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When Valparaiso announced its move to the Missouri Valley Conference last spring, it meant every program would be taking a bigger jump up in competition.

Perhaps no team would face a bigger challenge in that regard than the Valparaiso baseball team.

The Valley regularly sends multiple teams to the NCAA tournament each year. Knowing this, Valparaiso baseball coach Brian Schmack set an ambitious non-conference schedule, hoping to prepare the Crusaders for the Valley grind later in the year.

The early returns are that Valparaiso is in good shape after a banner day in program history last weekend. The Crusaders traveled down to Norman, Oklahoma, and knocked off a pair of 2017 NCAA tournament regional teams in Oklahoma and Holy Cross.

The Sooners came into the game receiving votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Crusaders scored nine runs in the first two innings and kept the Sooners off the board until the sixth inning in an 11-4 win. Trey Ferketic pitched five innings of one-hit ball to pace Valparaiso.

The Crusaders didn’t get much time to celebrate as they had another tall task with Holy Cross. Valparaiso struck first when Valley Hitter of the Week Sam Shaikin hit a solo home run in the first inning. The Crusaders then exploded for five runs in the fourth inning, eight runs in the fifth inning and four more in the sixth to ultimately win 20-6.

“It was a great day and a tremendous turnaround from last weekend,” Schmack said in a release. “I thought it was a complete team effort in both games. We got some depth from our starters and we continued to hit the ball hard. I’m extremely proud of the way the guys played.”

The Crusaders (2-4) begin their annual spring trip on Friday in Phoenix with a game against Cal State Northridge. Valparaiso opens up Valley play at Emory G. Bauer Field against Bradley on March 30.

Pride on a roll: The Purdue Northwest softball team is on a roll in the early stages of the 2018 season. The Pride opened the season with a 6-4 loss to Indianapolis on Feb. 17, but have since won four straight games, including a 4-3 win against the Greyhounds last weekend.

The Pride’s biggest win came on Sunday when they upset NCAA Division II No. 9 Bellermine 4-3 at Grand Park in Westfield. Whiting product Courtney Blackwell pitched a complete game to notch her second victory of the young season. Kyleigh Payne had two hits and two RBI while Munster product Taylor Kotzo added a pair of hits.

Purdue Northwest returns to action this weekend in Springfield, Illinois as part of the UIS Invitational. The Pride will take on the hosts in a pair of games on Saturday and then play a doubleheader against Quincy on Sunday.

South Suburban in action: The South Suburban men’s basketball team looks to rebound from a tough end to the regular season when the Bulldogs take on Oakton Community College in the quarterfinal round of the NJCAA Region IV tournament on Thursday night. The Bulldogs (25-5) lost their last two games of the regular season, including 80-53 to Triton on Feb. 22. South Suburban knocked off Oakton Community College by 30 points just after Thanksgiving. Coach John Pigatti has led the Bulldogs to at least 25 wins in 11 of the last 12 seasons.

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