After a struggling five games on the road, Valparaiso was determined to snap the eight game losing streak with a couple of wins against a very vocal Illinois State team. After two difficult games ending in high scores, game three was the charm.
The Crusaders were ready to play until junior starter Jon Tiemans first pitch was a moonshot over the right-field fence, changing the whole pace of the game. The only run that was scored for Valpo was in the second inning when junior outfielder Steven Fitzsimmons singled in senior designated hitter Blake Billinger.
Pitching wasn’t strong for Valpo, as Tieman gave up 11 hits and seven runs, with only three of them being earned. Coming into the eighth inning, freshman pitcher Keegan Bates threw for two innings, giving up four hits and six runs, three of them also being earned. The Crusaders committed four errors in the field that ranged from off-target throws to first base to miscommunication with routine pop flies. Illinois State scored six runs alone in the ninth inning, ending the first game 13-1.
In the next game, Valpo was able to draw first blood in the first inning. Senior shortstop Sam Shaikin singled to have junior outfielder Riley Dent move to third, but Dent scored on a throwing error. Junior left fielder Christian Barczi’s stroked the ball to left and tallied two more runs, bringing in senior infielder Brent Jones and Shaikin.
In the fourth, freshman catcher Jake Kapers sacrifice flied out to left, allowing Fitzsimmons the opportunity to score. It wouldn’t be until the ninth inning when senior infielder Chase Dawson went yard with Shaikin on base, scoring two more runs. Freshman pitcher Colin Fields was given both the start and the loss, throwing for 4.1 innings and giving up nine hits and seven runs. Valpo dropped the series with a final score of 12-6, scoring 11 hits and leaving nine on base.
The third game, unlike the others, didn’t spiral out of control with high runs and a large number of hits. In the bottom of the first, Dawson’s fly out sent Dent tagging up to score the first run of the game. In his first at-bat of the game, Jones tallied an RBI with a single in the right-center gap to get Shaikin home. In the bottom of the sixth, Shaikin hit a moonshot to left field, making it a one-run game.
With bases loaded in the eighth, freshman left fielder Ryan Wickman’s fielders choice brought in Shaikin, marking the fourth run of the game. Freshman starter Zach Fricke kept Illinois State at bay with two hits and two runs, allowing five walks and striking out six. Both junior relievers Jarrett Hammel and Easton Rhodehouse gave up a combined four hits, shutting out Illinois State during the last four innings. This game ended with a score of 4-2, collecting eight hits and no errors, snapping a losing streak that started in the final series game against Butler.
“We went up against a really good team, they were a really talented team. We knew it would be a challenge -- the game got away from us obviously. I don’t think we played as bad as the score said, and I know that sounds crazy,” said head coach Brian Schmack. “Game one defensively all around wasn’t very good, and the first game [game two] today wasn’t too bad, and we were able to bounce back [in game three]. We got a good start from Zach Fricke, and aside from that one inning, he threw the ball over the plate, changed speeds and caught them off balance. It was good to see that.”
“I thought we fought well all weekend. I’m excited for practice tomorrow. These guys needed to feel what it is like to win again, the confidence coming back. We are excited to come back,” Billinger said.