Tonoian caps off birthday with big hit
SB: Beacons score six runs in first inning, earn split with Loyola
VALPARAISO - Taylor Tonoian wanted to give her Valparaiso teammates something to sing about.
Stepping up to the plate in the first inning of Wednesday’s opening game of a doubleheader against Missouri Valley Conference rival Loyola, Tonoian launched a two-run double down the left field line to break up a 4-4 tie.
The Beacons would add three more insurance runs in the ensuing innings and they held off the Ramblers for a 9-7 win. Loyola escaped the Valparaiso Softball Complex with a 7-1 victory in the nightcap.
Several hours after her big hit, Tonoian was still beaming as she delivered the gift for her teammates on her own 22nd birthday.
“It’s always nice to have your teammates singing for you and wishing you a ‘Happy Birthday,’” Tonoian said. “Yeah, it felt pretty good out there today.”
Wednesday’s doubleheader didn’t get off to a great start for the Beacons (11-25, 2-15). Rain was in the forecast and kept both teams on edge during warmups. Once the first pitch was thrown, Loyola (12-23) wasted no time jumping on Valpo pitcher Easton Seib. The first four batters scored for Loyola, including a two-run home run from Haley Wallace.
“We have plenty of game left,” Tonoian said of the message in the dugout. “You go down 4-0 in the first inning; don’t be scared. We’ve got seven innings left. If you put up a couple runs here and there, you can win the ball game. Don’t get too tight. We’re going to put runs up.”
The Beacons didn’t get a lot of offense to start their half of the first inning right. Instead Valpo’s players proved the old phrase “a walk is as good as a hit” as four of the first five players in the lineup reached base with a walk. Valparaiso freshman Addi Weaver doubled in two runs to cut the deficit to 4-3 and then Lauren Kehlenbrink singled in a run to tie the game, setting the stage for Tonoian’s two-run double.
Weaver swung a hot bat on Wednesday, coming a home run short of the cycle during her finest game in a Valparaiso uniform. Hitting right behind her in the lineup, Kehlenbrink finished the day with three hits, two runs and four RBI.
“(Weaver) gave me a little motivation,” Kehlenbrink said. “I want to do what she’s doing.”
Weaver entered Wednesday hitting just .151 this season with one run scored. Her four hits during the doubleheader raised her batting average 35 points and the freshman from Shelbyville added her first triple of the season.
“When (Weaver) hit that triple, I joked with her when she got to third base ‘Welcome to 2022,’” Valparaiso first-year coach Amanda Eberhart said. “She’s capable and it’s nice to finally see it. I hope she keeps bringing it. If she decides to play her best ball this time of year, I’m perfectly ok with it.”
Kehlenbrink blasted a two-run home run in the third inning to push Valpo’s lead to 8-5 and she added another insurance run on a single in the fourth inning that brought home Katie Beckemeyer.
“We told each other that we’re not giving up,” Kehlenbrink said. “Do not give up yet. We know we’re a hitting team. We can come out and we can score runs. It hasn’t shown much this season yet, but it definitely did today.”
Valparaiso’s offensive woes returned in the second game as Lake Central graduate Peyton Pepkowski was strong in the circle, throwing a complete game and striking out five to lead the Ramblers to a 7-1 victory. Loyola broke open the game with five runs in the sixth inning and Valpo never threatened in the latter stages of the contest.
“Going into the sixth inning, we were one swing away from tying up that game,” Eberhart said. “Things got out of control. The message to the team was we’re playing good ball for five or six innings. That’s what we need to keep focusing on. We’re in these games. We need to keep competing that way. We’re right there.”
With Wednesday’s doubleheader, Valparaiso brought an end to a 12-game homestand that saw the Beacons go 2-10 overall and 1-10 in Valley games. Valpo will travel to Drake this weekend before playing a midweek game at Loyola next Wednesday and a road series at Illinois State. The Beacons will wrap up the 2022 regular season with a home series against Evansville early next month.
“We need to take that first game (today), drop the second game for now, but take what we did in that first game and bring it with us to Drake this weekend,” Kehlenbrink said.
(Photo provided by Valpo Athletics)