Valparaiso, Ind. - Jordan Smolar allowed just a bunt single over 8 innings and Adam Knobel pitched a hitless ninth to earn his sixth save as Valpo defeated Western Michigan 4-1. Brian Rzepka singled home the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth and Kevin Kutansky delivered a two-run double in the frame to give the Crusaders a three-run lead.
Kutansky, who had three of Valpo's four RBIs, gave the Crusaders a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a sacrifice fly to right field. Rzepka's infield single and Kevin Perri's ringing double to left field set the table for Kutansky.
The game evolved into a pitcher's duel between Smolar and the Broncos' Bryan French as neither team scored again until WMU tied the game in the seventh on Matt Bolton's sacrifice fly to right.
Smolar (1-2) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first by inducing Nathan Marquardt to hit into a third-to-second-to-first double play, ending the threat. Beginning with the double play, Smolar retired 10 straight before issuing two walks in the fourth. The junior righthander struck out Andy Roy to end the inning.
Smolar's attempt for a no-hitter was spoiled in the fifth when R.C. Dickerson sucessfully placed a bunt between Smolar, second baseman Jon Rupno and first baseman Mike Arensdorff. After Adam Rosales walked with two outs, Smolar ended the frame by retiring Travis May on a grounder back to the mound.
In the sixth, the Broncos' Justin Carter led off with a walk and was sacrificed to second. Smolar responded by retiring Kyle Maunus on strikes and Roy on a grounder to Rupno.
Smolar, who struck out six and walked seven, finished strong by recording three straight outs in the eighth on a fly ball to right and two groundouts to John Giusti at shortstop.
Valpo (12-25) broke the tie in the bottom of the eighth. Ryan Manthei led off by belting a double to left center. Giusti, who had two hits, reached on an infield single, advancing pinch runner Jeff Rickert to third. Rzepka, who had two hits on the day, lined a single to left, scoring Rickert to give the Crusaders a 2-1 lead.
Following a pitching change, Perri's sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third. Arensdorff was issued an intentional walk before Kutansky ripped a two-run double down the left field line to extend the advantage to 4-1.
Knobel, a senior, issued a one-out walk to Joe McDonald. Following a pop up to Rupno, Dickerson reached on an error before Bolton fouled out to Arensdorff to end the game. The save for Knobel was the 12th of his career, moving him within one of tying Justin Craker for Valpo's all-time lead.
French (1-3) pitched a solid game, allowing four earned runs on eight hits in 7 innings. The righthander struck out four and did not issue a walk.
WMU (21-15) currently leads the Mid-American Conference West Division with an 11-2 mark.
Valpo travels to Michigan to play Oakland on Saturday and Sunday in Mid-Continent Conference doubleheaders each day. Both twinbills begin at 11 a.m. CT (noon ET).