Valparaiso beats UIC for first NCAA tournament appearance in 44 years
Post-Tribune staff report May 27, 2012 11:16PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 11:48AM
It has been 44 years since Valparaiso has been to a NCAA Division I (then University Division) baseball tournament, and waiting one more day did little to damper the enthusiasm of the Crusaders on Sunday afternoon.
After falling to UIC on Saturday, setting up the “if necessary” game, the Crusaders exploded with eight runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat the Flames 14-5 at Les Miller Field in Chicago, Ill. to win the Horizon League Baseball Tournament title and with it an automatic bid into the NCAA Regionals next weekend.
“What a great feeling,” head coach Tracy Woodson excalimed after being doused with the cold water bucket on a hot day. “All of the hard work that has been put in by the players and coaches has paid off. Everyone deserves this. The crowd support we had all weekend was incredible. I’m especially thankful to all of the alums that showed up throughout the tournament to come support us.”
VU and UIC had split their first two meetings in the tourney, with the Crusaders winning 4-3 on Friday night before the Flames won Saturday afternoon by the same score to set up the final game.
Three Crusaders’ runs in the opening inning chased UIC starter Joey Begel after just two-thirds of an inning. Andrew Bain and Tanner Vavra led off the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles. Chris Manning replaced Bain on the base paths following a fielder’s choice, and he and Vavra moved to second and third respectively following a wild pitch. With two outs, Elliott Martin walked to load the bases and Spencer Mahoney also drew a free pass, bringing home the first run of the game. Mark Johnson made it 3-0 VU with his ground-rule double to deep centerfield.
The Flames got on the scoreboard with a pair of runs in the third on a RBI triple by Joe Betcher and a run-scoring single by Jon Ryan. Nick Addison tied the game at three, being hit by a pitch with the bases loaded before John Coen put UIC on top one batter later with a single to right.
That was all of the scoring that the Flames would do on the afternoon though, as Tyler Deetjen came on in the fifth inning. He gave up the hit batter and the single, but kept UIC off the board for the next three innings, pitching on short rest after starting and winning Thursday night’s game against Youngstown State.
Johnson, the tourney’s Most Valuable Player, went 3-for-5 with four runs batted in on Sunday. For the tournament he hit .400 with six RBI, including the game-winning hit in Friday’s game.
Valparaiso (35-23) enters the NCAA Tournament having won 27 of its last 32 games overall. The Crusaders will find out their regional opponents and destination at 11 a.m. on Monday morning. The selection show can be seen live on ESPNU.
“I can’t wait to see our name come up on the board,” Woodson said. “Every year it’s exciting watching the show to see where the teams are going. This year we finally get to see our name come up on the screen.”