Rarely used pitcher holds off Irish threat

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Facing a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning and with Notre Dame threatening to break open a 3-3 tie against struggling Western Michigan relief pitcher Nick Vogelmeier, Broncos coach Bill Gernon made the slow walk out of the first-base dugout toward the pitcher’s mound.

Gernon made the signal to change pitchers, but he didn’t motion to his bullpen. Instead, he waved in his second baseman, Kurt Hoekstra, who had been rocked for seven runs and 12 hits in 3Ð innings this season.

It took Hoekstra two pitches to get the Broncos out of the inning, and then he worked another 1Ð innings.

Hoekstra’s pitching helped Western Michigan to a 6-4 victory in 10 innings at Four Winds Field.

The Irish hurt themselves by allowing three unearned runs and stranding 15 baserunners.

“Hoekstra hasn’t pitched since opening day, at Memphis, and it was 22 degrees and it was his first outing,” Gernon said.

Hoekstra, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-handed sophomore, pitched Grand Rapids Christian to a state title in 2012 and was recruited as a pitcher. He turned out to be a valuable defensive player in the infield and is hitting .303 this season.

“He’s one of our better position players,” Gernon said. “We haven’t used him in a pitching role, but we’re probably going to need him if we’re going to make a run in the MAC Tournament.”

Stretched thin by two mid-week games, Gernon decided to give Hoekstra a shot in the bases-loaded jam.

Hoekstra (1-0) picked up the win, and Gabe Berman pitched the 10th to earn his seventh save.

Each team scored a run in the eighth, but the Broncos plated a pair in the 10th on a two-run single by Vinnie Booker with two out.

Robert Youngdahl belted three hits for the Irish, and Kyle Fiala and Zak Kutsulis had two hits apiece.

Western improved to 17-23, and Notre Dame dropped to 17-27. After a stretch in which the Irish won six of eight games, they have lost five of their last six.

Strong outing

Scott Kerrigan worked 7Ð innings for Notre Dame, giving up four runs (only one earned) and allowing seven hits.

Notre Dame committed three errors, which led to three unearned runs.

Kerrigan, a 6-7, 200-pound junior right-hander, is 2-1 with a 1.77 ERA this season. Since March 22, Kerrigan has an ERA of 0.86 (four earned runs in his last 42Ð innings).

“Scott has rediscovered himself, which is a real credit to him,” said Irish coach Mik Aoki. “Tonight he comes out with a no-decision ... our defense really failed him.”

Kerrigan’s fastball had movement on a cold April night, keeping Western Michigan batters off-balance for the most part.

“My fastball has a little bit of movement and I’ve been keeping it down and been doing a good job of forcing bat contact,” Kerrigan said.

Double-edged

defensive sword

Notre Dame has given up 52 unearned runs this season, which account for 27 percent of the runs it has allowed.

By contrast, Florida State, which leads Notre Dame’s division in the Atlantic Coast Conference, has given up 17 earned runs, which is 11 percent of the runs allowed by the Seminoles.

Notre Dame’s defense has shined at other times. The Irish are third in the nation in turning double plays with 53. Georgia Tech leads the nation with 56.

Notre Dame turned two double plays on Wednesday.

Turf update

Notre Dame hasn’t played a game at Eck Stadium due to the installation of FieldTurf, which was delayed by the harsh winter.

Notre Dame has played “home” games at South Bend’s Four Winds Field, Chicago State, the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Westfield High School near Indianapolis, and Kalamazoo. The Irish have practiced on the LaBar practice football field, the Loftus Sports Center indoor football field and at Four Winds Field.

“Early on it wasn’t all that unkind to us,” Aoki said of traveling to home games. “The kids have done a pretty good job of grinding through it, and they’ve been able to stay on top of things academically, which has been a point of emphasis.”

Notre Dame hopes the turf is installed by the Clemson series, May 9-11. If the field isn’t ready, Notre Dame will play Clemson on Friday, May 9, at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard Baseball Field (ESPNU), on Saturday at Valparaiso University and on Sunday at Four Winds Field.

Local players

Western Michigan’s roster includes former St. Joseph (Mich.) player David Brennan (senior pitcher) and former Three Rivers player Dan Shutes (senior infielder/outfielder).

Shutes had two hits against the Irish and his hitting .261 this season. Brennan did not pitch on Wednesday. He is 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA.

“Dan Shutes had a great day,” Gernon said. “He dropped down a nice drag bunt in a really tough squeeze situation (in the ninth inning). I’m not even sure how he got the bat on that thing.”

W. MICHIGAN 6, NOTRE DAME 4

WMU0010002102 — 6 10 0
ND0020001100 — 4 12 3

Will Nimke, Pat Haynes (3), Monty Porter (7), Kurt Hoekstra (8; W, 1-0), Gabe Berman (10; S, 7); Scott Kerrigan, Donnie Hissa (8; L, 1-3).

2B: Mac Hudgins (ND), Ricky Sanchez (ND), Grant Miller (W).

3B: Andrew Sohn (W).

CRallo@SBTinfo.com

Twitter: rallo NDinsider