By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's starting rotation faced an intimidating test last weekend against 19th-ranked Purdue (21-5, 4-2 Big Ten), who featured the nation's top offense. Though Purdue took two of three in the series, the offense dropped to ninth in the country after quality performances by each of the three Penn State starters.
Purdue entered the
day with a team batting average of .340 and five players with averages above
.360. Junior John Walter opened the
series pitching a solid 6.2 innings while allowing five runs, only one of them
earned, during the contest. Penn State's
offense struggled against boilermaker starter Joe Haas and the Nittany Lions
Sophomore transfer Joe Kurrasch followed up on Saturday throwing for 7.1 innings and holding Purdue's offense to just two runs on three hits with five strikeouts, dropping his ERA to 2.95. Though Penn State fell short, 2-0, during the pitchers' duel, the momentum in the series was beginning to shift. Kurrasch talked about his mindset going up against such a potent lineup.
"I just approached them as if they were any other team," said Kurrasch. "You don't make the game bigger than it is. Then it was just not thinking about that aspect of it, it was just to pitch."
Junior Steven Hill wrapped up the series on Sunday, which held a completely different outcome. The Nittany Lions ignited on offense, scoring 13 times in the first three innings and finishing the game with a season-high16 runs.
Junior Steven Hill, pitching with a commanding lead, threw for 6.2 innings, holding the Boilermakers to four runs with three strikeouts and just one walk. Regardless of the score, Hill stayed focused throughout with the same goal in mind.
"My goal was just to keep us in the game as much as possible because we were due for a big offensive game," said Hill.
The scoring spree was a huge confidence booster for the team as a whole and it allowed Hill to relax and play his game.
"You see guys squaring bunts up and runs are getting pushed across the plate and you feel like you've got some leeway," said Hill. "It helps you relax and know that if a run scores it's not the end of the world."
On the defensive side, bringing Purdue's offense back down to earth was no easy task. Each starter had to be focused because one mistake to virtually any of the Boilermaker hitters would have been costly. Penn State came in with a good strategy and the pitchers stuck to it.
"You just got to execute the game plan and we had a great game plan going into it," said Hill.
"For me it's the same thing no matter what the situation is," said Kurrasch. "I have confidence in my stuff and it's up to me to go out there and execute."
Hill explained that the key to facing a lineup like Purdue's is to battle and challenge the hitters.
"You got to grind it out," said Hill. "Grind innings out and just be a bulldog out there and pound the zone and get ahead."
The bullpen backed the starters both on Saturday and Sunday, holding Purdue to a mere two hits and two runs over a combined three innings. The bullpen has had its highs and lows all season, but they have come through when it matters and their support at the end of the rotation is essential to the team's success.
"You want to feel confident in the fact that the bullpen's going to get that crucial guy out with runners on base," said Hill. "I think they've been doing a heck of a job lately just stepping up."
"They all have a very similar mentality and they show up every day and they're going to do their job," said Kurrasch. "There's been confidence all year in the bullpen."
Penn State's pitching staff shares a unique bond. They joke and tease each other, but at the end of the day they are a close-knit group of players.
"We go through the same thing, the same conditioning with the pitchers so we definitely forge a special bond," said junior John Walter.
Regardless of whether they are winning or losing, one thing is certain; they know how to enjoy the sport they love.
"It's great," said Hill. "Playing baseball is just fun. Being a pitcher is just fun. There's no other way to put it."
Penn State returns to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park this weekend to play a three-game series against Canisius. Walter, Kurrasch and Hill look to extend Penn State's three-game winning streak and ride the momentum into the next Big Ten series against Michigan.