VALPARAISO | Kat Ranieri can’t pinpoint the moment when she stopped feeling like a freshman, but the Valparaiso newcomer has a newfound confidence heading into the postseason.
Ranieri put that confidence on display Saturday afternoon when the Lake Central product delivered a game-winning RBI off Youngstown State pitcher and former Valparaiso High star Casey Crozier in the 14th inning of Valparaiso’s 6-5 victory.
The heroics came after Ranieri tied the game in the 12th inning when the Penguins held a 5-4 lead. The victory helped the Crusaders clinch the No. 3 seed in this week’s Horizon League tournament.
“I definitely struggled early on in the season, but recently, the more we’ve played, it’s been coming together,” Ranieri said. “I just try to think of each chance as another at-bat and I don’t want to put extra stress on myself. I tell myself just to do my thing.”
Ranieri hasn’t had any problems fitting in with the Crusaders (29-24) this season. The freshman leads the team with 53 hits, is second on the squad with 28 runs and carries a .325 average while starting 50 games in the leadoff spot.
“We knew that when we were recruiting (Ranieri), she could come in and see some playing time,” Valparaiso coach Jordan Stevens said. “She’s made the most of it and she’s really gotten comfortable since we got into our spring trip. She’s an exciting player.”
Ranieri spent her entire Lake Central career on varsity and was an All-Duneland Athletic Conference player each of her last three seasons. Choosing Valparaiso was an easy decision that Ranieri made in the middle of her junior year.
“I always knew that I wanted stay close to home and I knew I wanted my family to be able to come to my games,” Ranieri said. “Once Valpo came in the picture, it was instant.”
Replacing a popular senior class that led the Crusaders to the NCAA tournament last season was a challenge for Ranieri and her classmates, but it’s a challenge that the freshmen have embraced along with the returners this season. Valparaiso will take on No. 6 Youngstown State on Wednesday afternoon in the first game of the double elimination tournament.
“We’ve got pressure because of how far they went last season, but it’s a good pressure,” Ranieri said. “I’m so excited for this opportunity. We’ve gotten better throughout the season and now I’m hoping we can pull something off like we did last year.”