May 16, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Behind a dominant performance on the mound from sophomore LHP Michael Hearne and a clutch RBI single from junior Ryan Bull, the University of Notre Dame baseball team continued its strong play towards the end of the season with a 1-0 victory over Pitt Friday night at Frank Eck Stadium.
The Irish (21-31, 8-21 ACC) have now won four of five at the Eck this year as they clinched their third ACC series of the season including the second in a row. They have also won three games in a row for the first time this season and earned shut-out wins in back-to-back games for the first time since 2006 when they beat Valparaiso, 12-0, and Western Michigan, 2-0, on March 28 and 29.
“We obviously have one more game and we want to take the outlook that our work is not done yet but I feel good for these guys,” said head coach Mik Aoki. “They are really enjoying each other and they are playing hard and we have been able to make a game go in our favor two days in a row when sometimes it has gone the other way this season.”
After back-to-back shutouts from junior RHP Pat Connaughton and Hearne, the Irish pitching staff has now held teams without a run for 26 innings in a row going back to the second inning against Clemson last Sunday.
Hearne (5-6) was dominant from the word go as he hurled three perfect innings before giving up a single to lead off the fourth. He finished the day with five 1-2-3 innings and didn’t allow more than one hit in an inning. His final line was impressive as he went eight innings and allowed just three hits and no walks in 113 pitches. He also struck out three and didn’t allow a Pitt runner to advance past first while he was in the game.
“He was tremendous,” said Aoki. “When you look at the three base hits he gave up, none of them were even hard contact. He commanded his fastball, did a good job with his changeup and his curveball was better than it had been in past outings. I thought he was phenomenal.”
Up 1-0 in the ninth inning, the Irish brought in senior closer Donnie Hissa to shut the door on the Panthers on senior night. The Iron River, Wis., native got into a bit of trouble as he allowed a walk and a double with one out, but a ground out and a convincing strikeout on a 2-2 pitch ended the threat and gave Hissa two saves in two days and a team-high five for the year.
“Donnie has grown so much in his tangibles (MPH, curveball, etc.) but I think more than anything else a lot of his growth has come in the last month of the season where he has come in and embraced the idea of being a shutdown guy out of the bullpen. You see it manifest itself in the form of the aggressiveness with which he is throwing these pitches and just the kind of arm speed he is maintaining. You can tell he is pitching with some confidence and I couldn’t be happier for him. He is a phenomenal guy and a real success story.”
With the Pitt offense on lockdown, the Irish bats didn’t need to do much. Notre Dame picked up hits in the first, second and sixth innings against Panther starter Matt Wotherspoon but finally broke through in the seventh. Junior Robert Youngdahl reached on a fielder’s choice and freshman Ryan Lidge advanced on an infield single to put runners at first and second with one out and Bull coming to the plate.
Bull has had a knack for breaking Panther hearts throughout his career as he had a walk-off homer as a freshman and a walk-off single to put the Irish in the BIG EAST title game last year. Tonight wasn’t a walk-off, but an RBI single to score Youngdahl was enough.
“It wasn’t great contact,” said Aoki of Bull’s RBI single. “But I thought the willingness to go up there and swing the bat and be aggressive in the strike zone paid off for him there and won us the game.”
That would be all Wotherspoon (5-6) would allow as he suffered the tough loss. He gave up just six hits and one walk in 6.1 innings of work while striking out seven.
“I’m glad to see him go,” said Aoki. “He has always pitched us tough and I thought he was really, really good tonight.”
Looking for their first sweep of the season, the Irish will close out the 2014 campaign at 1:05 p.m. Saturday. For those around campus for graduation, tickets are still available and can be bought upon arrival at the Eck. Fans that can’t make it out can watch the series finale through WatchND or follow Gametracker. Links for both are on UND.com.
–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director