DE PERE – The De Pere Redbirds baseball team has been hit hard by injuries this season.
Connor Rutherford picked them up in a big way on the mound Wednesday. The junior hurler threw a no-hitter against FRCC foe Notre Dame. He also hit a two-run home run in the 5-0 victory.
Baseball tradition dictates that no one tells a pitcher that he has a no-hitter. De Pere coach Bob Van Rens said the coaches were aware of what was happening and wanted to follow tradition but at least one player had another idea.
"We knew," he said. "We wanted to keep it quiet but our first baseman Evan Heim said, 'Hey he's got a no-hitter here,' as he goes out for the seventh inning. We never want to talk about it but that's just the way they are."
When Rutherford returned to the mound for the seventh and final inning, he was throwing noticeably harder. Heim, making his teammate aware of the possible piece of history, may have helped Rutherford seal the deal.
"It was great. I felt like it was the first inning again," Rutherford said.
Even with knowledge of what was at stake Rutherford said he maintained the mindset he carries to the mound each inning.
"I just try and stay focused on the mound I just try to blank out everything in my head; stay focused and pitch a good game," he said.
The game wasn’t without its tense moments. Notre Dame had a runner on third with two outs in the fourth but Rutherford picked up one of his six strikeouts, leaving the hitter standing at the dish with the bat on his shoulder.
Rutherford got help from his defense as the Redbirds did not commit an error and turned a slick 6-4-3 double play to end the sixth inning.
"That was great," Rutherford said. "The ball went right off the end of my glove but I knew my teammates would be there just to help me out there."
Van Rens agreed this was no one-man effort, as the defense held up its end of the deal.
"Our defense has been outstanding all year," he said. "We've had to fill some holes. We've had some outfielders go down too. Everybody it's a team effort definitely when you get the no-hitter."
The win moves De Pere to 7-5 in FRCC play which puts it in a three-way tie for third in the conference. Even before the no-hitter Rutherford had ascended to an ace-type role for the Redbirds, according to Van Rens.
"Connor's really stepped up for us," Van Rens said. "We've had three arm injuries and since then Connor Rutherford has just dominated everybody he's faced and then to add another two-run home run for him. It's a special game ball to give him."
Rutherford said that game ball from his first no-hitter since Little League will end up on trophy case at home.