|May 17, 2018||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||R||H||E|
|Win: Triston Polley (7-2)||6.0||2||2||1||4||5|
|Loss: Tieman (5-5)||6.0||10||6||6||1||3|
|Dane Giesler (INS)||4||2||2||1||1||1|
|Jarrod Watkins (INS)||4||1||2||1||0||0|
|May 18, 2018||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||R||H||E|
|Win: Tristan Weaver (3-4)||6.0||3||0||0||5||4|
|Loss: Ferketic (4-6)||2.2||8||7||7||0||1|
|Clay Dungan (INS)||4||4||3||1||2||0|
|Jarrod Watkins (INS)||3||2||3||3||0||0|
|May 19, 2018||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||R||H||E|
|Win: Weston Rivers (4-0)||5.0||2||2||2||2||1|
|Loss: Gordon (2-6)||5.0||7||5||5||2||3|
|Cj Huntley (INS)||5||3||4||0||0||0|
Indiana State (26-22, 8-10 MVC)
at Valparaiso (18-29, 6-12 MVC)
Emory G. Bauer Field | Valparaiso, Ind.
Thursday, May 17, 3 p.m. CT – Jon Tieman (R)
Friday, May 18, 1 p.m. CT – Trey Ferketic (R)
Saturday, May 19, 1 p.m. CT – Wes Gordon (R)
Next Up in Crusader Baseball: The regular season reaches its conclusion this week as Valpo welcomes in-state foe Indiana State for a three-game series that begins on Thursday. The Crusaders and Sycamores will go at it in an important set as teams across the conference battle for seeding in next week’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The series will culminate with Senior Day on Saturday as the Crusaders recognize their 10-member senior class prior to the group’s final game at Emory G. Bauer Field.
A Look Back: The Crusaders won a thrilling series opener 2-1 last week at Illinois State, but went on to drop two of three to the Redbirds. A Valpo offense that has shown an ability to do significant damage over the course of the season was quieted this past weekend, as Valpo mustered up just five runs over the three games. Jon Tieman made two runs hold up in a valiant effort on Friday, earning his fifth win of the season with a 132-pitch complete game. Jayden Eggimann made a sprawling catch for the final out, causing Illinois State to strand the potential tying run at second and winning run at first in the bottom of the ninth. The Redbirds won 13-3 on Saturday and 8-0 on Sunday. Valpo bounced back with a quality comeback on Tuesday against Chicago State. The Crusaders had two outs and nobody on base, down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, before four straight reached including Blake Billinger, whose two-run single sent Valpo to a 3-2 walk-off win.
On the Air: All three games in the series will air on 95.1 FM Valparaiso (online on the TuneIn Radio App) and have live stats available via StatBroadcast. Coverage links can be found on ValpoAthletics.com. For in-game updates, follow @ValpoBaseball on Twitter.
Series Notes: The Crusaders and Sycamores have an extensive history against one another, with Indiana State leading the all-time series 40-30-1. Thursday will mark the first meeting since April 17, 2012, when the Crusaders fell 2-1 in a 16-inning marathon. The Crusaders have lost five straight head-to-head meetings dating back to March 31, 2007, an 11-2 win at Indiana State. Indiana State will be playing at Emory G. Bauer for the first time since 2011.
Seniors in the Spotlight
- After waving goodbye to just five seniors a year ago, this marks the final home weekend for 10 seniors. Four of them spent their entire careers with the Valpo program, two were graduate transfers this season, one joined the program as a sophomore and three came in last season as junior college transfers. Seven will walk across the stage during Valpo’s undergraduate graduation on Sunday, one will receive his MBA in August, one is on track to complete his undergraduate studies in December and one is on track to finish his master’s degree in December.
- This senior class is diverse geographically as Arizona, Pennsylvania, Indiana, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Wisconsin are all represented.
- The Crusaders will also recognize a pair of senior managers on Saturday – John Hammersmith and Andrew Petzold. Both have been four-year fixtures with Valpo’s program.
- Valpo will hope for better cooperation from the weather this weekend after last year’s Senior Day presentation was cancelled when the final two scheduled home games of the regular season were both rained out.
- LHP Chet Joslyn – Is the longest-tenured member of the Crusaders, in his fifth year at Valpo. Received a medical redshirt in his first season on campus… Has made 73 career appearances over the last four seasons, the most of any active Crusader… Pitched four scoreless innings and yielded just one hit on May 15 against Chicago State to earn the win.
- RHP Trey Ferketic – Served as the Saturday starter in his only season at Valpo… Transferred from UC San Diego and has also played at Long Beach State and Saddleback. Pitched complete games in consecutive weeks, helping Valpo to road victories over Southern Illinois (April 7) and Michigan State (April 13).
- RHP Alex Dirienzo – Transferred to Valpo after Akron folded its baseball program following his freshman season… Valpo converted him from an infielder to a pitcher… Did not allow a hit or a walk in any of his first three outings this season, including 1 2/3 innings at Purdue… Has appeared in 46 games over his three seasons at Valpo.
- RHP Hayden Kissee – Has made 26 appearances over two seasons at Valpo… Joined Valpo’s program after two junior college seasons at Kaskaskia College. Had a strong week in mid-April, garnering the win with two scoreless innings at No. 25 Illinois before nailing down the save with three scoreless innings at Evansville to help Valpo to its first MVC series win.
- RHP Luke VanLanen – Four-year member of the Crusaders… Has appeared in 64 games during his Crusader career… Made his first career start on Tuesday, limiting Chicago State to two runs on just four hits over five innings in an eventual 3-2 victory for the Crusaders.
- RHP Wes Gordon – Came to Valpo as a junior college transfer from Lake County last season… Has been a member of the weekend rotation throughout his time at Valpo… Pitched Valpo to a victory by tossing a complete game on April 29 against DBU.
- INF Chad Jacob – Vice President of Valpo’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee… Has played in 125 games and made 118 starts over his four years at Valpo… Had a career-high four hits last week at Western Michigan.
- OF Jayden Eggimann – Transferred from Central Arizona to Valpo as a junior after starting his career at Grand Canyon… Racked up seven RBIs in a single game and finished a double shy of the cycle on April 11 against Milwaukee... Made a game-ending diving catch to seal a 2-1 victory over Illinois State on May 11 in the bottom of the ninth with the potential tying run at second and winning run at first.
- 1B Zack Leone – After spending the last three years at Division III Susquehanna, he graduate transferred to Valpo and has earned his MBA in one year. He is second on the team in hitting at .338… Had seven RBIs in a single game earlier this season at Arkansas Pine Bluff… Hit a walk-off home run for Valpo’s first-ever Missouri Valley Conference win against Bradley, Valpo’s first walk-off blast in over 15 years.
- OF Giovanni Garbella – Has played in 132 games and made 93 starts in his four-year Crusader career… Is in position to hit over .300 for the second straight season after hitting .219 as a freshman and .171 as a sophomore. Has over 100 career hits (109) and has launched 15 home runs in his career.
Cardiac Crusaders: The Crusaders were down to their final strike with nobody on base down by a run on Tuesday, but a pinch hit single by Riley Dent started the game-winning rally as the Crusaders eventually pulled out a 3-2 win over Chicago State. That marked the first time since March 26, 2016 Valpo has won when trailing after eight innings. The Crusaders had dropped 62 straight games when behind after eight. While one long streak ended, another one continued, as the Crusaders garnered their 22nd straight win in the head-to-head series with the Cougars.
Billinger Doubles Watch: Valpo’s Blake Billinger is on the verge of etching his name atop the program’s all-time doubles list. He smoked his 22nd double of the season on Sunday against Illinois State, snapping a four-way tie and taking over sole possession of second in program history for doubles in a single season. He needs just one to tie and two to break Kyle Muhlsteff’s single-season program record of 23 established in 2010.
Other Record Book Threats: Sam Shaikin has scored 49 runs this season, five away from moving to the Top 5 in program history… Chase Dawson needs one more triple to enter the Top 5 in program history… As a team, Valpo has exactly 100 doubles and is just two away from cracking the Top 5 in program history (1. 2001, 134; 2. 2010 & 1999, 118; 4. 2016, 109; 5. 2000 & 1998, 102)… The Crusaders have 37 home runs and are just three away from moving into the Top 5 in program history for home runs in a single season… After shattering a program record for fielding percentage that had stood since 1998 last season, the Crusaders hold a .970 fielding percentage this year, a mark that would be narrowly behind last year’s .971 as the program record.
A Glance at the Standings: Going into the final weekend, there’s still a lot to be determined when it comes to seeding for next week’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in Dallas. The Crusaders currently sit in seventh in the league standings and have clinched no worse than seventh as Evansville is locked into eighth, four games in back of Valpo entering this weekend. Valpo could climb to as high as fourth in the conference standings, but for that to occur the Crusaders must sweep Indiana State, Bradley must sweep Southern Illinois and Illinois State must drop at least two of three to Evansville. Valpo fans should root for Bradley and Evansville in their respective series this weekend. The team that finishes seventh in the conference standings will have to play either Missouri State or DBU in the first round of the double-elimination tournament.
Quality Wins: Valpo added to its growing list of quality wins on April 29 against DBU. The Patriots entered the weekend ranked 46th nationally in RPI, while Valpo also has wins over Illinois, ranked 25th nationally by Baseball America at the time of the game, and Oklahoma, ranked 28th nationally by the USA Today at the time of the Valpo victory.
Six is The Magic Number: Valpo is just 3-25 this season when scoring five runs or fewer. When the Crusaders score six runs or more, they own a 15-4 mark. Valpo’s first win of the season when scoring five runs or fewer was on May 11, a 2-1 victory over Illinois State. They followed that with their second win of the year in such games on Tuesday, beating Chicago State 3-2.
In The Other Dugout – Indiana State: The Sycamores enjoyed a senior day win on Sunday by capturing the rubber match of a three-game set with Evansville in high-scoring fashion, 14-9. Picked to finish third in the MVC Preseason Poll, the Sycamores enter this weekend tied for fifth in the conference standings with Southern Illinois. They are two games behind third-place Bradley and one game ahead of sixth-place Illinois State. Indiana State is under the direction of Mitch Hannahs, who returned to his alma mater in 2013 to take over the program. The former Milwaukee Brewers draft pick has guided the team to winning conference records in three of his first four seasons and has seen nine MLB draft picks under his watch. One of this year’s offensive leaders is Dane Giesler, who is hitting .299 to go along with 12 home runs and 38 RBIs. The 12 homers are tied with DBU’s Tim Millard for the league lead. Also a key threat is Romero Harris, hitting .344 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in just 24 games. The team is third in The Valley in league-only batting average at .262, trailing only DBU and Missouri State. Triston Polley leads the pitching staff with a 3.61 ERA and 6-2 record in 13 starts.
Pitching Profiles – Weekend Rotation
- Jon Tieman: Freshman All-American last season… Started his freshman year as Valpo’s closer before moving into the weekend rotation by season’s end… Became the first Valpo underclassman to get the Opening Day start for the Crusaders since Bryce Shafer in 2009. Six of Valpo’s last seven Opening Day starters had been seniors before Tieman got the ball at Alabama this season… Got the win on March 16 at Arkansas Pine Bluff after throwing eight innings and allowing seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits. The most impressive aspect of his start was that he struck out seven and issued no walks. The Crusaders didn’t allow any walks in that game, the first time they’d done that since April 23 of last season… One of his strongest starts of the season was when he pitched Valpo to a 9-2 win over the school’s instate rival Butler on March 23. He yielded two runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out four in 7 1/3 innings. Tieman did not allow a run over the first seven innings and both runs charged to him scored after he had left the game. He sent down 11 straight batters from the third to the sixth. Tieman's outing came against Big East foe Butler, a team that entered that game with a 16-3 record… In the conference opener vs. Bradley, he left in position for the win but wound up with no decision after allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits and two walks in seven innings… Took the loss after allowing six runs (three earned) in 7 1/3 innings on April 6 at Southern Illinois… Got no decision despite eight strong innings at Michigan State on April 13… Threw his first career complete game in a 7-2 win over Evansville on April 20. Scattered nine hits and permitted only two earned runs while racking up a season-high eight strikeouts. Earned his fourth win of the year, matching his season win total from his rookie campaign. The CG marked the third by a Valpo pitcher this season, all in the last three weeks… There has only been one successful stolen base with Tieman on the mound this season. Opponents are 1-for-7 when trying to run against the Tieman/Kapers combo... Allowed four earned runs and no walks in six innings on April 27 vs. DBU… Got no decision after allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings against Missouri State on May 4… Threw a career-high 132 pitches in his second complete game of the season on May 11 at Illinois State, yielding just one run on eight hits and two walks to lift Valpo to a 2-1 victory. Gained his team-leading fifth victory of the season, surpassing his 2017 total of four wins, which tied for the team lead.
- Trey Ferketic: Valpo is his fourth school (Saddleback, Long Beach State, UC San Diego)… Didn’t pitch last spring due to an injury at UC San Diego and threw just 3 2/3 innings in 2016… Went seven innings and allowed two runs on five hits and one walk on March 30 against Bradley, a game Valpo eventually won in 10 innings. He received no decision…. Became the first Valpo player this season to throw a complete game in a 6-2 win over Southern Illinois on April 7. He threw 130 pitches… Followed that up with another complete game to help the Crusaders over Michigan State 7-6 on April 13… Was lifted after 5 2/3 innings on April 21 at Evansville and got no decision in an eventual 9-8 defeat... Took the loss on April 28 after allowing four runs on seven hits in four innings against DBU and on May 5 after allowing five runs in five frames against Missouri State…. Took the loss after a two-inning outing at Illinois State on May 12.
- Wes Gordon: Pitched in nine games, all starts, in his first year as a Crusader last season after transferring from Lake County (JUCO), but didn’t appear after April 14 due to an injury… Left in position for the win in his first conference start, scattering seven hits and yielding two runs (one earned) while walking none in seven innings on April 1 against Bradley, but eventually received no decision… Worked four scoreless innings but was charged with five runs in the fifth in his most recent outing April 8 at Southern Illinois… Had a strong outing in his last start, going six strong innings and yielding just one run on seven hits on April 22 at Evansville. Picked up his first victory since April 8, 2017 against Northern Kentucky and limited the opposition to fewer than two runs for the first time since March 24 of last season at UIC… Threw his first career complete game on April 29 vs. DBU, limiting the Patriots to two runs on five hits to garner the win… Had another strong outing on May 6 against Missouri State, allowing three runs on six hits in seven innings against the conference’s first-place team, but took the loss… Was lifted after two innings and took the loss on May 13 at Illinois State.
Player-by-Player Profiles – Position Players
- Chase Dawson, 2B: Had already surpassed his career high for RBIs in a single season before conference play even began. Had 15 RBIs in 52 games last season after having 17 in 49 games as a freshman. Hit a grand slam against Arkansas Pine Bluff on March 16… Hit .221 over the first 29 games last season before batting .364 over the final month (April 23 – May 24, 16 games), leading the team in batting average and on-base percentage (.364) during that stretch… Has led off and started at second base for Valpo every game this season… A local to Northwest Indiana as an Andrean High School alum and Chesterton native… Is the first Valpo player with five triples since Kyle Gaedele had eight in 2010… Leads The Valley in triples… Has been successful with each of his last seven stolen-base attempts. Was cut down trying to steal in each of the first two games of the season, but has been perfect in stolen-base attempts since.
- Sam Shaikin, SS: Was the only Crusader to start all 53 games last season. Has started every game this year… Led Valpo in batting average at .317 a year ago… Started at third base for the first 12 games of the season, but has started at shortstop every game since. .. Has batted second for Valpo in every game this season… Named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List by College Baseball Foundation for an award that goes to the top shortstop in the nation… Is the only Crusader to have earned MVC Player of the Week Honors as he did so in the second week of the year, hitting a robust .700 in three games against Oklahoma and Holy Cross… Has launched eight home runs in 2018, tied for the team lead, and has 12 in his Crusader career.
- Blake Billinger, LF: Was a unanimous first team all-conference selection in both seasons he played at Mission College (JUCO)… Has batted third in every game this season… Hit a home run against Alabama in his first at-bat as a Crusader… Had a three-double game on March 2 vs. CSUN, becoming the first Valpo player with three doubles in a game since Andrew Quinnette in 2008… Hit .769 (10-for-13) in a three-game series at Southern Illinois (April 6-8), becoming the first Crusader since 2010 to go 5-for-5 in a game… Belted his third homer of the year on April 17 at Illinois... Leads the team with 18 multi-hit games and seven games with three hits or more… Became the first Valpo player since 2010 and seventh in program history with 20 doubles in a season on May 1 vs. Northern Illinois… Leads the MVC in two-baggers… Became the first Valpo player since Quinnette in 2008 with a three-homer game as he put together the first three home run performance in the Missouri Valley Conference this season in an 18-13 win over Western Michigan on May 8… Is tied for second in the MVC in conference-only batting average at .377… Enters this weekend one double away from tying the program record for doubles in a single-season… Delivered a walk-off single to drive in two with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-2 win over Chicago State on May 15.
- Giovanni Garbella, RF: Entered April 9 of last season hitting .213 with no home runs and eight RBIs in 26 games and was a career .204 hitter over three years. He hit .380 the rest of the way with five home runs and 24 RBIs over the final 25 games of the season… Drove in a season-high four runs and launched his fourth homer of the season in Valpo’s 6-2 win on April 7 at SIU… Followed that with a home run on April 13 at Michigan State, ripping three extra-base hits and recording the go-ahead RBI in a 7-6 win over the Spartans in the second game of a doubleheader. .. Had a career-high four hits on April 17 at Illinois… Had a season-high five RBIs, all in his first two plate appearances, in a win over Evansville on April 20. That included his sixth home run of the season and the 13th of his career…. Won the MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Week honor on April 25… Hit his team-leading eighth home run of the season on May 8 against Western Michigan.
- Zack Leone, 1B: Transferred to Valpo this season after having tremendous success from 2014-2017 at Susquehanna, where he was named an All-American by D3Baseball.com and the ABCA… Racked up 178 hits (fourth all-time), a .405 average (second all-time), 112 RBIs (second all-time), 49 doubles (program record), 18 home runs (second all-time), a .470 career OBP and a .641 career slugging percentage in his time at the Division III level… Had seven RBIs in a game on March 17 at Arkansas Pine Bluff, becoming just the second player in the Missouri Valley Conference with a seven RBI game this season… Returned to the lineup on April 13 at Michigan State after missing the previous four games with a hand injury… Extended his on-base streak to 16 games on April 25 at Notre Dame, matching Billinger for the longest by a Crusader this season… Had three doubles in the April 25 defeat to the Fighting Irish, becoming the second Valpo player this season with a three-double game and just the third player in the entire MVC with three doubles in a contest this year… Placed a go-ahead double down the right-field line to drive in what proved to be the game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning of a dramatic 2-1 victory over Illinois State on May 11.
- Chad Jacob, 3B: Before March 9 at Loyola Marymount, hadn’t started a game at third base since his freshman year in 2015, but has started at third every game since, switching positions with SS Sam Shaikin… Has played in every game this season after dealing with various injuries through his first three collegiate campaigns… Leader on Valpo’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee as the Vice President… Had the best offensive weekend of any Crusader against DBU (April 27-29), posting a .455 average (5-for-11) against the Patriots… Had a career-high four hits on May 8 at Western Michigan.
- Scott Kapers, C: Threw out 41.5 percent of would-be base stealers last season and has cut down 40.8 percent this season… Batted a team-best .378 over the final 14 games of 2017 and started this season with a .317 average over the first 18 games. Has made tremendous offensive strides since batting .196 as a freshman… Brother Jake, also a catcher, has signed his NLI to play at Valpo starting next season… On the Johnny Bench Award Watch List for an award given annually to the nation’s top catcher…Became the third Crusader with a five-hit game this season by going 5-for-5 on May 8 at Western Michigan. Also threw out two Broncos trying to swipe second in that game.
- DH – This spot in the Valpo lineup has been a revolving door throughout the season. Most recently, left-handed hitting Patrick Donohue and right-handed hitting Christian Barczi have platooned at this position.
- Jayden Eggimann, CF: Has 35 RBIs after having 13 all of last season… Ranks third on the team in RBIs despite batting ninth in the order… Drilled a three-run homer in the ninth inning of an 11-7 victory over Grand Canyon on March 4. The homer was extra special for Eggimann, who started his collegiate career at Grand Canyon and is a native of the Phoenix area… Racked up seven RBIs on April 11 vs. Milwaukee, finishing a double shy of the cycle. Only four players in The Valley have seven RBI games this season, and two of them play for the Crusaders. Also launched a first-inning grand slam in the win over the Panthers… Made a diving catch in center for the final out of a 2-1 victory over Illinois State on May 11 with the potential tying run at second and the winning run at first.
Billinger Bomb After Billinger Bomb: Blake Billinger homered in three consecutive plate appearances on May 8 at Western Michigan, becoming the first Valpo player to launch three home runs in a game since Andrew Quinnette in 2008. Earlier this season, Billinger also became the first Valpo player with a three-double game since Quinnette in 2008. He was the first player in The Valley with a three-homer game this year and the 23rd nationally. Billinger became the first Valpo player since Quinnette in 2008 with 12 total bases in a single game in that contest.
5-for-5: Scott Kapers became the third Valpo player with a five-hit game this season on May 8 at Western Michigan, joining Chase Dawson and Blake Billinger. Before this year, Valpo hadn’t had more than one player post a five-hit game in any of the previous seven seasons. Kapers joined Billinger as the second Valpo player to go a perfect 5-for-5 this year after previously that feat had not been accomplished by a Crusader since 2010.
More Western Michigan Tidbits: Valpo and Western Michigan combined for 64 total bases, the most in a Valpo game since Valpo and Butler combined for 73 on April 26, 2008. Valpo totaled 35 bases, the most by the Crusaders since they had 40 on April 3, 2010 against Chicago State. Valpo had six hit batters in the game, the team’s most since at least 2005. The Crusaders also set 2018 game highs in home runs with four and matched two other games (against Milwaukee and Grand Canyon) for the season high for hits with 18.
Two-Bagger, Three Times: Zack Leone enjoyed a three-double game on April 25 at Notre Dame, becoming the second Valpo player with three doubles in one game this season, joining Blake Billinger (March 2 vs. CSUN). Only three players in the entire Missouri Valley Conference have had three-double games this season, and two of them play for the Crusaders. No Valpo player had posted a three-double game since Andrew Quinnette on April 26, 2008 against Butler prior to this season.
Top 25 Win: On the exact 55-year anniversary of Valpo’s most recent win over Illinois, the Crusaders beat the No. 25 Fighting Illini 11-7 on Tuesday, April 17 in Champagne. It marked just the second time all season Illinois had lost a game by more than three runs. The Crusaders also beat a Top 25 team in 2016, topping No. 25 Dallas Baptist 6-1. Illinois entered the game ranked 25th by Baseball America, 27th in the RPI and 17th by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Illinois had won five straight and 22 of its previous 27. The 11 runs are the most Illinois had given up in a loss all year.
Beating Big Ten Competition: After dropping the first game of a doubleheader at Michigan State in 12 innings on Friday, April 13, Valpo picked up a 7-6 win in the nightcap. This marks the third straight season Valpo has beaten a team from the Big Ten Conference, as the Crusaders knocked off instate foe Purdue each of the last two years. The Crusaders followed that with the 11-7 win over the Fighting Illini, the fourth Big Ten win Valpo has notched in the last three years and the second in a row.
A Weekend To Remember: The Crusaders picked up several signature wins in the same day on Feb. 24 in Norman, Okla. Valpo upended host Oklahoma, a team ranked 28th nationally, 11-4 in the first game of the day, before routing Holy Cross 20-6. Both Oklahoma and Holy Cross reached the NCAA Tournament last season. The 20 runs in a game were Valpo’s most since April 2, 2010 (26 against Chicago State) – a marked that has since been topped with a 23-run outpouring on April 11 vs. Milwaukee. The final game of the weekend in Norman saw the Crusaders take the Sooners to extra innings, but Oklahoma prevailed 3-2.
Ninth Inning Magic: On March 2 against CSUN – a neutral site game at GCU Ballpark in Phoenix – Valpo scored nine times in the top of the ninth to create a 13-13 tie. Chase Dawson capped the miraculous rally with a two-run homer, but CSUN walked off with a run in the bottom of the ninth for a 14-13 victory.
Walk-Off Winner: Valpo reversed the ghosts of years past on March 30 when Zack Leone crushed a three-run, walk-off home run, Valpo's first game-ending long ball in over 15 years. The swing that sent Valpo to a 5-2, 10 inning victory over Bradley for its first Missouri Valley Conference triumph also allowed the team to lay to rest the ghosts of the program's recent past. Three of the Crusaders’ first five losses this season came in walk-off fashion, while Valpo has been hurt by walk-off home runs in the past as well – most recently last year’s season opener at Western Kentucky and most notably a 2013 NCAA Tournament game against Indiana.
Head Coach Brian Schmack: Brian Schmack, the 17th head coach in Valparaiso University history, is in his fifth season at the helm of the Crusaders. He led Valparaiso to 25 wins in his inaugural campaign, a school record for victories by a first-year skipper. The former big leaguer followed that up with a 22-win season in 2015, then guided the team to its first winning record since 2013 in 2016. In 2017, Schmack continued his success despite guiding a youthful roster that featured 11 freshmen and 15 total newcomers. He led the Crusaders to 24 wins, including a strong finish to the regular season that saw them win eight of their last 11. Schmack, a member of the 2003 Detroit Tigers, served as pitching coach/associate head coach at Valpo for seven seasons prior to his promotion.
Looking Back: Valpo finished 2017 with a 24-29 record and a 13-15 mark in the Horizon League. Three Crusaders earned all-league freshman team honors, the first time Valpo had three players on the all-freshman team since 2013 and the seventh straight year the Crusaders had multiple players on the all-freshman squad. After posting a 4-1 record, 2.93 ERA and seven saves, right-handed pitcher Jon Tieman was named a Freshman All-American, becoming the first Crusader to earn that high honor since shortstop Spencer Mahoney in 2012. The 2017 season also saw the Crusaders set the program record for team fielding percentage, as they put together a .971 fielding percentage that bested the previous mark of .968, which had stood since 1998. The Valpo offense has enjoyed a significant statistical uptick over the last three seasons. The Crusaders held a combined average of .279, slugging percentage of .387 and on-base percentage of .372 from 2015-2017, all improvements from a .265/.351/.337 slash line from 2012-2014.
Preseason Poll: The Crusaders were picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll in their first season in The Valley. Dallas Baptist is the preseason favorite to win the league and is ranked 18th nationally by D1Baseball.com, 20th by the NCBWA and 17th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Missouri State, picked second in The Valley, is ranked 35th nationally by the NCBWA and received 35 votes in the USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll.