The Valparaiso University softball team will ride a wave of momentum into next week’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, as the Crusaders closed the regular season on Sunday in Normal, Ill. with a 4-1 victory over Illinois State. With the win, Valpo secured the fourth seed for the conference tournament and will receive a first-round bye.
How It Happened
- The top of the second delivered the only runs the Crusaders would need for the win. With two outs, senior Jasmine Ramirez (Litchfield Park, Ariz./Millennium) struck out, but hustled down to first as the pitch eluded Illinois State’s catcher to reach safely.
- Senior Lanie Callaghan (Elburn, Ill./Kaneland) stepped in and, after falling behind 0-2, fouled off five two-strike pitches before launching her sixth homer of the season over the left-field wall to make it 2-0 Crusaders.
- Valpo looked to add to its lead in the third, as the Crusaders loaded the bases with one out on a pair of singles around a walk. But they were unable to capitalize, keeping the lead at just two runs.
- Meanwhile, starting pitcher Kelsie Packard (Beloit, Wis./Turner [Rock Valley College]) was doing a stellar job of keeping the Redbirds off the board. Illinois State had runners on first and second with one out in each of the first two innings, but both times, Packard and the Valpo defense kept the runners from advancing any further.
- Packard also pitched around a one-out double in the fourth and a one-out single in the fifth, both times keeping the runners locked on the respective bases.
- Illinois State put together perhaps its best threat in the bottom of the sixth, as the go-ahead run would come to the plate with nobody out as the Redbirds started the inning with an infield single and a walk. But Packard came back, got a strikeout for the first out, and then induced a grounder to third. Freshman Addi Burke (Mesquite, Texas/John Horn) tagged the bag for the lead force and then threw across the diamond, where fellow rookie Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) made a nice scoop in the dirt to complete the double play and keep it a 2-0 game.
- Valpo got a pair of insurance runs in the seventh thanks to a clutch two-out hit. Callaghan and senior Taylor Lawson (Tucson, Ariz./Sahuaro) connected on back-to-back one-out singles, and after a groundout moved both runners into scoring position, junior Carly Trepanier (Manteno, Ill./Manteno) knocked a single back through the middle to score both and make it 4-0 Crusaders.
- Illinois State’s Riley Hale connected on a two-out solo homer to break up the shutout in the bottom of the seventh, but Packard came back and got a pop-up to close out the win.
Inside the Game
- Valpo closes the regular season having won seven of its last eight MVC games. The Crusaders, who were in last place just two weekends ago, finished the year in fourth place after being picked ninth in the regular season.
- Sunday’s win secured the Crusaders’ second straight season finishing above the .500 mark – this despite moving from the nation’s 29th-ranked conference (by RPI) to the 13th-ranked conference.
- Callaghan led the way offensively on Sunday, finishing 2-for-3 with two runs and the two RBIs on her homer. The round-tripper was the 16th of her Crusader career.
- Defensively, Burke and Anderson teamed up for a 5-3 double play on the ground for the second straight game. For the season, the Crusaders have now turned 14 double plays – six of which have come in the last nine games.
- Packard posted yet another strong effort to earn the win on Sunday and improve to 7-5 on the season and 6-3 in MVC play. The junior scattered seven hits while striking out six, with the home run in the seventh accounting for the lone ISU runner to pass second base on the day.
- Packard has now surrendered just two runs over her last five starts.
Valparaiso (26-23, 12-13 MVC) opens MVC Tournament play as the fourth seed on Friday morning, as with a first-round bye, the Crusaders will await the winner of fifth-seeded Indiana State and eighth-seeded Bradley. The entire MVC Tournament can be seen live on ESPN+, with live stats available throughout the event as well.