Feb. 27, 2015
MACON, Ga. – Taking the field with heavy hearts after the Thursday night passing of long-time University of Notre Dame president Father Theodore Hesburgh, the Irish baseball team plated four runs total in the seventh and eighth innings to hold off a talented Belmont squad, 6-4, and improve their win streak to seven games.
“This is a man I never met, but when I start talking about him, for whatever reason I start to get a little emotional,” said head coach Mik Aoki. “Notre Dame and the world lost a great man and a great leader. He is someone who was able to accomplish so much, not just for Notre Dame, but also for everyone. He is a guy who found his passion with the priesthood and was able to parlay that into not only growing Notre Dame, but into making the world a little better place. He certainly made his mark. I’m not sure you can do any more than that in a lifetime. We are sad to have lost him, but our University and our world are a better place for having had him.
“I thought our guys did a phenomenal job going out there today and competing. We talked about Father Ted in our pre-game meeting. I showed them a video about him. Maybe the best tribute we can give him from a tangible perspective is to continue to represent our University in the highest possible way in terms of the way we play on the field and in the way in which we represent our University as we travel around the country playing this game.”
On the field, the Irish had to battle all day against RHP Aaron Quillen, who turned in a splendid performance on the mound for the Bruins, as he struck out 11 Notre Dame batters in seven innings of work. He allowed four runs on five hits and a walk to fall to 1-1 despite totaling three 1-2-3 innings and hurling 112 pitches.
“I thought he was outstanding,” said Aoki. “That breaking ball was a plus pitch. He’s got a good solid fastball and the changeup, while not necessarily a plus pitch, it’s a really effective changeup because it creates weak contact.”
After Belmont took an early 2-0 lead on a triple from Brennan Washington and a foul out by Drake Byrd, Irish senior Ryan Bull tied the game two innings later with a screaming two-run homer that soared over the right-field fence and upped his RBI total to five over the last two games.
After two scoreless innings, Notre Dame got the ball rolling with one out with a Ryan Lidge walk. After pinch-running the speedy Torii Hunter Jr. for Lidge, junior Lane Richards ran the ball down the left-field line for a stand-up triple to score Hunter from first base. One batter later, pinch hitter Conor Biggio struck out, but on the swinging third strike a Quillen wild pitch allowed Richards to dart home and give Notre Dame a 4-2 lead.
“He was giving us a lot of fastballs, he looked good and he was working both sides of the plate,” said Richards. “I was hoping he would leave a fastball out over the plate for me to hit and he did.”
One inning later, Zak Kutsulis tallied an RBI on a Bruin fielding error, while another Quillen wild pitch allowed Bull to score from third and up the Irish lead to 6-2.
Belmont plated two runs in the ninth on back-to-back doubles and an RBI groundout, but freshman Peter Solomon closed the door on the Bruins to earn his second save.
After starter Scott Kerrigan struggled a bit in 4.2 innings of work (4 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 1 SO), sophomore Scott Tully came in and settled the ship for the second time in a week by hurling three shutout innings. He struck out a career-high six batters, while allowing no hits and walked four.
At the dish, sophomore Cavan Biggio totaled two hits and two runs scored, while Bull had two hits, two RBI, a walk and two runs scored.
“True to what we’ve been able to nurture in our team offensively this year, we still made him work. We still had deep counts. I thought later in the game when he started to feature that breaking ball a little bit earlier in the count rather than as a pitch to try to finish us off, we still tried to stay on the fastball and we were able to break through. Lane came through in a fastball count with Torii (Hunter Jr.) on the move to score. I thought Quillen was outstanding, but the resiliency we showed and the quality at-bats we continued to have throughout the game is what we are looking to do every single game.”
With the win, Notre Dame (8-1) moves past the 2013 and 2009 squads that each notched six-game winning streaks. The 2008 team won 11 in a row midway through the year.
The Irish continue their weekend at the Mercer Baseball Classic Saturday, as they meet the host Bears at 3 p.m. (ET) before battling the Akron Zips at 7 p.m. (ET). Fans can follow both contests through WatchND’s audio broadcast (WHME 103.1 FM in South Bend) or through live stats. Links for both are on UND.com.
–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director