March 18, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Another University of Notre Dame baseball home opener sent the Irish fans to the exits happy, as the Fighting Irish improved to 16-5-1 all-time in home lid lifters at Frank Eck Stadium with an 8-3 victory over Central Michigan Wednesday night.
Behind solid pitching from sophomores Ryan Smoyer and Scott Tully, outstanding defense behind them and opportunistic hitting from the Irish bats, Notre Dame jumped out to a 5-0 lead through three innings and cruised to victory on a chilly but sunny night on campus.
“It was awesome,” said sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge on being back home at “The Eck.” “It’s great traveling to the venues we go to early in the season, but it’s always nice to get back home. It was great to get the fans a win.”
In the game, Notre Dame (15-4) saw its 1-6 hitters go a combined 9-for-20 with six RBI and eight runs scored, while the Irish defense turned two more double plays to up their nation-leading total to 30 on the year. On the mound, Smoyer and Tully allowed a combined two runs in eight innings of work.
After Smoyer started a 163 double play to end the top of the first inning, the Irish bats got off to a quick start with some help from poor Chippewa defense and the early struggles of pitcher Jordan Grosjean (0-3).
In the opening frame, freshman Jake Johnson extended his on-base streak to start his career to 19 games with a double in the leadoff spot. He eventually scored after senior Robert Youngdahl walked with the bases loaded. Sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge followed the bases-loaded walk with a sac fly and sophomore Cavan Biggio scored on a fielder’s choice from junior Zak Kutsulis. After the second Central Michigan error of the inning, Youngdahl trotted home to give the Irish a quick 4-0 lead heading to the second.
Notre Dame has now outscored its opponents 21-6 in the first inning this year, which is the biggest run differential in any inning by a large margin.
“We go out there and play pitch by pitch and we don’t worry about what inning it is,” said Lidge.
Continuing his impressive start, junior Lane Richards plated his team-high 14th RBI in the third inning to up the Irish lead to 5-0 and put them comfortably in front.
That would be all the cushion the Irish pitching and defense would need, as Smoyer and Tully worked around nine Central Michigan hits to allow just two runs through the first eight innings. At one point between the fifth and eighth innings, Tully retired eight consecutive Chippewa batters to stymie the visitors from Mount Pleasant, Michigan.
“We wanted to give Ryan (Smoyer) some innings and hopefully he continues to improve, because if we are going to be a good team and compete at a high level in these midweek games, we are going to need him and some of the other guys to help us out,” said head coach Mik Aoki.
“Scott (Tully) has pitched very well so far this year. Some of the other guys we really wanted to give them the night off so Scotty going in there really gave them a much needed rest. I’ve been really pleased with how our bullpen has been coming along.”
Biggio (2-for-2, 2 BB, 2 R), Lidge (2-for-3, 3 RBI, 1 R) and Richards (2-for-4, 2 RBI) led the Irish at the plate, but they certainly weren’t the only standout performers. Both Kyle Fiala and Youngdahl scored two runs, while the latter added an RBI and a walk.
The Irish continue their home stand at Frank Eck Stadium this weekend, as they welcome in former BIG EAST foe and new Atlantic Coast Conference member Louisville for a three-game set beginning at 6:05 p.m. (ET) Friday. The Cardinals (15-6, 5-1 ACC) are ranked anywhere from No. 8 to No. 17 in the six college baseball polls, and place No. 17 in the College Baseball Newspaper Top 25 that has the Irish at No. 22. After Friday’s contest, a 2:05 p.m. (ET) Saturday game and 1:05 p.m. (ET) Sunday contest closes out the series.
All three games will be available through WatchND’s free online video stream or by tuning into WHME 103.1 FM in South Bend.
–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director