Opening up a season with 26 consecutive games away from Emory G. Bauer Field is not an easy task.
That was the task at hand for the Valparaiso Crusaders baseball team, who finally had their first three home games of the season this past weekend.
Through their first 29 games of the 2017 season, Valparaiso’s record sits at 12-17. Not only did that include the 26 away from home, but the Crusaders first two conference series were on the road against Wright State and UIC, the top two teams in the conference thus far. Valparaiso went just 1-5 in those games to open up Horizon League play.
The Crusaders had a prime opportunity this past weekend when they hosted Northern Kentucky, a team who had been playing well in conference at 5-1 coming into the series.
It was a high scoring series, and it was expected that Northern Kentucky had the best offense in the league.However, the Crusaders were able to sweep Saturday’s double-header before falling on Sunday 18-7. It was a big series win, and one that I believe will begin to turn this team’s season around.
It’s a younger team this year for Valparaiso, as they lost many key pieces last year. The Crusaders graduated 12 seniors, including their top two starting pitchers, their closer and their 3-4-5 hitters in the batting order.
This has opened the door for many players to step up. Chad Jacob and James Stea are two who have played well thus far, both hitting over .300. Nate Palace, who was expected to be the big bat in this order heading into the year, has delivered. Through 29 games, his batting average is at .297 and he leads the team in doubles, triples, homeruns and RBI’s.
The pitching staff as a whole has a couple of new faces. Senior Mario Losi is the No. 1 starter for this team. He’s coming off a great win over Northern Kentucky, in which he threw six strong innings and allowed just two runs.
The other two main starters, junior Wes Gordon, a transfer from Lake County, and sophomore Grant Inman, have struggled a bit so far this season, as both have ERA’s over five. Their development as the season continues will be crucial to the Crusaders success.
Coach Brian Schmack is well known for helping players develop during their time at Valparaiso. With 15 total newcomers and 11 freshmen this year, the Crusaders have a lot of new talent within the program.
Moving forward, this team looks like one that will get better as the season continues. With players seeing more time on the field and a friendlier schedule, Valpo should be set to produce a solid conference season.
The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.