March 31, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Behind sophomore Ryan Smoyer’s first career complete-game shutout, the University of Notre Dame baseball team cruised past Eastern Michigan, 6-0, Tuesday night at Frank Eck Stadium to improve to 14-1 in non-conference action this season.
Smoyer (3-0) continued his impressive work in midweek games, as the Bowling Green, Ohio native turned in a gem against the Eagles. He managed to scatter 10 hits over the course of nine innings in large part by inducing four double plays, which the Irish defense made look effortless, to get out of the few jams he found himself in. He didn’t walk a batter for the first time in a month and a half and struck out five Eagle batters, a career high.
“I relied heavily on the fastball towards the end and used a little movement with the two seam,” Smoyer said. “They had 10 hits, so it wasn’t the cleanest game, but with the defense we had behind me it was pretty easy out there.
“I felt comfortable out there. The defense was playing great and made some really big plays early, which as a pitcher that calms you down.”
Notre Dame’s defense, which is third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in fielding percentage (.973), upped its double play total to 39 this season, good for second in Division I.
“We can field the baseball and we can turn double plays and that’s important for our pitchers because we don’t have prolific strikeout guys,” head coach Mik Aoki said. “So it’s important to take care of the ball and turn those double plays. Ryan did a good job inducing them.”
Arguably the biggest defense play for the Irish came in the third inning when the Eagles had runners on second and third with one out. Second baseman John Rubino hit a grounder towards sophomore Kyle Fiala at third base and the Carmel, Indiana native wisely threw home to get the out at the plate and keep Eastern Michigan off the board.
“With guys on second and third with less than two outs, you’re looking for a strikeout as a pitcher,” Smoyer said. “But when a ball is put into play like that right to somebody and he (Fiala) gets up and throws a strike to home and Lidge blocks the plate, it’s a big play. It was a great all-around play for them. It got us out of, in my opinion, the biggest jam of the night.”
In 18 appearances over two years under the Golden Dome, Smoyer had pitched over five innings in an outing just once (5.1 IP vs. WMU, March 25, 2015), but cruised past that total tonight to become the first Irish player to hurl a complete-game shutout since teammate Michael Hearne accomplished the feat against Boston College last year in Chicago. The last Irish pitcher to do it at Frank Eck Stadium was former Notre Dame standout Adam Norton against Quinnipiac April 20, 2013.
Behind Smoyer’s effort on the mound, the Irish offense was able to work through their recent slump to plate six runs on the strength of a big three-run inning in the fourth and a two-run frame in the eighth.
Notre Dame got on the board early with an RBI single from catcher Ryan Lidge in the second inning and then broke the game open in the fourth. Junior Kyle Richardson cracked a single up the middle to score senior Robert Youngdahl before junior Ricky Sanchez was issued a walk with the bases loaded to up the Notre Dame lead to 3-0. Later in the frame, Fiala hit a sac fly to plate junior Zak Kutsulis.
“Situational hitting is a big part of what you need to do to win ballgames,” Aoki said. “You’re not going to go out there and roll out 15 hits every game, so when you have the opportunity to convert with runners on third base with less than two outs or just moving guys over, that’s huge for an offense.
“The bunt can be a real weapon for Zak because of how well he runs and he’s good at bunting. Kyle (Fiala) gets the sac fly and Kyle Richardson gets the base hit up the middle. We just need to be able to go up there with the proper approach and execute. It doesn’t always end up with the sex appeal of a hit, but those type of plays are just as important. The name of the game is not getting a great batting average, the name of the game is getting runners across the plate more times than they do.”
In the eighth, Notre Dame added to its lead with a Youngdahl RBI double and a Kutsulis RBI triple that gave the Irish a 6-0 lead entering the final inning.
The Irish jumped all over Eagle starter Adam Hornstra (3.0 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO), who was making his first start. They struggled a bit against reliever Brent Mattson, who recorded 13 consecutive outs upon entering the game, before scoring two runs in the eighth inning.
Youngdahl finished the night with two hits, an RBI and three runs scored, while Kutsulis notched two hits, an RBI and run scored.
After a nine-game homestand, Notre Dame gets back to road ACC action this weekend with an Easter weekend trip to former BIG EAST foe Pittsburgh for a three-game set Friday (3 p.m.), Saturday (3 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). Last year, the Irish swept the Panthers at Frank Eck Stadium to put a wrap on the 2014 campaign.
–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director