Junior RHP Cole Johnson.

Connolly Drills First Career Home Runs, Miller Picks Up Third Save As Irish Upend USF, 8-5

May 8, 2009

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Senior Ryan Connolly drilled his first career home run and sophomore Todd Miller tossed 2.1 scoreless innings of relief to pick up his third save to lead Notre Dame past BIG EAST leader USF, 8-5, in college baseball action from Frank Eck Stadium Friday night. The Irish improve to 28-19 overall and 12-10 in the conference, while the Bulls drop to 30-18 and 17-5.

Miller (Franklin, Tenn.) entered the game with Notre Dame clinging to a three-run lead and the tying run at the plate in the top of the seventh inning. The right-handed hurler got out of the jam in the seventh, tossed a perfect eighth and worked around a one-out single in the ninth to pick up the save. Miller struck out three and did not walk a batter.

Miller made a winner out of sophomore Cole Johnson (Hudson, Ohio). The righty improved to 5-2 on the season. Johnson battled through 6.2 innings. The righty yielded 10 hits and surrendered five earned runs, but struck out six and did not issue a walk. Johnson has now pitched into the seventh inning in seven of his 11 starts in 2009.

Matt Quevedo was charged with the loss. The reliever went just 0.2 innings and surrendered four runs, only one of which was earned, on three hits and two walks.

Junior A.J. Pollock (Hebron, Conn.), sophomore David Casey (Whitefish Bay, Wisc.) and junior David Mills (Battle Creek, Mich.) all had two hits apiece.

The Irish grabbed a second inning 1-0 lead thanks to Connolly (Binghamton, N.Y.). The senior hammered USF starting pitcher Randy Fontanez’s 1-1 offering over the scoreboard in left field for his first career home run. Connolly made his first career start at first base and Notre Dame improved to 9-1 on the year when he starts.

The Bulls answered in the top of the third inning. Peter Brotons legged out an infield single after senior Jeremy Barnes (Garland, Texas) slipped after fielding the routine ground ball. After Johnson retired Ryan Lockwood, Jonathan Koscso doubled off the left field wall. USF grabbed a 3-1 lead on Stephen Hunt’s towering three-run home run to the jet stream in right field. The home run was Hunt’s team-leading eighth of the season.

USF extended its lead to 4-1 thanks to a bizarre play. With a runner at first and one out, Johnson got Sam Mende to hit a slow roller in between Barnes and sophomore Greg Sherry near the second base bag. It looked as though the Irish might be able to turn an inning-ending double play, but both Barnes and Sherry slipped on the wet infield. The ball rolled past both and stopped at the cut of the infield grass for a 120-foot double. Brotons then added a sacrifice fly to left field to push the Bulls’ advantage to three runs.

Notre Dame clawed its way back even, 4-4, in the bottom of the fifth inning. Pollock laced a one-out triple into the left centerfield gap and cruised home on sophomore Golden Tate’s (Hendersonville, Tenn.) RBI single. After Fontanez fanned Barnes, Casey ripped a single to center. Tate raced to third back and Mills followed with a clutch two-out, two-run triple to tie the game. Fontanez did punch out sophomore Mick Doyle (LaGrange Park, Ill.) with the go-ahead run at third base to end the inning.

The Bulls regained a 5-4 lead in the top of the sixth inning. USF collected back-to-back two-out singles, including an RBI base knock from Brotons.

Fontanez took the mound to open the sixth, but was pulled after an apparent injury. The BIG EAST ERA leader (entered the game with a 2.79 earned-run average) was knocked around for four earned runs on six hits. Fontanez struck out two and walked two.

The Irish then took advantage of a couple of Bulls’ miscues to grab an 8-5 lead off Quevedo in the sixth. Connolly opened the inning with a leadoff walk and moved all the way to third base on sophomore Cameron McConnell’s (Bannockburn, Ill.) perfectly executed hit-and-run single. McConnell was just 3-for-33 entering the at-bat. Sherry then plated Connolly with a sacrifice fly to square the game, 5-5. Pollock followed with a rocket-shot single off the glove of USF shortstop Sam Mende. After Quevedo balked, which moved both McConnell and Pollock into scoring position, Tate hit a chopper to Bulls’ first baseman Todd Brazeal, who threw wildly home. McConnell scored easily and Pollock raced around from second base to make it 7-5. Tate scampered all the way to second, advanced a base on Barnes’ ground out and raced home on Manz’s 17th passed ball of the season.

Johnson retired the first two USF batters of the seventh, but was removed after plunking Brazeal. Freshman Joe Spano (Mendham, N.J.) came on to face Junior Carlin, a left-handed hitter, but the freshman issued a walk. Miller replaced Spano and got Bulls’ pinch-hitter Chris Rey to ground out weakly to end the inning.

Miller stayed in the game and sent the Bulls down in order 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth inning.

The Irish and Bulls return to action tomorrow afternoon with the second game of the series. Sophomore Brian Dupra (Rochester, N.Y.) will take the hill for Notre Dame. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

— ND —