April 11, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Behind the third straight quality start on the mound for freshman Brandon Bielak and another clutch day at the plate from sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge, the University of Notre Dame baseball team limited a powerful Florida State offense for the second game in a row to clinch the series win with a 4-1 victory over the No. 7 Seminoles in front of a season-high 1,109 fans at Frank Eck Stadium.
With the win, the Irish handed FSU its first Atlantic Coast Conference series loss since a late-April setback to Virginia in 2014 and clinched its first series win over a top-10 team since taking two-of-three from the Seminoles in Tallahassee in the 2002 Super Regionals to clinch a spot at Notre Dame’s most recent College World Series. Notre Dame has also won more games than it did in 2014 (22).
In what has become commonplace during Notre Dame’s seven-game winning streak, pitching and defense held the opponent at bay. With another errorless game, the Irish defense hasn’t committed an error in any of the seven games and ups the total to 68.0 innings. Notre Dame is 12-5 this year when it doesn’t commit an error.
Meanwhile on the mound, the Notre Dame pitching staff has a 1.14 ERA over the course of the streak and has struck out 53 batters and issued just 11 walks.
Saturday, Bielak (4-1) continued his stellar pitching of late, limiting the Seminoles offense to one run, four hits and two walks while striking out five in 7.1 innings of work. In his last two starts, the Sayreville, New Jersey native has a 0.63 ERA in 14.1 innings on the hill. He has allowed just one run and eight hits, while striking out 13.
“He’s getting more polished with every outing as he gets more experience,” said head coach Mik Aoki. “Earlier in the year he struggled a little bit with runners on base, but that part has essentially gone away. He is able to throw the breaking ball and the change up for a strike a little more frequently than he was early. He has a great fastball. It has a lot of life on it and he was in the strike zone like Ryan (Smoyer) was last night. The key is not contributing to their offense by limiting the free 90’s you give them.”
Florida State’s lone run on the day came in the fourth inning on a Quincy Nieporte RBI groundout after John Sansone singled and DJ Stewart doubled. Besides that run, the Seminoles had limited chances in the game, as Bielak retired the first 10 batters he faced and only allowed a runner past second base once.
“He was locating his fastball well today,” said Lidge. “He got behind and he came back. I think there was a count where he went 3-0 and he came back to get the strikeout. He trusts everything that he throws. When he goes out and does that, both him and Ryan (Ryan Smoyer) are some of the best in the country.”
Once Bielak handed the ball to LHP Sean Guenther, it was ball game, as the Atlanta native struck out two in a perfect 1.2 innings in relief to earn his second save of the weekend. In two outings this weekend, Guenther has struck out seven in hurling a perfect 3.2 innings in relief.
Guenther hasn’t allowed a run in his last five appearances (9 IP) and has allowed just five since giving up three in his first career outing at Oklahoma (Feb. 14). Since that time he has a 1.32 ERA in 27.1 innings of work (21 SO, 16 APP, 3 SV).
At the dish, the Irish continued their clutch hitting over the course of the seven-game winning streak that has seen them bat .294 with 11 doubles, a triple, five homers, 41 RBI, 24 walks and 43 runs scored. They are also 16-for-19 in stolen base attempts during the stretch.
As has been the case all year, an Irish run in the first inning spelled good things for the rest of the day. After senior Mac Hudgins led off the game with a walk and sophomore Kyle Fiala followed with a single, senior Ryan Bull came through with an RBI single to give Notre Dame the early 1-0 lead.
This year, the Irish are 11-0 when they score in the first inning and 18-1 when they score first.
After the Seminoles tied the game at one in the top of the fourth frame, the Irish answered immediately with an RBI single from Zak Kutsulis in the bottom half of the frame.
Moving into the later stages of the game with the Irish clinging to a 2-1 lead, Lidge came through big for his squad for the second game in a row. Friday night, the Barrington, Illinois product hit a two-run single with two outs to take a 3-2 lead and turn it into a 5-2 advantage. Saturday, he cracked a two-RBI double down the left-field line with two outs to give the Irish a three-run lead at 4-1 and set the stages for Guenther to close out the Seminoles.
“With two outs there is the added pressure because you obviously can’t hit a ground ball that could score someone from third like you can with less than two outs, but I’m just looking to square the ball up and hit it solid,” said Lidge. “I’m not looking to fall under the pressure of two outs. I try to think of the positives. The `hey I’m going to get a hit here,’ or the `I’m going to hit it solid, I’m not going to try to do too much with the ball’ mindset.”
“The key is that we don’t focus on necessarily getting the result because sometimes someone makes a great play against you,” said Aoki. “We have to focus on having solid contact, having quality at-bats and making pitchers work to get their outs. The guys really trust each other. If it wasn’t Lidge, it would have been someone else.”
Kutsulis and Lidge have played a key role in Notre Dame’s seven-game win streak, as the duo has combined to go 22-of-48 with three doubles, one triple, one homer, 13 RBI, four walks and seven runs scored. Elsewhere, senior Robert Youngdahl has eight hits (.333 AVG), two doubles, five RBI and nine runs scored.
Saturday, Lidge went 3-for-4 with two RBI, Kutsulis went 3-for-4 with an RBI and Youngdahl had a hit, walk and two runs scored. Bull added two hits and an RBI.
Seminole starter Drew Carlton (2-2) suffered the loss after giving up two runs, nine hits and two walks in six innings of work.
The Irish (23-10, 8-9 ACC) and the Seminoles (26-11, 11-6 ACC) close out their series at 1:05 p.m. (ET) Sunday. The contest will be streamed live on ESPN3, while WatchND and WHME 103.1 FM in South Bend will provide audio coverage.
–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director