May 22, 2015
DURHAM, N.C. — After notching just three hits on its way to getting shut out in its first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament game in program history Thursday against NC State, the No. 20 University of Notre Dame bats woke up in a big way Friday against No. 24 Virginia, as the Irish had eight hits and eight walks in an 8-2 victory at Durham Bulls Athletic Park that kept them alive in pool B for a berth in Sunday’s championship game.
With the win, Notre Dame (36-20) picked up its first-ever win in ACC Tournament play to improve to 1-1 on the week heading into Saturday’s pool B finale with No. 6 Miami (3 p.m. ET). For the Irish to advance to Sunday’s final, they would have to beat the Hurricanes and have NC State lose to both Miami at 7 p.m. (ET) Friday and to Virginia at 7 p.m. (ET) Saturday.
With the loss, Virginia (34-21) fell to 1-2 on the week and was eliminated from championship consideration.
The win gave the Irish some measure of revenge after the Cavaliers swept Notre Dame at Frank Eck Stadium in late March.
“I thought our guys did a great job, just sort of staying focused one pitch at a time, doing a great job there, just taking advantage of some opportunities that we created and also some that were given to us,” said head coach Mik Aoki. “I thought Ryan (Smoyer) did a remarkable job on the mound considering I don’t know that he was as sharp as he’s been on prior outings. Cavan (Biggio) had a great hit, we were able to do a really good job with situational hitting today and came out with a win against a very good Virginia team after they did a good job of handling us back in South Bend a month and a half ago. It’s a good win for us.”
As has been the case all year, some early runs were critical to Notre Dame’s success. The Irish plated the first run of the game in the first inning when junior shortstop Lane Richards was walked home by Virginia starter Brandon Waddell with the bases loaded and two outs. The Irish are 17-2 when they score in the first inning and 26-3 when they score first in a game.Â
Two innings later, Notre Dame took advantage of a critical Virginia misplay. With two outs and Richards at the plate, Waddell struck the Pendleton, Oregon native out on a swinging third strike in the dirt forcing catcher Robbie Coman to make the routine throw to first base to complete the out and end the inning. However, Coman made a poor throw that got past first baseman Matt Thaiss and allowed senior Ryan Bull and sophomore Kyle Fiala to score and increase Notre Dame’s lead to 3-0.
After Virginia trimmed the lead to just one on a two-RBI double from Thaiss in the bottom of the third, the Irish blew the game open by plating five runs over the final six innings. Fiala tallied an RBI double in the fourth and an RBI groundout in the eighth, sophomore second baseman Cavan Biggio recorded a two-RBI triple in the sixth and Richards posted a sac fly in the ninth to give the game its final margin.
The first four Notre Dame runs all came with two outs. A remarkable five of the six Irish players that reached base to lead off an inning ended up scoring runs.
Irish starter Ryan Smoyer (6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO, 95 pitches) did enough on the mound to become just the third Notre Dame pitcher to start a season 9-0 since 1998, joining former Major League Baseball player Aaron Heilman (2001, 15-0) and current MLB reliever John Axford (2003, 9-3).
“It was okay at the beginning,” said Smoyer of his pitches early. “But I lost a little bit of control, just command of the fastball, and I think that kind of leaked into the breaking stuff. I’m not a big strikeout thrower, so my breaking ball I wouldn’t say is anything great to begin with, but it usually gets the job done. Today I think at times it kind of let me down, I wasn’t locating where I needed to. But I think for the most part in the beginning I felt good. And just had to battle through the fastball late. And was able to use momentum to get some outs.”
The Notre Dame defense certainly did their part in helping out Smoyer, as they recorded 10 groundouts and five fly outs. They also turned their Division I leading 73rd double play of the year in the fourth inning that ended the frame and kept the Cavaliers from cutting the lead to 4-3.
For the second day in a row, the Irish bullpen was downright lights out, as freshman Brandon Bielak earned the first save of his career with three shutout innings. He allowed just two hits and only threw six balls in 27 pitches.
The outing mirrored sophomore Scott Tully’s appearance yesterday, where the Reading, Massachusetts native only had seven balls in 41 pitches and struck out six while allowing just one hit over 3.2 shutout innings.
Between Bielak and Tully, Notre Dame relievers have thrown just 13 balls in 68 pitches and allowed only three hits and no walks over 6.2 shutout innings that features six strikeouts.
Waddell (3-5) suffered the loss for Virginia, as he allowed six runs (4 ER), seven hits and five walks over six innings while striking out nine Irish batters. He threw 125 pitches. Relievers Matt Doughty (0.2 IP, 2 BB) and Kevin Doherty (2.1 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO) closed out the game for the Cavaliers.
The top of the Irish lineup in Biggio (2-5, 3B, 2 RBI, 1 R) and Fiala (2-3, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1 R) were a combined 4-for-8 with a double, triple, four RBI, two walks and two runs scored as Fiala upped his ACC-leading on-base streak to 45 games.
Over his last eight games, Fiala is 16-for-31 (.516 avg.) and has raised his season average from .268 to .302.
Others in the lineup that had big games included sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge (2 BB, 1 R), Richards (1 BB, 2 RBI), freshman DH Jake Shepski (1 H, 2 BB, 3 R) and senior outfielder Mac Hudgins (2-4, 1 R).Â
–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director