March 19, 2016
By Russell Dorn
RALEIGH, N.C. – The cardiac Irish did it again. Trailing 4-0 to No. 13 NC State entering the fifth inning Saturday at Doak Field, the University of Notre Dame baseball team clubbed 16 hits and shut down an explosive Wolfpack offense over the last eight innings to rally all the way back for an 8-4 victory in 12 innings.
The win is the highest ranked for the Irish since a 2-1 home victory over No. 7 Florida State April 12, 2015. It was also the highest ranked road victory since a 7-4 decision over No. 11 Miami April 20, 2014.
“The team showed a lot of resiliency,” said Irish head coach Mik Aoki. “We displayed a little bit of toughness that has been perhaps missing from the early part of the year. Last night we didn’t play well and a good team took advantage of it. Today was about coming back. They were able to string together some hits against Sean (Guenther), but then Sean went right back out and had two more shutout innings.
“It (the win) had a little bit of everything. We made some mistakes on the base paths and in the field but the win is a testament to a little bit of grit and determination that those guys showed. I’m proud of them.”
Trailing 4-2 in the ninth inning the Irish went to work starting with a leadoff double by junior Cavan Biggio. Two plays later sophomore Jake Shepski knocked a single to score Biggio and cut the lead to one. Later in the inning with runners at the corners, senior Lane Richards doubled down the left-field line to score pinch runner Torii Hunter Jr. and send the game to extras.
Neither team could cross home plate in the first two extra innings despite some near misses. In the 11th the Irish defense threw out two Wolfpack runners at home plate to push the game to the 12th.
In the 12th, the Irish exploded for four runs highlighted by a bases-clearing single from senior Zak Kutsulis to stun an announced crowd of 1,287 at Doak Field.
Sophomore Brandon Bielak (1-1) finished off an outstanding relief outing with three strikeouts in the bottom half of the 12th to secure Notre Dame’s first Atlantic Coast Conference victory of 2016.
The three strike outs finished off a standout effort for Bielak. Entering in the eighth inning with his squad down 4-0, Bielak hurled five shutout innings, scattering four hits while striking out five batters.
It’s (his performance) a testament to him and to the type of worker and mentally-tough player he is,” said Aoki. I couldn’t be happier for him. We have a lot of players in our program who I think do it the right way and certainly Brandon is without question one of those guys who does it the right way. I’m happy to see him getting rewarded for it. I thought he pitched brilliantly today.”
After throwing seven pitchers in Friday’s 9-1 loss, Notre Dame needed just two to get through Saturday’s game. The Irish didn’t issue a walk the entire game. NC State walked out eight pitchers and walked 10 batters.
LHP & Saturday starter Sean Guenther put his team in position to win by striking out five and walking none over seven innings of work. He threw 106 pitches. Six of the 12 hits he allowed and all four runs came in the fourth. The other six innings of work featured just six NC State hits.
At the plate, Biggio reached base six times with three hits, three walks, one RBI and two runs scored.
“Cavan was unbelievable today,” said Aoki. “He drew walks. He’s swinging the bat really well. I’m so happy for him because his numbers are nowhere near indicative of how well his at-bats have gone this year.”
Elsewhere, Kutsulis and Richards were nearly unstoppable at the plate. Kutsulis finished with four hits, two RBI and two runs scored, while Richards tallied four hits (2 2B), two RBI, a walk and a run scored. Freshman third baseman Nick Podkul had a hit and walk in his first career start, Shepski had two hits and an RBI, freshman Matt Vierling had two hits and two walks and Hunter Jr. had a walk and two critical runs scored.
The Irish began chipping away at the 4-0 lead in the fifth inning, as Biggio rewarded Richards for a leadoff double by slapping an RBI single to right field to get Notre Dame on the board.
In the sixth inning Notre Dame trimmed the lead to two after a single by Richards scored Kutsulis from second base to set up the thrilling end of the game.
Notre Dame (8-9, 1-4 ACC) and the Wolfpack (15-6, 2-3 ACC) play the rubber game of their three-game ACC series at 12 p.m. (ET) Sunday. Fans can follow the action through ESPN3 (Video), WatchND (Audio) or live stats. Links for all three are available on the baseball schedule page of UND.com.
For more information on the Notre Dame baseball, follow the Irish on Facebook (/NDBaseball), Twitter (@NDBaseball) and Instagram (notredamebaseball).
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.