April 3, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – It took eight innings for the University of Notre Dame to get on the scoreboard, but junior 1B Trey Mancini came up big in the clutch, giving the 20th-ranked Fighting Irish a 3-1 victory over Valparaiso Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium. Notre Dame improves to 17-9 overall, while the Crusaders drop to 10-17.
Coming off Tuesday night’s triumph over the University of Illinois-Chicago, the Irish had a little momentum built up after falling to Louisville in a three-game sweep last weekend.
It was the Crusaders, however, who got on the board first in the top of the fifth inning when sophomore LF Mark Johnson scored on a RBI single from junior RF Andy Burns. Johnson reached base on a walk from Notre Dame freshman RHP David Hearne, but the rookie was pulled after plunking Valparaiso sophomore SS Spencer Mahoney with a pitch and dealing a fielder’s choice to senior C Billy Cribbs.
Irish freshman southpaw Zak Kutsulis, who had a big day at the plate Tuesday (2-2, 3 R, 2 BB), relieved Hearne, but could not escape the second and third base jam, yielding a single to Valparaiso 3B Andy Burns. Crusader DH Andrew Bain, hitting atop the Valparaiso order, couldn’t keep it going, grounding into a double play to end the inning.
Effective pitching from both sides quickly took the game to the bottom of the eighth inning with Notre Dame still trailing 1-0.
The Irish finally came alive in their final at bat of the night when they loaded the bases with just one out. Mancini ripped a two-run single to center field, but Valparaiso CF Bryce Hara wasn’t able to field the base hit cleanly, and a third run crossed the plate for the Irish on the miscue.
“I was just thinking `get a sac fly’ because in my last at-bat I hit a line drive right at the third baseman,” Mancini said. “He doubled us off at third base, so I didn’t want that to happen again.”
Mancini, who’s second on the team in home runs with three so far this year, has a lot of power potential, but also has patience and discipline at the plate.
“The wind blowing in actually helped, because I knew I wasn’t going to put one out in left–it made think [opposite field], so I just waited back on the pitch and let it come to me.”
Remaining scoreless for seven innings sometimes forces teams to panic and take hopeful swings at the plate, but Mancini talked about how this year’s Notre Dame team has avoided that.
“We all have confidence in each other, and we know, late in the game, if someone needs to get a big hit, then somebody will come through.”
Notre Dame freshman RHP Nick McCarty pitched a scoreless top half of the eighth inning to collect the victory and improve to 4-3 on the year.
Valparaiso starting LHP Dalton Lundeen did a great job handling the Irish offense all game, tossing 7.0 scoreless innings, but was did not factor in the decision in part to a spotty bullpen. Sophomore RHP Ben Mahar issued a pair of walks and two-run single that led to Notre Dame’s runs. He was charged with the loss and dropped to 2-2 on the season.
Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki was impressed with the way his team played, in spite of Lundeen’s strong start.
“When it mattered, and when we had an opportunity to score, I thought our at-bats actually were really, really good.”
Aoki also addressed the nerves involved when a 1-0 game is taken so late.
“The danger of a game like that is, on paper, we’re supposed to beat these guys, and so you start to tighten up a little bit…but we recovered, and our bullpen was able to manage that damage. A win is a win, and I think [Valparaiso] a good team.”
Junior RHP Sean Fitzgerald earned his first save of the season by pitching a scoreless ninth inning.
Junior 3B Eric Jagielo was the lone Irish player with a multi-hit effort. He went 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Hearne was charged with an earned run on three hits in 4.1 innings of work. He walked a pair and did not strikeout a batter. McCarty and Fitzgerald each tossed a scoreless inning.
Notre Dame opens a BIG EAST series with Villanova at 5:35 p.m. Friday at Frank Eck Stadium.
— ND —