-League Honorees: Valpo had two players honored last week as the Horizon League announced its postseason awards. Senior pitcher Taylor Weissenhofer received Second Team All-League honors for the second time in her career, as she closed out the regular season second in the league in strikeouts both overall and in league-only play, while hitters batted just .207 against her in league action. Meanwhile, freshman second baseman Carly Trepanier joined Weissenhofer on the Second Team All-League and was also an All-Freshman Team selection. Trepanier is hitting .341 overall as a rookie with 20 runs scored and bumped her batting average to .403 in Horizon League play - one of just three league players to hit better than .400 in league-only competition.
A Veteran Group: Unlike last year’s squad, which featured a myriad of freshmen, this year’s Crusader team has just one newcomer - freshman Carly Trepanier. From last year’s 17-player roster, 15 players are back in 2016.
New Records This Year: A pair of Crusader seniors have set new Valpo career records already this year. In the circle, Taylor Weissenhofer broke Valpo’s career strikeouts record in the Crusaders’ third game of the year - Feb. 13 versus St. John’s - and now owns 603 career K’s, while she also broke the program’s record for appearances by a pitcher late this season - a mark which now stands at 147 appearances. At the plate, Kaitlyn Ranieri drew a walk in her first plate appearance of the year to set a new Valpo career record in that category and currently has 122 career walks.
Moving Up the Charts: While Ranieri already tops the career walks chart, she is continuing to advance on a number of other career charts as she nears the close of her career. The senior is currently tied for second in Crusader history in doubles (45), third in hits (224, one shy of second), third in total bases (350), tied for third in home runs (25), third in RBIs (116) and fourth in runs scored (129, three shy of third). She also ranks fourth in batting average (.342), second in on-base percentage (.452) and fourth in slugging percentage (.534). In addition, Weissenhofer now ranks fourth in program history with 49 career victories - just one shy of Laura Pajakowski in third position - and is also fourth with 596.1 innings pitched.
Single-Season Marks: As the season nears its end, a number of Crusaders find themselves inside or within striking distance of Valpo’s single-season top-10 charts. Taylor Lawson has stolen 22 bases on the season, fifth-most in a single year in program history and moving her into third in program history with 40 career steals. Weissenhofer has tallied 161 strikeouts in the circle, leaping into fourth place in Crusader single-season history last weekend - just seven punchouts shy of third position. Jasmine Ramirez is currently tied for ninth on Valpo’s single-season chart in fielding percentage (.992), while Taylor Nadler (25 walks), Lawson (24) and Ranieri (24) are all closing in on the top-10 for walks, needing 26 to crack that chart.