A beautiful May afternoon was the backdrop for Senior Day Saturday at the Valpo Softball Complex, as the Beacons split the first two games of a three-game series with Evansville. Valpo led from the opening inning on in a 5-1 victory in the opener before dropping a tough 2-1 decision in extra innings in the nightcap. Between games, the program celebrated six team members competing in the final home series of their collegiate careers.
How It Happened – Game One
- After junior Easton Seib (Blue Springs, Mo./Blue Springs South) set down Evansville in order in the top of the first, it took the Beacons just two batters to pull in front for good, as senior Jaina Westphal (Waterford, Wis./Burlington) laced a full-count pitch off the scoreboard in left-center to put Valpo on top.
- Junior Lauren Kehlenbrink (Ballwin, Mo./Parkway South) started a big day at the plate by working a walk immediately following Westphal’s round-tripper. Kehlenbrink came around to score later in the frame on an Evansville error to make it 2-0 Beacons through one inning.
- The Purple Aces scored an unearned run in the top of the second, thanks in part to a sun-aided base hit on a fly ball. But with two on and one out, Seib limited the damage to the lone run, inducing a lineout before picking up a strikeout to keep it a 2-1 game.
- The bottom of the second proved to be another multi-run inning for the Beacons. Senior Taylor Tonoian (Saugus, Calif./Saugus) led off the inning with a first-pitch single, and two batters later, got caught up in a rundown long enough to allow senior Peyton Moeder (Shawnee, Kan./Mill Valley) to reach base and made it back to second safely to give Valpo a pair of baserunners. With two outs, Kehlenbrink unloaded on a 0-1 pitch the other way to the right-center gap, plating both baserunners to push the advantage to 4-1.
- That proved to be more than enough support for Seib in the circle as she went the distance. The junior allowed just one runner to reach scoring position over the last five innings, and that runner was cut down at third base after initially trying to score on a base hit in the sixth inning.
- Valpo capped the scoring in the bottom of the fifth, as Taylor Herschbach (Lockport, Ill./Lockport Township) knocked a single into center to lead off the inning and eventually scored on an error by the Purple Aces.
How It Happened – Game Two
- Evansville opened the scoring in the top of the second, turning a leadoff double into a run thanks to a successful squeeze bunt. Cheyenne Nietz (Machesney Park, Ill./Harlem) held the Purple Aces to just one run despite the fact they loaded the bases later in the inning with two away, getting a fly ball to get out of the frame.
- Nietz again escaped trouble in the third, as Evansville loaded the bases with one out. The rookie picked up a huge strikeout for out number two, and then got a grounder back to the circle to keep it a 1-0 game.
- Valpo had a great opportunity to put runs on the board in the bottom of the third. Sophomore Kayla Skapyak (Macomb, Mich./Dakota) led off the inning with a soft liner just inside the left-field line for a single, and after a sacrifice bunt, Westphal laid down a bunt single and advanced to an uncovered second base to give the Beacons two in scoring position with just one out. But Valpo was unable to bring either runner home.
- A hit and a walk put two runners on for Evansville with one out in the top of the fourth. Sophomore Caitlin Kowalski (Temperance, Mich./Notre Dame Academy) was called out of the bullpen at that point and kicked off a stellar relief effort with consecutive flyouts to keep it a one-run game.
- Those two outs kicked off a stretch of 11 consecutive outs for Kowalski, as she kept the Purple Aces off the basepaths for the remainder of regulation.
- Valpo leveled the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth, and again it was Kehlenbrink with the big hit, as the junior lined an RBI single into right to score Westphal — who had dropped down a bunt single and then stolen second — and make it a 1-1 game. Kehlenbrink advanced to second on the throw home, keeping a runner in scoring position with nobody out as the Beacons looked to take the lead, but the next three batters went down in order.
- Sophomore Regi Hecker (Lee’s Summit, Mo./Blue Springs South) laid down a one-out bunt single in the bottom of the seventh, but the Beacons couldn’t advance her past first base as the game went to extra innings — just the second extra-inning contest for Valpo this year.
- After retiring the first 11 she faced, Kowalski gave up a leadoff walk in the top of the eighth. A sacrifice bunt looked like a potential double play after the runner turned too far around second, but in the ensuing rundown, Valpo was unable to get a tag on the runner as she veered away and eventually ended up on third, where a wild pitch eventually gave the Purple Aces the lead.
- Kehlenbrink drove a one-out double to the left-center gap in the bottom of the eighth in an effort to again tie the game, but the next two batters were retired as Evansville picked up the win and the doubleheader split.
Inside the Games
- Between games, Valpo recognized Westphal, Moeder, Tonoian and Kate Beckemeyer (Forsyth, Ill./Maroa-Forsyth [Parkland]), as well as senior managers Taylor Knight — who pitched the last three years before being sidelined due to injury — and Gabi Westphal.
- Jaina Westphal enjoyed a strong senior day, starting with the home run in her first at-bat of the opener — her fourth of the year, tying her for team-high honors, and the 11th of her career.
- In game two, Westphal notched her 10th multi-hit game of the season, going 2-for-4 with a pair of stolen bases. She now owns 40 career steals, moving into fourth place in program history on Saturday, and with 16 thefts this year alone, is just one away from cracking Valpo’s single-season top-10 chart.
- Tonoian recorded her second multi-hit game of the year in the opener, going 2-for-3 with a run scored. She then started at catcher in the nightcap, just her second start behind the plate this season.
- Kehlenbrink dominated at the plate throughout Saturday’s twinbill, going 4-for-7 with three doubles and three RBIs. She tallied two hits in both games, including a two-double effort in the opener — tied for the second-most doubles in a single game in program history. With her three RBIs, Kehlenbrink now owns 19 RBIs within MVC play this season.
- Freshman Addi Weaver (Shelbyville, Ind./Shelbyville) joined her fellow backstops with a multi-hit game in the win in game one, going 2-for-4 for her fifth multi-hit game of the season. That also extended her on-base streak to 11 straight games, Valpo’s season high, before it was snapped in the nightcap.
- The Beacons banged out 11 hits in the series opener, their third effort of 10+ hits in a five-game stretch after reaching double figures just twice in the previous 27 contests.
- Valpo’s pitching enjoyed perhaps its strongest day of the season on Saturday, giving up just three runs — two earned — on eight hits over 15 innings of work. Seib started things off with a complete-game four-hitter and gave up just an unearned run to pick up her seventh win of the year.
- Nietz started in the nightcap and worked in and out of trouble to surrender one run in 3.1 innings of work. Kowalski came in and took the epitome of a tough-luck loss, as she threw 4.2 innings of no-hit softball in one of the best outings of her career.
Valpo (13-32, 4-22 MVC) closes the regular season on Sunday with a single game against Evansville. First pitch is set for noon.