April 19, 2017
By Neil Joseph
NOTRE DAME, Indiana — The Notre Dame baseball team used a terrific team effort at the plate to defeat Illinois State 7-6 on a rainy Wednesday evening at Frank Eck Stadium. After the Irish scored seven in the first three innings, the bullpen managed to hold off the Redbirds over the last six and ensure the Irish victory. Notre Dame picked up their second non-conference win in as many days, picking up some much-needed momentum heading into a weekend series in Charlottesville with the 19th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers.
Ryan Smoyer picked up the win for the Irish. After Illinois State started the game by scoring three runs in the top of the first, Smoyer held the Redbirds at bay during the rest of his outing, giving up only one run in the next four innings he pitched. Sean Guenther recorded the save for Notre Dame, striking out the side to end the game and striking out five of the six batters he faced.
Mitch Weis took the loss for Illinois State. The Irish forced him out after only 2.2 innings of work, scoring all seven runs in those first three innings off of seven hits. Although the Redbird bullpen gave up only two hits in the final 6.1 innings, the Irish managed to make the seven runs hold up.
The Irish had huge contributions at the plate up and down the lineup. Ryan Lidge drove in four runs with a double and a homer, while Nick Neville tripled and reach base on all four trips to the plate. Matt Vierling added a triple and two runs scored, and Daniel Jung reached base on three of his four plate appearances.
Illinois State started the scoring quickly in the top of the first. Right fielder Zach Barnhart led off the inning with an infield single and was subsequently driven in by an Owen Miller double. After Smoyer forced the first two outs of the inning, first baseman Derek Parola hit a homer that just cleared the left-field wall to give the Redbirds a 3-0 lead before the Irish came to bat.
The Irish tied the score by plating three runs during a furious two-out rally in the bottom half of the first. After Nick Podkul grounded out and Jake Johnson flew out, Kyla Fiala walked and Vierling singled to left. They were both driven in by a Lidge home run that just squeaked inside of the right field foul pole, knotting the game at three.
The Irish took the lead in the bottom of the second. Neville got his first career extra-base hit with a triple down the left-field line, which was followed by a Daniel Jung walk. After Jake Shepski struck out, Podkul drove Neville in with a sacrifice fly to center field. Johnson ended the inning with a strikeout, but Notre Dame headed to the third up one.
After Smoyer once again held the Redbirds scoreless, the Irish added to their lead in the bottom half of the third. Fiala started with a ground out, but Vierling followed with a triple to deep right-center field. Lidge then drove him in with a double to right center and was moved to third by a Cole Daily fly ball. Neville drove him in with a single up the middle and stole second. Jung walked, and Shepski plated Neville with a single to right. Podkul flew out to right to finally end the inning.
Illinois State got one run back in the top half of the fifth. After Smoyer got Anthony Sanchez to pop out, he walked Barnhart. Miller followed with a single into left field just past a diving Daily, and John Rave drove Barnhart in with a single to right. Smoyer forced a fly ball and ground ball to end the inning, preserving a three-run Irish lead.
The Redbirds cut the Irish lead to one to start the sixth. Cameron Brown came in to pitch and promptly struck out the first batter he faced. He then walked Nick Zouras, but forced a fielder’s choice for the second out. Anthony Sanchez then singled to left, forcing the Irish to bring in Peter Solomon to pitch. Barnhart then hit a triple to deep left-center to drive in two Redbirds and bring the score to 7-6.
Illinois State got a runner to third in the top of the seventh, but Solomon shut the door to preserve the Irish lead. Rave started with a bunt single and was moved over by a ground ball. An error by Jung advanced Rave to third and put a Redbird runner on first. Solomon struck out the next two batters, however, to keep the Irish on top headed into the bottom half of the seventh.
The Irish missed a golden opportunity to add an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. Neville walked to start the inning, and Jung reached when the Redbird pitcher mishandled his bunt. Shepski moved both runners over with a sacrifice bunt, and Podkul walked to load the bases. Johnson hit a ground ball that got Neville out at the plate, and Fiala struck out to leave the bases loaded.
There was little drama in the ninth, as Guenther struck out the side to end the game.
The Irish travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, for a three-game series with No. 19 Virginia. Game one on Friday begins at 6 p.m. and can be seen on ACC Network Extra, while listeners can tune-in on WatchND and 103.1 FM in South Bend.
— ND —
Neil Joseph is a student worker for Fighting Irish Media.