Feb. 26, 2016
Box Score – Bradley 4, Notre Dame 3
Box Score – Notre Dame 6, Texas Southern 5
By Russell Dorn
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Trailing 5-2 against Texas Southern entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the University of Notre Dame notched five hits – highlighted by a walk-off single by sophomore Jake Johnson – to plate four runs against the Tigers and earn the thrilling 6-5 victory in game two of a doubleheader at Nelson Wolff Stadium Friday afternoon.
The walk-off win was Notre Dame’s first since an 8-7 victory over No. 20 North Carolina last year that saw then-junior Kyle Richardson crack his first career homer to give the Irish the win. Johnson’s walk-off single was the first non-homer walk off since then-sophomore Zak Kutsulis accomplished the feat at Appalachian State March 2, 2014.
In game one, the Irish scored three runs in the eighth inning but couldn’t come all the way back in suffering a 4-3 loss to Bradley.
Freshman Matt Vierling (4-for-8, 2B, 3 RBI, 1 R), junior Cavan Biggio (3-for-6, 3 BB, 1 SB, 2 R) and Johnson (2 H, RBI) all turned in outstanding days at the dish to extend their on-base streak to start the season to five games. In addition, Biggio and Johnson each have five-game hit streaks to start the 2016 campaign.
Notre Dame (2-3) continues action at the annual Alamo Irish Classic in San Antonio, Texas (Nelson Wolff Stadium) at 12:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday as it meets the University of the Incarnate Word (3-2). The Irish close out the weekend at 12 p.m. (ET) Sunday against Gonzaga. Fans can follow the action through WatchND’s free audio broadcast in addition to live stats.
GAME 1: Bradley 4, Notre Dame 3
Irish hitting struggled mightily against the Braves for much of the game, as Notre Dame was shut out through the first seven innings by Bradley ace Matt Dennis (1-0). Dennis looked masterful against the Irish, as he scattered three hits and a walk over seven innings while striking out a career-high 10 batters.
Once the Irish got to the bullpen, however, the bats came alive. RBI singles by catcher Ricky Sanchez and third baseman Kyle Fiala plated two runs in the eighth inning before Kutsulis added another to trim the Bradley margin to 4-3. All three runs were charged to Braves reliever Nathan Stong, who recorded two outs but allowed four hits in six batters.
With the momentum swinging towards the Irish, Braves reliever Eric Scheurmann forced a strikeout to end the eighth inning before striking out another to end the game with an Irish runner at third and the winning run at first base.
Similar to last week against Santa Clara, Irish starter Ryan Smoyer (0-1) breezed through the first five innings, allowing just two singles and a walk. However, the junior ran into a bit of trouble in the sixth inning, as Bradley strung together a pair of singles and a double to plate two runs and take the 2-0 lead.
Bradley added runs in the seventh and eighth to up its lead to 4-0 lead to set the stage for Notre Dame’s near comeback.
Smoyer suffered the hard-luck loss after allowing just two runs on five hits and a walk. Reliever Nick McCarty allowed two runs on three hits in an inning of work. Freshman Connor Hock made the first appearance of his career and allowed a hit and struck out two batters in one inning on the bump. LHP Scott Tully finished off the game with a perfect 0.2 innings in relief.
On offense Biggio went 2-for-4 with a walk and run scored and Sanchez had a hit, RBI and run scored. Richardson added a hit, walk and run scored.
GAME 2: Notre Dame 6, Texas Southern 5
Notre Dame trailed 5-2 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, but showed a fighting spirit from the get go as Kutsulis and Vierling led off the frame with back-to-back doubles to trim the lead to 5-3.
After a pitching change, pinch hitter Brandon Bielak singled home Vierling to make it 5-4. Pinch runner Torii Hunter Jr. moved around the bases on a passed ball and scored the tying run on freshman Connor Stutts’ first career hit – a mammoth triple off the right center wall. Two batters later, Johnson slapped a single to right field to score pinch runner Cole Daily from third base to give Notre Dame the thrilling, come-from-behind victory.
Vierling finished the game with three hits, three RBI and a run scored to lead the way.
After Notre Dame trotted out three pitchers over the first five innings with limited success, the Irish finally found what they were looking for in the sixth when senior RHP Connor Hale (1-0) trotted out to the mound.
The Carmel, Indiana native turned in a brilliant four-inning shutout and allowed just two hits while striking out two over 13 batters faced. Over his last 12 appearances (5/18/13 – present) dating back to his freshman year, Hale has allowed just four runs (3 ER) in 21.2 innings of work for a tiny 1.25 ERA.
Texas Southern Ryan Rios pitched an outstanding game for the Tigers and certainly deserved a better fate than his no-decision. He went eight innings, threw 115 pitches and had given up just two runs in the first eight innings before allowing two more in the ninth. Closer Robert Pearson (0-1) suffered the loss after allowing two runs on three hits in 0.1 innings of work.
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Russell Dorn, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2011 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame volleyball, rowing and baseball programs. A native of Greenwood, South Carolina, Dorn graduated from Furman University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in history before earning his master’s degree in sports communications from Georgia State University in 2011.