Both losses had a similar feel for the Valparaiso baseball team at the NCAA Bloomington Regional this weekend.
Valparaiso led much of Sunday’s game against Austin Peay before Ben Mahar gave up an eighth-inning home run to Michael Davis that landed in the same spot as Indiana’s game-winner on Friday. The home run completed a three-run comeback for the Governors, who held on for a 5-4 victory.
The Crusaders got two runners on in the ninth inning, but Andrew Bynum grounded out to end the threat and Valparaiso’s season.
“It’s no worse than what happened on Friday night,” Valparaiso coach Tracy Woodson said. “We left too many guys in scoring position. We had our chances.”
The Crusaders (32-28) scored first in their third straight NCAA tournament game on Sunday, plating two runs in the first inning. Tanner Vavra tripled in Spencer Mahoney and then scored on a John Loeffler single to right field.
Austin Peay scratched across runs in the third and fourth innings while the Crusaders continued to struggle moving runners around the basepaths. Valparaiso stranded 11 runners against the Governors.
“We’ve done that all year,” Woodson said. “We’ve scored a ton of runs early and then we’d go into a lull for a few innings. One thing we need to really concentrate on next year is putting teams away. We need more of a killer instinct.”
Vavra and Loeffler delivered a pair of RBI sac-flys in the fifth inning, but Austin Peay answered by scoring two more runs to tie the game at 4-4. The Crusaders missed a golden opportunity to blow open the game in the seventh inning when they had the bases loaded and just one out. Chris Manning popped up to the shortstop and Andy Burns struck out to end the threat.
Davis then led off the eighth inning with a solo home run over the left field wall that provided the difference in the game.
“Not getting any runs in the seventh was certainly deflating,” Woodson said. “Once they tied it up and then took the lead, we knew we were going to struggle (against closer Tyler Rogers).”
The Crusaders got runners into scoring position in each of the last two innings, but Rogers shut the door with a two-inning save.
The loss closed out a weekend that gave Valparaiso plenty of national attention. The Crusaders were one of just four No. 4 seeds to win a game in the opening weekend of NCAA tournament play. Despite Sunday’s loss, Woodson definitely saw a silver-lining to the experience.
“Beating Florida was big,” Woodson said. “I know the amount of money they spend on athletics and what we don’t. They’re expected to be in the College World Series every year, but we beat them. We had that (Indiana) crowd silenced for eight and half innings on Friday night. We stood in there with those big boys and we held our own.”