Beacons sweep historic home opening doubleheader
Base: Valparaiso gets back to .500 for best start since 1997
VALPARAISO - Colin Fields was locked in and focused as he struck out the first six batters he faced in the nightcap of Valparaiso’s home-opening doubleheader on Friday afternoon.
The junior hurler needed to keep his focus as he wasn’t just facing St. Bonaventure’s lineup. Fields was sizing up Mother Nature as well.
The Beacons battled an array of elements to sweep the Bonnies 8-5 and 10-0 in a rare nonconference doubleheader at Emory G. Bauer Field.
“You really try not to think about it,” Fields said. “It’s pretty difficult when it’s raining one minute, sunny the next and then a minute later it’s snowing. It’s just something you have to battle through.”
Valparaiso coach Brian Schmack could only laugh as the weather shifted seemingly batter-to-batter throughout the two games.
“It became comical at one point,” Schmack said. “It was snowing and then we had double rainbows in the outfield. You look to the left and it was tornadic activity. The guys were laughing and joking. We’ve played in some pretty bad weather (on the road) already this year, so it was kind of like ‘here we go again.’ You’ve got to find ways to get through it and our guys did.”
Valparaiso’s original home opener was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon against former Horizon League rival Milwaukee, but the game was rained out. Making sure that Friday’s games could get in was paramount considering St. Bonaventure took an eight-hour road trip to Valparaiso. The Beacons were eager to play the games as they presented an opportunity to get back to .500, a mark Valparaiso hasn’t hit this deep into a season since 1997.
“It’s really big,” Valparaiso sophomore Kaleb Hannahs said. “We’ve been a losing program for a while and now we have a chance to run with this and get a winning record. It definitely means something.”
Hannahs provided some key offense in Friday’s opener after The Bonnies (0-14) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Valparaiso tied the game in the third inning and then Hannahs delivered a key two-out single that platted two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Beacons had loaded the bases on three straight singles before the next two batters struck out. Hannahs was facing an 0-2 count when he drilled a shot to center field, scoring Nolan Tucker and Ryan Maka.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play and see what happens,” Hannahs said. “I got the bat on the ball and it landed.”
“It was an opportunity for a letdown,” Schmack added. “We loaded the bases and if (St. Bonaventure) gets out of it, that’s a big momentum boost for them.”
Despite giving up two runs in the first inning, Valparaiso starting pitcher Trent Turzenski struck out all three batters in the opening frame. The sophomore kept up the attack with another strikeout in the second and then a perfect frame in the third where he needed just 13 pitches to strike out the side. Turzenski finished with a career-high 12 strikeouts in six innings to improve to 3-3 on the season.
“The changeup was working,” Turzenski said. “It’s my best pitch. I was throwing a lot of fastballs early and they were getting the bat on it. I moved to my changeup and they couldn’t hit it, so I kept throwing it.”
The Beacons got a lift in the sixth inning when freshman DH Adam Brauch launched his first collegiate home run with a three-run blast off Rushil Bhat.
“Brauch’s home run gave us a little bit of cushion,” Schmack said. “The message to the guys was that we needed to worry about ourselves. Throw the ball over the plate. We knew they wouldn’t roll over and die. We don’t worry about who we play, we worry about ourselves. You hope your stuff is better than them and today it was.”
Fields was locked in from the start of the second game as he struck out the first six batters he faced and had eight strikeouts by the time the third inning was in the books. The junior became the 12th pitcher in school history to eclipse 200 career strikeouts and he finished with 10 in five innings of work.
“The fastball location was really good,” Fields said. “I got a lot of guys swinging at fastballs above the letters. When they’re swinging at that, it’s going to be a good day.”
The Beacons scored at least one run in every inning from the second until the sixth as Hannahs had a pair of doubles and scored three runs while Maka added two more hits after going 2-3 with two runs scored in the opener.
Jake Miller came on to pitch the final four innings and he earned his first career save as the sophomore struck out seven batters. The Beacons equaled their season high with 17 punchouts in the first game, only to come back in the second game with 17 more.
Not since Valparaiso started the 1997 season 10-8 has the program been at .500 or better 18 games into the season. While the Beacons have bigger goals, Schamck didn’t shy away from recognizing the moment.
“It’s ok to be content with that,” Schmack said. “It doesn’t mean we’re satisfied. We’re happy to be .500 right now. That was a goal. We talked about winning and making that a priority this year instead of just trying harder or ‘the process’ or the moral victory. We want the actual victory. We made a big goal this year and we’re accomplishing that. Our guys are happy about that. If we want to be a better team than we have to win these games. It’s not a thing where it’s ‘playing well and we’ll see what happens.’ We have to win these games. It gives us confidence and now we get into the conference season here pretty soon and hopefully we’re feeling better about ourselves instead of moral victories. Those don’t go very far.”
The Beacons still have a handful of nonconference games remaining over the next two weeks before Missouri Valley Conference action gets underway against Indiana State on Friday, Apr. 8.
Friday’s doubleheader was historic in that it represented the first games streamed over the school’s ESPN package from Emory G. Bauer Field. Region broadcaster Brian Jennings was joined in the booth by Valparaiso men’s basketball player and color analyst Thomas Kithier.
Hanover Central product Nolan Tucker had a career-high four hits in Friday’s opener. His high school teammate, Bobby Nowak, closed out the game for his fifth save of the year.
Valparaiso is now 4-4 in home openers under Schmack. The Beacons didn’t play their first home game last season until Apr. 23 and they didn’t play one at all in 2020. Valpo last played at home in March for three games against Butler (Mar. 23-24) during the 2019 season.
Valparaiso and St. Bonaventure are currently scheduled to play the final game of the series on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m., but Mother Nature may claim a victim yet this weekend. With snow expected in the morning, the two teams may elect to shelve the final game. If that’s the case, the Beacons will next return to the home diamond on Tuesday for a midweek tilt against Purdue Fort Wayne. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.
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(Photo taken by me. I shot that with an iPhone)