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Feb. 23, 2012
By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ever since losing senior closer Ryan Ignas to Tommy John surgery in the final month of last season, Penn State has been searching for someone to step up and fill the crucial vacancy at the end of the bullpen. Now, after Sunday's comeback-win against Cincinnati, the Nittany Lions may have found their answer.
Joe Kurrasch, a junior transfer out of the University of California, entered the game in the seventh inning with Penn State trailing 3-2 and proceeded to shut down the Bearcat offense, allowing no runs and a mere two hits during the three-inning stretch. The Nittany Lions went on to score three runs in the eighth inning and emerged victorious by a final count of 5-3. It was the junior lefthander's first official outing since joining the squad in 2011 and the clutch performance was just what he had been hoping for.
"It was really good for my confidence just getting out there and facing live hitters," said Kurrasch. "Getting in that real game situation, it was really good for my confidence going forward."
The closer is arguably one of the most important pieces of a well-rounded bullpen. It is his job to enter the game in a tight situation and hold a one-run lead or keep his team in the game when they are behind. There is no room for error. He needs to be calm and collected under pressure, and he needs to be lights out. Kurrasch demonstrated each and every one of these abilities in Sunday's game and he believes he is prepared to assume the position.
"It's the role that the coaches gave me and they have confidence in me," said Kurrasch. "It's a big responsibility and, moving forward, just have that be my motivation to go out there and make sure to shut the game down."
Kurrasch has a wide variety of pitches in his arsenal including a two- and four-seam fastball, a change up, a curveball, and a slider. He likes to freeze hitters with his off-speed pitches, but when the game is on the line he goes to his overpowering two-seam fastball.
"I'm very confident in my fastball," said Kurrasch. "I think I can beat a lot of guys with it, so if it's in a tough situation I think that would be the go-to. Just a good, well-placed fastball."
Growing up, Kurrasch was inspired by two different, but talented Major League pitchers. The first was none other than former New York Yankees starter and five-time World Series Champion, Andy Pettitte.
"Growing up, I always looked at Andy Pettitte," recalled Kurrasch. "Just watching him and his mentality and his demeanor, so calm. I kind of took a lot from him growing up."
The second was San Francisco Giants' quirky, yet intense closer, Brian Wilson.
"When [Brian Wilson] gets out there, he's very confident in his stuff," said Kurrasch. "He knows what his job is and he takes his job very seriously, but he likes to have fun doing it, so I think he's a player that I look to for some inspiration."
Kurrasch suffered an injury during his freshman year at California, which led him to transfer to Penn State. He joined the team in 2011, but NCAA transfer rules required him to sit out last season. Nevertheless, Kurrasch didn't miss a beat. He spent the time he had off recuperating from his injury and preparing himself for when his opportunity presented itself.
"For me [the offseason] was really pushing myself physically to get myself in the right place to where my body can withstand a full season of throwing, get myself in the right place with regards to my health." said Kurrasch.
He chose Penn State because he was looking for a new experience. He sought the opportunity to become a better person and he was drawn by the unity and passion of the Nittany Lion faithful.
"I wanted to put myself in a place where I could develop myself as a person," said Kurrasch. "I wanted to go some place unique, some place different. It was really appealing to me to see the unity that was here and the pride behind Penn State."
Kurrasch is now a part of a diverse, but close-knit group of players who have a chemistry that he has never seen before. They are all different, yet they value what each teammate brings to the table. In the end, they all have the same goal in mind: to win.
"We have a very eclectic group of guys," remarked Kurrasch. "Which is great because it keeps things loose, it keeps things real. The diversity is essential... We have different personalities, but we have the same goal in mind."
The match is perfect. Penn State found a gifted closer and a great addition to the family and Kurrasch found a home away from home.
"The environment, the staff, the team, the people, Penn State--We Are Penn State--it's a great group to be associated with," said Kurrasch. "State College as a whole is a great place and I'm proud to be here."