The Valpo softball team kicked off the 2020 season in winning fashion on Friday at the Houston Invitational, scoring three runs in the final two innings to earn a 5-4 victory over Fordham, seven-time defending Atlantic 10 champions, in the season opener. The nightcap saw Valpo fall to host Houston 9-0 as the Cougars tossed a no-hitter.
How It Happened – Fordham
- Valpo wasted little time getting to reigning Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year Madie Aughinbaugh, striking for two runs six pitches into the game. Freshman Ryan Milkowski (Olathe, Kan./Olathe West) drew a four-pitch walk out of the leadoff spot, and sophomore Jaina Westphal (Waterford, Wis./Burlington) drilled the second pitch she saw over the left field wall for a quick 2-0 lead.
- The Rams erased the deficit in their half of the first with a two-run double from Sarah Taffet, and then pulled ahead 4-2 in the second inning thanks to a two-run homer by Amanda Carey.
- The turning point of the game came in the bottom of the fourth. A leadoff triple was followed by a walk and a stolen base to give Fordham two runners in scoring position with nobody out. But Valpo pitcher Kelsie Packard (Beloit, Wis./Turner [Rock Valley]) reared back and struck out the side, stranding both runners on base and keeping it a two-run game.
- Packard pitched out of a jam in the fifth as well, as the Rams put runners on second and third with one out and loaded the bases with two outs. Another strikeout kept Fordham off the board.
- Three consecutive hits in the top of the sixth tied the game at 4-4. Westphal started the rally with a full-count single, and fellow sophomore Taylor Herschbach (Lockport, Ill./Lockport Township) followed with a base knock of her own. Freshman Lauren Kehlenbrink (Ballwin, Mo./Parkway South) stepped in and delivered the key hit, knocking a two-run double the other way to tie the game.
- Three more hits in the top of the seventh led to the decisive run crossing the plate. Sophomore Taylor Tonoian (Saugus, Calif./Saugus) led off the frame with a single, and a bunt single from sophomore Peyton Moeder (Shawnee, Kan./Mill Valley) put two runners on with nobody out. A productive groundout from Addi Burke (Mesquite, Texas/John Horn) moved the runners up 60 feet, and Milkowski came up with the game-winning RBI, plating Tonoian on a base hit into left.
- Packard retired Fordham in order in the bottom of the seventh, her first 1-2-3 inning of the game, to close out the victory.
How It Happened – Houston
- Houston took the lead for good in the bottom of the first on a two-out run-scoring double by Sarah Queen.
- The Cougars scored two runs in the second, one run in the third and then plated five in the fourth to close out the scoring.
- Valpo twice got runners to third base, as Kehlenbrink led off the second with a walk and advanced to third with two outs, and Moeder did the same the next inning. Senior Morgan Matalin (Crown Point, Ind./Crown Point) drew a two-out walk in the fourth as well, but Valpo was unable to pick up a base hit off of Houston starter Logan Hulon.
Inside the Games
- Valpo’s win in the opener against Fordham was just its third win in a season opener in the last 13 seasons. It came against a Rams squad which went to the NCAA Tournament last year and which has won the A-10 championship seven straight years.
- Westphal’s first-inning homer against the Rams was the earliest home run in a season in Valpo history.
- Milkowski earned the nod in the leadoff spot in the order in the season opener against Fordham, becoming the first Valpo freshman to lead off in her first career game since Emily Tkaczyk in 2005.
- Packard picked up the win against Fordham, out-pitching the defending A-10 Pitcher of the Year. She struck out a career-best 12 batters and worked around eight hits and six walks to earn the victory, in large part because she held the Rams to just 1-of-12 hitting with runners in scoring position.
- Packard’s 12 strikeouts bump her career total to 211 punchouts, moving her into 10th position on Valpo’s career chart in the category.
- Milkowski reached base three times, including a pair of hits, in her first game in a Valpo uniform. Westphal tallied a pair of hits against the Rams as well.
- Senior Jenna Edwards (Winchester, Ky./ George Rogers Clark [Chattanooga State C.C.]) started the nightcap in the circle and took the loss, surrendering two earned runs in three innings of work.
- All four of Valpo’s newcomers saw action on Friday, as beyond Milkowski and Kehlenbrink, sophomore Kate Beckemeyer (Forsyth, Ill./ Maroa-Forsyth [Parkland]) started the opener in right field and freshman Easton Seib (Blue Springs, Mo./Blue Springs South) pitched in relief against Houston.
Valpo (1-1) plays two more games in Houston on Saturday, facing Northwestern State at 11:30 a.m. and matching up again with Fordham at 2 p.m. Both games will have live stats available via ValpoAthletics.com.