*Release Courtesy of Valparaiso Athletic Communications
Tuesday proved to be a historic day for the Valparaiso University softball program, as senior Sam Stewart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) was named the Louisville Slugger/NFCA National Player of the Week following her outstanding performance in the final weekend of the regular season. Stewart is the first player in program history to earn a National Player of the Week award.
"Sam has grown so much as a player over her time here, and for her to earn national recognition for her play in her final home series is a testament to all of her hard work and buy-in to our program and her role within it,” said Crusader head coach Kate Stake.
Stewart reached base in all 11 of her plate appearances in the three-game sweep of Wright State, going 3-for-3 with eight walks (five intentional), six runs scored, two home runs and three RBIs. By reaching base 11 straight times, Stewart is already tied for seventh in the NCAA all-time record book for consecutive plate appearances reaching base. In the middle game of the series, Stewart broke Valpo’s single-season records for both home runs and walks.
Stewart opened the series by drawing three straight walks in the series opener. In her fourth plate appearance, leading off the seventh inning with Valpo trailing by one, Stewart laced a single to left and eventually scored the game-tying run in the Crusaders’ victory.
Stewart got a pitch to hit in her first at-bat in the second game and took full advantage, launching her 14th home run of the season. The next two times to the plate, she was issued intentional walks – the second of which was her 41st free pass of the year, breaking Valpo’s single-season mark. Then, in her final at-bat of the run-rule win, Stewart delivered a two-run homer to close out the victory and set a new single-season record for home runs at 15.
In the final game of the Crusaders’ three-game series, the Raiders wanted no part of Stewart, intentionally walking her all three times she stepped up to the plate. The final intentional walk came to lead off the bottom of the sixth with Valpo trailing by a run, and Stewart again came around to score the tying run as the Crusaders closed out the sweep.
"Sam had limited opportunities to swing the bat last weekend, but stayed focused and came through every time she was given the chance,” said Stake. “It was also impressive to watch Sam stay locked in while being walked so many times and make a difference for us on the basepaths. It was only appropriate that the final swing of her career on her home field ended up being a home run."
The National Player of the Week honor caps off a whirlwind of honors in the past day-plus for Stewart. She was tabbed the Horizon League Player of the Week for the second time this season on Monday afternoon, and then learned Tuesday morning she had received Horizon League Player of the Year accolades.