The veteran-laden Valparaiso baseball team is heading back to the NCAA tournament and the Crusaders are doing so on the arm of a freshman pitcher.
Dalton Lundeen threw the game of his young career Sunday afternoon, going eight innings and surrendering two hits as the Crusaders beat Wright State 3-0 in the Horizon League championship game in Niles, Ohio.
Valparaiso will be back in the NCAA tournament for the second straight season after going 44 years between appearances.
"This was such a big stage and I was just excited for the opportunity," Lundeen said. "I went out there with confidence and it helped when we got some early runs."
The Crusaders (31-26) scored in the first inning for the second straight day, putting up three runs in their first at-bats. It was all the offense Lundeen (5-1) would need as the freshman didn't give up his first hit until the fifth inning.
"(The coaching staff) met last night and we talked about how a couple years ago at Cleveland State we out-thought ourselves and started the wrong guy," Valparaiso coach Tracy Woodson said. "Dalton has been our normal Sunday starter and we went with him with (Kyle) Wormington ready to go if we needed him for the second game."
Chris Manning delivered a two-run double in the first inning and then scored on a two-out triple from Spencer Mahoney. The Crusaders threatened throughout the game to add more to the scoreboard, but the Raiders worked out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings.
"It was big for us to come out and put up a crooked number in the first," Valparaiso senior Tanner Vavra said. "That puts a damper on the other team. We need to learn not to take our foot off the gas."
With the win, Valparaiso became the only Division I school in the country to win back-to-back league titles in both baseball and softball this season. The Crusaders were the first Horizon League team to repeat as champions in both sports since Notre Dame in 1993-94.
"We knew that we could go out and win this thing," Woodson said. "We knew the guys really wanted to get back-to-back (titles). The guys were locked in."