Softball: Valpo to face No. 8 Michigan in NCAA tournament
By Ryan Haskell Post-Tribune correspondent May 12, 2013 10:12PM
Updated: June 14, 2013 6:27AM
VALPARAISO — There’s nothing like going into the NCAA Division I women’s softball tournament on a hot streak.
Maybe it will pay off for Valparaiso University this year, too.
After earning the school’s first ever NCAA Division I tournament bid a year ago, the Crusaders won five straight must-win games in the Horizon League tournament — including a pair of victories over Youngstown State on Saturday 2-1 and 11-9 — earning the opportunity to play No. 8 seed Michigan (45-10) in the Ann Arbor Regional at 6 p.m. on Friday night. California (36-17) will face Central Michigan (33-18) in the other pairing at the regional.
The tournament consists of 64 teams and is double elimination. Oklahoma (47-4), which is making its 20th straight NCAA tourney, is the top seed in the field.
Valparaiso played valiantly in its first NCAA bid last year, losing to Louisville, 6-4, and Kentucky, 5-4, in the regional.
Coach Jordan Stevens said his team will be ready to go when the Crusaders hit the field on Friday.
“I think the experience (from last year) will definitely help us with how things run there,” he said. “And the way we played we should be pretty confident knowing that we can with compete with these teams.”
The Crusaders made the NCAA the hard way losing its Horizon League opening round game against YSU on Wednesday, to move into the loser’s bracket. From there, the Crusaders rolled off five straight to meet their goal.
“It just goes to show the toughness of our kids and how bad they wanted to get back to this point,” Stevens said. “It shows what we’re all about. Give this team credit for their resiliency. If you lose two and done, careers end and we have to take the same approach here.”
Tournament MVP Janelle Bouchard said she can’t believe what the team has accomplished in her first year with the program. The freshman catcher helped in the efforts batting .529 with 10 RBI in the HL tournament.
“It’s so surreal for me,” she said. “I’m a small town girl with big dreams and this team is so incredible. I’m so proud of their effort.”
Bouchard, who graduated from Kennebunk High School in Maine, had five RBI in the team’s Game 2 win over YSU, while fifth-year senior Joylyn Ichiyama hit a a two-run home run in the first game to put them in the championship contest.
“We don’t give up and we keep fighting,” Bouchard said. “That loss motivated us to do better each game. It was such an incredible experience.”
Shutting down Michigan’s Sierra Romero could be the key for the Crusaders in Game 1. Romero is hitting .397 with 22 home runs and 66 RBI. California pitcher Jolene Henderson (30-9) will also be incredibly tough if the Crusaders face the Bears. Henderson has a 1.23 ERA and struck out 246 hitters this season.