April 5, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – On a night where the University of Notre Dame pitching staff displayed rare control problems, missed scoring opportunities, and a rare blown save, the No. 20 Fighting Irish still found a way to win another one-run game, and in extra innings no less. Notre Dame freshman C Ricky Sanchez delivered a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Irish a 4-3 victory over Villanova Friday at Frank Eck Stadium.
Senior CF and co-captain Charlie Markson led off the 11th with a single before stealing second base, which set up Sanchez for the game-winning hit against Wildcat reliever Chris Haggarty (1-1).
“I was just trying to stay within myself, find a fastball, and hit it well,” Sanchez said. “Once I got to two strikes, I shortened up my swing and tried to put the ball in play hard.”
The Irish (18-9, 3-4 BIG EAST) improved to 10-5 in one-run games, while the Wildcats (8-20, 0-4) continued a tough campaign. One-run wins have become a common occurrence in under third-year Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki, as the Irish are now 31-22 in such contests.
The Irish pitching staff was uncharacteristically wild. Notre Dame entered the game ranked first in the BIG EAST and ninth in the country yielding just 2.2 walks per game, but the Irish issued nine free passes and hit two Villanova batters. The last time an Irish squad walked more batters was on March 18, 2011 in Aoki’s first season.
“We created offense for them,” Aoki said. “But when we needed to make big pitches tonight, we were able to do so. We certainly need to clean that up, but it’s good to get a win on a night when we don’t play our best.”
With the Irish leading 3-1 in the eighth inning, senior RHP Dan Slania (3-1) entered for a possible two inning save with runners on second and third, and no outs. He struck out Max Beermann, but John Cialone laced a two-run double to right-center to even the game, 3-3. Slania’s blown save was his first of the season and only the third of his Irish career.
However, Slania, who eventually earned the win, rebounded to toss a career-high 4.0 scoreless innings and struck out five. The Irish closer worked out of jams in the ninth and 10th to keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard.
“We put him in a tough spot in the eighth,” Aoki said. “I guess it registers as a blown save, but it’s a tough spot to put a kid in and expect him to escape that. We needed him big, and he came through.”
Both teams struggled mightily with runners in scoring position. The Wildcats went 3-for-20, including grounding into two inning-ending double plays. The Irish didn’t fare much better, finishing 3-for-16 in such situations.
Senior co-captain and 2B Frank Desico and Markson were the only Irish players with multi-hit outings. DeSico went 2-for-4 and snapped out of a 0-for-24 hitless streak. Markson went 2-for-5 with a run scored.
Notre Dame and Villanova both had chances to end the game in the ninth. In the top of the frame, Tyler Sciacca doubled and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. Emmanuel Morris then attempted a safety squeeze but junior 1B Trey Mancini fielded it and started a run-down to tag out the go-ahead runner.
In the bottom of the inning, sophomore pinch runner Conor Biggio advanced to second on DeSico’s sacrifice bunt. With two out, junior 3B Eric Jagielo was intentionally walked to bring up Mancini, but the cleanup hitter lined out to deep center to send the game to extra innings.
Sophomore RHP Pat Connaughton started the game for the Irish and struggled to throw strikes in his third outing of the season. He walked five in 4.0 innings, but escaped without allowing a run thanks to aggressive Wildcat base runners and timely double plays. He picked runners off of first base to end both the second and third innings. Connaughton was also aided by double plays in the first and fourth to end scoring threats.
In the first, he walked two batters before giving up a single to center to load the bases with none out. However, Brandon Carr lined out to freshman SS Lane Richards before Kevin Jewitt sent a double play ground ball to Richards to end the inning.
Connaughton again encountered trouble in the fourth as Jewitt doubled and Beermann singled to put runners on the corners with one out. Then, after an unsuccessful suicide squeeze attempt, Brandon Clark sent a grounder to Connaughton who turned another double play to escape the jam.
Jagielo’s team-leading seventh double to lead off the fourth set the table for the first run of the game. Jagielo advanced to third on a Mancini fly out before scoring on an RBI groundout by sophomore LF Ryan Bull.
In the fifth, DeSico loaded the bases with an infield single. Wildcats’ starter Pat Young then plunked Jagielo with a pitch to increase the Irish lead to 2-0. However, Young escaped further damage when Mancini lined out to deep center with the bases loaded.
The Irish added a third run in the sixth inning when sophomore DH Blaise Lezynski lined an RBI double off the right-center field wall.
Villanova finally took advantage of a scoring opportunity in the sixth via an Irish error. With a runner on first following an infield hit, Steve Schrenk laid down a bunt that was fired down the right field line by junior C Forrest Johnson, advancing runners to second and third. The Irish traded a run for an out as Brandon Carr sent an RBI ground out to second.
However, freshman RHP Nick McCarthy, who relieved Connaughton, worked around the error without allowing more than one run.
McCarty did not allow an earned run, one unearned, in 2.1 innings of work. He struck out one and allowed a couple of base hits.
Senior RHP Adam Norton takes the mound on Saturday in the second game of a three-game series at Frank Eck Stadium. The game is set for 2:05 p.m. but could be moved to an earlier time due to potential inclement weather. A decision will be made Saturday morning on the finalized time.
— ND —