April 24, 2010

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. ­ Sophomore Steve Sabatino (Lockport, Ill.) allowed just a pair of singles and one earned run in 5.2 innings, but Cincinnati plated four runs in the top of the ninth to overcome a 3-1 deficit and defeat Notre Dame, 5-4, in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Frank Eck Stadium.

After sophomore Will Hudgins (Richmond, Va.) retired the first batter of the Cincinnati(19-18, 5-9) ninth, a single and a double put runners on second and third with one out, prompting head coach Dave Schrage to turn to senior Steven Mazur (Round Rock, Texas) to attempt the save for the second time in as many days. But he was not so fortunate on Saturday, as he walked T.J. Jones to load the bases before Chris Peters made the score 3-2 in favor of Notre Dame with a bloop single to center. After another walk forced in the tying run, a sacrifice fly by Justin Riddell and an RBI single by Logan Jackson put the Bearcats up by two.

The Irish (16-22, 6-8 BIG EAST) did not go down easy in the bottom of the inning, falling just short of pushing across the tying run. Cincinnati closer Andrew Burkett walked freshman Frank Desico (Cleveland, Ohio) and senior David Mills (Battle Creek, Mich.) with one out and senior Casey Martin (Chesterton, Ind.) followed with an RBI knock to right-center to bring the Irish within one. With runners at the corners, the Irish put on the suicide squeeze to attempt to knot the score, but Mick Doyle’s (LaGrange Park, Ill.) bunt rolled foul and he eventually struck out looking. Senior Brayden Ashdown (Tucson, Ariz.), who already had three hits in the game, could not collect a fourth, as he grounded out on a chopper back to the mound to end the game.

Mazur (1-1) shouldered the loss after suffering his third blown save of the season.He and Hudgins each surrendered two earned runs in the ninth inning.Mills worked 1.2 scoreless innings in relief of Sabatino, running his scoreless stretch to seven outings and 9.2 innings.

Sam Slavik (2-1) picked up the victory in relief of starter Tyler Smith, working 4.0 innings and allowing the Irish just a run. Burkett picked up his ninth save despite yielding a run on two hits and a base on balls.

Notre Dame did hold its opponent to five runs or fewer for the seventh time in the last eight games; the staff ERA over those seven games (five wins) is a sparkling 2.71.

Sabatino worked around seven walks in the game–a career high–by holding the Bearcats to just one hit (nine at bats) with runners on base. He did strike out seven (second most in his career) and has now fanned 13 in 12.2 innings over his last three starts; Sabatino’s ERA over that stretch is 1.42.

The Irish added to their conference leading sacrifice fly total to plate the first two runs of the contest. Martin and Doyle worked walks to begin the second, and after Ashdown beat out his attempted sacrifice for a single to load the bases, Billy Boockford (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) delivered a sac fly to center to bring home Martin for the first Notre Dame run.

Then in the third, Ryan Connolly (Binghamton, N.Y.) led off with an infield single, DeSico moved him to third with an opposite field base knock, and Mills notched his sixth sacrifice fly of the 2010 campaign to increase the lead to 2-0.

Sabatino struggled with command dearly in the fourth, but he turned in a hero-like effort to keep the Bearcats to just one run in the 35-pitch inning. After walking Kendal Coleman to load the bases with one out, Sabatino punched out Mikel Huston looking for the second out before walking Kevin Johnson on four straight to force in a run (the 17th straight run scored against the Irish with two outs). He then fell behind 2-0 on Jones and was a pitch away from walking in the tying run (and likely being removed from the game) after running the count full, but he got Jones to fly out to keep the Irish on top.

The Irish lefty took the mound again in the fifth and walked the leadoff batter before falling behind 3-1 to catcher Jimmy Jacquot. But Sabatino, again perhaps a pitch away from having his outing end, induced Jacquot to line out to center before retiring Riddell on an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.

Having already thrown 100 pitches, Sabatino was sent out for the sixth as well and retired the first two batters he faced on six pitches before walking Coleman and giving way to Mills, who punched out pinch-hitter Jake Proctor to preserve the Irish lead. Mills has now retired the first batter he faced in 13 of his 15 appearances.

An insurance run in the eighth courtesy of a Cameron McConnell (Bannockburn, Ill.) RBI single extended the Irish lead to 3-1, but it would not be enough, as the final two of the Notre Dame pitching staff’s nine walks in the game proved costly.

— ND —