"It's always important to get that first win," head coach Tracy Woodson said. "Now we have to come back and battle again tomorrow."
Kyle Gaedele (Arlington Heights, Ill./Rolling Meadows H.S.) went 3-for-5 with a double, triple, two runs scored, two runs batted in, and a stolen base to be named U. S. Army Player of the Game, and Bryce Shafer (Wabash, Ind./Northfield H.S.) pitched eight strong innings to pace the fourth-seeded Crusaders.
"Gaedele is really coming into his own," Woodson said. "Shafer battled all day, especially in this heat. He gave us eight innings and wanted to go a ninth, but we told him we need to save him for Saturday and/or Sunday if we are fortunate to get that far."
The Crusaders had the game's first chance in the opening inning. Gaedele doubled to the gap in left-center with one out, moving Steven Scoby (Delton, Mich./Delton Kellogg H.S.), who had singled, around to third base. Butler hurler Mike Hernandez induced a pair of ground balls though, including one hit to second in which Luke Duncan threw Scoby out at the plate, to get out of the inning.
The Bulldogs then jumped on top in the second inning against Shafer, the Horizon League Pitcher of the Year. With two outs, a single by Michael Letzter and back-to-back walks at the bottom of the order loaded the bases. Duncan then delivered a two-run double that landed just fair down the right-field line, plating a pair of runs.
As is so often the case, a great defense play jump-starts the offense. In the top of the third, Gaedele made a long run on a all hit by Grant Fillipitch, diving away from home plate onto the warning track to make the grab. Two Shafer strikeouts followed and then the Valpo offense went to work in the bottom of the inning.
Gaedele's catch is one of the greatest I have ever seen," Woodson said.
With two outs and Scoby and Ryan O'Gara (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Buffalo Grove H.S.) both on base via walks, Will Hagel (Arlington Heights, Ill./Prospect H.S.) delivered the Crusaders' first run with a line drive single into left. Justin Frane (Huntertown, Ind./Carroll H.S.) then followed, giving Valpo the lead. His single to left plated O'Gara, and Hagel came around to score as well when outfielder Kyle Waggoner bobbled the ball, giving Valpo a 3-2 lead.
Shafer settled into a groove, retiring 13 straight Bulldogs from the final out of the second inning through the sixth.
Valpo added to its lead in the bottom of the sixth. With one out Kyle Muhlsteff (Yorba Linda, Calif./Esperanza H.S.) added to his single season school record, ripping his 23rd double of the year down the left field line. Scoby followed, flaring a single into center, putting runners at the corners with one out. Gaedele then drove home a pair with a triple to right field, and scored himself one batter later on a ground out by O'Gara, making it 6-2 Crusaders.
Butler, the fifth seed, got one run back in the seventh as Griffin Richeson hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Schultz, who had reached on an error. The Bulldogs looked for more in the eighth, loading the bases with two outs, but Shafer got Letzter to fly to center, ending the threat.
The Crusaders added an insurance run in the eighth, as Robbie Robinson (Brea, Calif./Olinda H.S.) singled with two outs to plate Gaedele, who led off the inning with a single and stole second.
"We had some good timely hitting today and took advantage of walks," Woodson concluded.
Austen Siwiec (Aurora, Ill./Marmion Academy) came on to pitch the ninth for the Crusaders, allowing just one single as the Crusaders advanced in the winner's bracket.
Shafer earned his seventh win (7-4) of the season, working the eight innings allowing just seven hits and three runs, only two of which were earned. He struck out nine and walked just two. Hernandez suffered the loss (4-5), pitching six innings and allowing nine hits and six runs. He struck out five and walked three.
Hagel and Scoby each had two hits for Valpo in addition to Gaedele's three-hit game while Duncan had three hits for Butler (21-28). Fillipich and Letzter added a pair of hits each.
Valparaiso (23-30) will advance to play number two seed Milwaukee on Thursday at 3 p.m. Thursday is Emergency Services Personnel Appreciation Day at U. S. Steel Yard, with all members of the police, fire, and paramedics receiving $4 admission when in uniform or showing valid ID.