A one-hitter from junior Kelsie Packard (Beloit, Wis./Turner [Rock Valley College]) and a pair of big innings propelled the Valparaiso University softball team to a 9-0 run-rule victory in five innings over Illinois State in their series opener Saturday in Normal, Ill., a win which clinched the Crusaders’ berth in next week’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Valpo fell by a final score of 4-0 in the day’s second game.
How It Happened – Game One
- Valpo took the lead in the top of the second, as junior Jaymee Lawton (Goodyear, Ariz./Desert Edge [Utah Valley]) drove a full-count pitch for a no-doubt homer to right to lead off the inning. The Crusaders threatened to add to their lead later in the inning, putting two in scoring position with one out, but were limited to just the lone run.
- The Crusaders had a big inning coming just one inning later, however. They loaded the bases with nobody out, and senior Jenna Stauffenberg (Kankakee, Ill./Bishop McNamara) lined a two-run double to the right-center gap to make it a 3-0 lead.
- Later in the inning, sophomore Morgan Matalin (Crown Point, Ind./Crown Point) came to bat with two in scoring position and two outs and drilled a shot off of the Illinois State first baseman to score Lawton – who had singled earlier in the inning. Behind her, fifth-year senior Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) never hesitated rounding third and came all the way home from second, sliding in ahead of the tag to make it a two-run infield single and push the lead to 5-0.
- In the circle, that would be way more than enough for Packard. The junior surrendered just a two-out walk in the third inning in her first time through the order. Illinois State put its first two batters on in the fourth via a walk and a single, but Packard needed just seven pitches to get a pair of flyouts around a strikeout to keep the Redbirds off the board.
- Valpo would move into run-rule territory with a strong top of the fifth. With the bases loaded and nobody out, ISU’s pitcher came home with a grounder back to the circle, but the Redbird catcher dropped the ball on the attempted force – the Redbirds’ second error of the inning.
- With the score now 6-0, the Crusaders took advantage of the extra outs. Junior Carly Trepanier (Manteno, Ill./Manteno) followed the miscue at home with a two-run double to the wall in right-center, and senior Brenna Boyle (St. John, Ind./Andrean) came through with a pinch-hit RBI single to cap the scoring.
- Packard slammed the door on Illinois State in the bottom of the fifth, setting the Redbirds down in order on just 10 pitches to complete the one-hitter and clinch the tournament berth.
How It Happened – Game Two
- Valpo had opportunities to push runs across in each of the first three innings, putting its leadoff runner on in all three frames. But in the first two innings, the Crusaders didn’t get the runner past first, and in the third, the Crusaders had runners on first and third with one out and couldn’t capitalize.
- Meanwhile, senior Kenzie Grossmann (Perry, Mo./Mark Twain [Morehead State]) pitched out of a couple jams in the first two innings. Illinois State had first and second with one out in the first before Grossmann induced a double-play grounder to third. In the second inning, the Redbirds had two in scoring position with one out, but a strikeout and a groundout kept the game scoreless.
- Illinois State cracked the scoreboard in the third with a two-out rally. The Redbirds put together three straight two-out singles, the last a swinging bunt on an 0-2 pitch, before a bases-loaded walk pushed across the game’s first run.
- ISU pushed the lead to its final margin on a three-run homer by Andrea Coursey with two outs in the fifth.
- 14 straight Crusader batters were retired in order from the third through the seventh innings before a belated attempt at a two-out rally. Lawton lined a first-pitch single down the left-field line, and then freshman Ashley Barker (Coal Valley, Ill./Moline) picked up her first career hit on a high hopper over the ISU shortstop. But a lineout would end the game.
Inside the Games
- The Crusaders clinched the berth in next week’s MVC Tournament with the win in the opener, and can finish as the fourth seed with a win on Sunday. This comes after a preseason poll which projected Valpo to finish in ninth position and miss the eight-team tournament.
- Valpo’s win in the opener was its second via run-rule this season.
- The Crusaders’ nine runs marked their highest single-game output to a 10-8 win over Princeton back on March 4.
- Valpo earned its first-ever win over Illinois State in the opener – the two programs had only previously met twice back in 1995, both Redbird wins.
- The win in the opener was Valpo’s sixth straight in conference play, a streak which was snapped with the nightcap loss. The six consecutive conference victories was the program’s longest streak within league play since the Crusaders opened the 2012 Horizon League campaign 13-0.
- Packard continued her exceptional stretch of starts in Valley action with the one-hitter in the opener, as she needed just 71 pitches for the shutout win. The junior struck out five ISU hitters in improving to 5-3 with a 1.87 ERA in Valley play.
- Lawton went 2-for-2 with a walk and three runs scored in the opener, scoring three runs in a game for the second time in her Crusader career. Her home run was her 11th of the season, tying her for the MVC lead and moving her into a tie for fourth in Valpo single-season history.
- Lawson stole her MVC-best 24th base of the season in the opener, the highest single-season total of her career and fifth-most in a single season in program history.
- Stauffenberg had a three-hit day, going 2-for-2 with a run scored and two RBIs in the opener before picking up a base knock in the nightcap as well.
Thoughts From Head Coach Kate Stake
“The Valley is a tough conference. And we are a tough team. We put ourselves in a hole early on, getting swept our first weekend, and it makes the battles we waged and won to get us a spot in this tournament even more impressive.”
“We were voted not to make the tournament in the preseason poll. Tomorrow, we have the opportunity to play in a game where the winner earns the fourth seed. It's a high-stakes game to get us ready for a higher-stakes tournament the next week -- I couldn't ask for a better game tomorrow to finish out our regular season than that.”
“Again, I am proud of this team for the way it competed through the ups and downs of these hard-fought conference games. The Valley is full of talent. So are we.”
Valpo (25-23, 11-13 MVC) closes out the regular season with the series finale from Illinois State Sunday morning at 11 a.m. Live stats will be available for the game.