By STEVE KRAH
Jackson Smeltz has been through plenty of physical adversity in his athletic career.
The Purdue University left-handed pitcher earned the Brady Comeback Scholarship Award from Methodist Sports Medicine in 2021, recognizing his return from hip surgery in 2020 and Tommy John elbow surgery while at McCutcheon High School (Class of 2018). He was redshirted for the 2019 season.
Also while in high school, Smeltz had a noncancerous tumor removed from his brain. While in junior high, he suffered a severe groin injury.
On Saturday, April 9 at Alexander Field, redshirt junior Smeltz pitched eight one-hit innings and struck out a collegiate career-best 13 batters and walked three over 121 pitches as the Boilermakers topped arch rival Indiana 17-0. It was his eighth start of the season.
“First and foremost I just want to thank God for the opportunity to go out there and pitch still,” said Smeltz after the contest that pushed his 2022 record to 5-0 with a 2.66 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 20 walks in 44 innings for a 20-6 Purdue team. “All the glory to God.
“He’s put me through a lot, but I can’t thank God enough.”
A four-year letterwinner at McCutcheon, Smeltz played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton as well as Brian Eaton and Purdue alumnus Doug Schreiber with the Mavericks.
After going 3-1 with a 3.26 ERA in 13 appearances (11 in relief) for Purdue in 2021, he played for the College Summer League at Grand Park’s Bomb Squad and was one of eight Boilers named to the CSL All-Star Game.
Smeltz — the No. 1 starter in the Boilers weekend rotation who now has a 9-1 career mound mark with a 3.34 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings — got into a groove early against Hoosier hitters.
“I was staying aggressive in a quick tempo,” said Smeltz, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder and agribusiness major. “They were getting a little frustrated with it. That kind of fuels me. That gives me some extra motivation.
“I was able to get ahead (in ball-strike counts) and stay ahead.”
After Smeltz went to the dugout after eight frames, Purdue hitters came out and put up 10 runs.
“Our team is just resilient,” said Smeltz. “We’ve got the hardest workers in the country.
“They just don’t let up. I can’t say enough about those guys.”
Purdue head coach Greg Goff had a similar sentiment on Smeltz’s big day.
“You can’t say enough about Jackson Smeltz. He comes from a great family,” said Goff of the son of Robert and Shannon Smeltz and brother of siblings Zach, Darbie and Jed. “The things he’s had to overcome it makes it that much more special. He went out there and competed against a really good offensive team that hits the ball out of the park a lot.
“He located his fastball on both sides of the plate and was just in total control.”
Goff said Boiler hitters fed off Smeltz.
“Anytime you send a guy out there and he puts up zeroes like he did early that allows the offense to relax a little bit,” said Goff. “Our guys did a great job with that.”
Purdue is now 8-2 on its home diamond in 2022.
The rivalry series was to continue with a 1 p.m. doubleheader on Sunday, April 10.