March 21, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Irish and Cardinals decided to play two baseball games Saturday at Frank Eck Stadium. Scratch that. The two teams decided to play two games in one, as No. 8 Louisville outlasted No. 22 Notre Dame, 6-4, in 18 innings to clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference series win with one game remaining.
After Louisville tied the game at three in the seventh inning, neither team could get anything done until the 14th inning. Cardinals’ leftfielder Nick Solak led off the 14th with a triple to right center to put the visitors in prime position to take the lead. During the next at-bat, Irish reliever Peter Solomon struck out right fielder Corey Ray, but a wild pitch allowed Solak to dart home for the 4-3 advantage.
Notre Dame didn’t give up, however, as sophomore Cavan Biggio led off the bottom half of the 14th with a single before advancing to second on a wild pitch. After a Ryan Lidge walk, junior Lane Richards stepped to the plate and cracked a single through the left side to score Biggio from second and advance pinch runner Conor Biggio on third. With only one out, a ground out to pitcher Jake Sparger kept Biggio on third and another ground out ended Notre Dame’s best scoring opportunity in extras.
Three more scoreless innings followed before Louisville produced the game-winning runs in the 18th. After Solomon turned in career-highs in innings pitched (7.0) and pitches (98) by a significant amount, the Irish turned to sophomore Scott Tully.
After getting behind early in the first at-bat of the inning, Tully gave up a solo homer to Ray on a 3-1 count that put the `Cards up 5-4. A couple of batters later, catcher Will Smith knocked a two-out, RBI single to provide the game with its final run.
Louisville reliever Sean LeLand (1-0) picked up his first win of the season after tossing a pair of perfect innings, while Tully fell to 2-1.
Despite not equaling the 19-inning, 5:00-long game against former BIG EAST foe USF from 2013, Saturday’s game was certainly one for the Notre Dame record books. The game was the second longest in Frank Eck Stadium history in both innings (18) and length of game (4:50) and featured plenty of downright silly numbers.
Louisville left 20 runners on base on offense, while its pitching staff struck out 21 Irish batters. Louisville starting pitcher Brendan McKay struck out 12 Notre Dame batters over seven innings of work, and also had a game-high nine at-bats, totaling a hit and run scored.
A whopping 131 at-bats led to a combined 34 strikeouts, 10 walks, 26 hits, nine RBI and 10 runs scored. The two squads combined to use 12 pitchers (7 LOU, 5 ND) that threw a remarkable 521 pitches (273 ND, 248 LOU).
There were a combined nine 1-2-3 innings between the two teams in extra innings.
For Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki, these games are starting to become all too common, as he was the head coach during the previously-mentioned USF game and was also the Boston College skipper during the longest Division I game in history, a 3-2 Texas win over the Eagles in 25 innings at the 2009 NCAA Regionals.
“Those games are all similar in that they featured a high compete factor, but ultimately it seems that one fortuitous swing of the bat changes the outcome of the game,” the fifth-year Irish coach said. “I’m proud of the way our players competed. I thought we played at a really high level. Certainly Louisville played and pitched at a really high level. But I don’t think that was anything more than what we expected. We expected them to come in and be able to pitch well. I think our guys have done well. For 17 innings or so today, we matched them pitch-for-pitch. Just one of those things.”
In what seemed like days before, the two teams played in a thriller during the game’s first nine innings.
Notre Dame, who entered the game 12-0 this year when scoring first, plated the first runs of the game in the fourth on a Ricky Sanchez double down the right-field line that plated Ryan Lidge and Richards.
Louisville answered in the fifth with two runs of its own, as Sutton Whiting and Solak each tallied RBI singles.
In the sixth, senior Robert Youngdahl crushed his second homer of the season to give Notre Dame a 3-2 lead, but the Cardinals rebounded with another Solak RBI single in the seventh to force extra innings.
On the mound, McKay was solid for the Cardinals, as he was perfect through the first 2.1 innings and held a no-hitter through 3.2 frames before a Lidge double broke up that attempt. He struck out four of the first five Irish batters and had six K’s through three frames.
The Irish pitching wasn’t too shabby either, as the first four pitchers that saw action were all freshmen. Starter Brandon Bielak went 5.1 innings and allowed two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out four.
“Those guys have been incredibly good this year,” said Aoki. “Gunny (Sean Guenther) came in and worked his way out of another tight situation. Brad (Bass) has been good for us and I thought he was excellent today. It was sort of an unfortunate triple on a play that probably could have been made and he gave up the run, but I thought we responded well to it. Then Peter (Solomon) comes in and I thought he was outstanding as he navigated through a couple of tough spots.”
At the plate, Richards and Youngdahl both totaled multi-hit days. For Louisville, five guys had two or more hits, led by Ray’s four-hit day and Whiting’s and Solak’s three-hit days.
Notre Dame (15-6, 3-5 ACC) and Louisville (17-6, 7-1 ACC) conclude their three-game series at 1:05 p.m. (ET) Sunday. Fans that can’t make it out can follow online through WatchND’s free video stream or by listening to WHME 103.1 FM in South Bend.
–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations