March 16, 2016
By Ben Auwaerter
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – On a blustery day with gusts of wind up to 40 MPH, stellar pitching and hot bats led the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish to a 10-3 win over the Toledo Rockets in the team’s 2016 home opener.
Following a first inning in which he allowed one run, senior LHP Michael Hearne retired 13 out of the next 14 batters he faced on his way to setting a career high with seven strikeouts. He also earned his first win of the season after going five innings on the mound.
The Irish offense provided plenty of support for their pitcher, scoring three runs in the second inning, four in the fourth, and three in the eighth.
“I thought overall our bats were good. We played it clean defensively and we pitched pretty well,” said Irish head coach Mik Aoki.
Both Hearne and Toledo’s starter, Michael Slack, missed much of their junior years with injuries. Slack struggled, allowing five runs on the day. Hearne, on the other hand, hurled a gem and lowered his ERA to 3.18.
“I think it always starts on the mound,” remarked Aoki. “The first inning was a little rough with Mike [Hearne] giving up a few hits…but he managed that inning and then we saw the Mike that we are accustomed to seeing.”
Toledo took an early lead when first baseman Dalton Bollinger hit a wind-aided ground rule double to give the Rockets a 1-0 lead. After that point, Hearne shut down the Toledo offense.
“My change-up was really moving. The wind was helping me out a lot because it was going with my tail. But I was doing a really good job locating my fastball as well. The [pitches] set each other up so it worked out,” said Hearne.
In the second inning, right fielder Connor Stutts’ sacrifice fly tied the game at 1-1. Two batters later, second baseman Cavan Biggio lined a single to right. The hit gave Notre Dame a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish.
Senior co-captain Lane Richards led off the fourth inning with a triple to right-center and scored on junior Ryan Lidge’s groundout. In the following at-bat, Stutts slammed the second home run of his career to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 4-1. The solo-shot concluded the day for Slack after 3.1 innings. The Rockets’ first reliever, Alex Wagner, fared no better. Designated hitter Ricky Sanchez lined a ball off the right field wall that scored third
baseman Cole Daily and Biggio to cap a four-run frame for the Irish.
In the top of the sixth inning, M. Hearne was relieved by his first-cousin, David Hearne. Not to be outdone, the new Hearne tossed a scoreless inning and struck out one.
Freshman Nick Podkul notched the first hit of his career to lead off the seventh inning. He followed that by stealing his first career base. Zak Kutsulis, Jake Johnson and Matt Vierling each knocked in a run to make the score 10-1.
Reliever Jake Shepski tossed a scoreless seventh in his second career appearance. In the eighth, Vierling moved from center field to the pitcher’s mound and surrendered a two-run home run to Toledo’s Brad Boss. His blast to right-center cut the Irish’s lead to 10-3. That would be the last score for Toledo. Peter Solomon closed out the ninth inning to give the Irish the victory.
With two walks on the day, Cavan Biggio moved into a tie with Miami’s Zack Collins for the ACC lead in walks. His on-base percentage this season is .472. Ten out of the 12 position players made it on base today for Notre Dame. Senior co-captain James Nevant entered as a pinch hitter in the eighth and walked.
With the win, Notre Dame improves its record 7-8. The team will look to build off their impressive victory during an important road series versus ACC rival N.C. State, who is ranked in the top 25 in all six major college baseball polls. Fans can watch the Irish on ESPN3 for all three games in addition to WatchND’s audio broadcast. Games are set for 6:30 p.m. (ET) Friday & Saturday and 1 p.m. (ET) Sunday.
For more information on the Notre Dame baseball, follow the Irish on Facebook (/NDBaseball), Twitter (@NDBaseball) and Instagram (notredamebaseball).
Ben Auwaerter is a freshman at Notre Dame and is from Lutherville, Maryland. He previously worked during the summer of 2014 with the Baltimore Orioles public relations office.