April 20, 2016
By Russell Dorn
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The “Cardiac Irish” struck again Wednesday night at Frank Eck Stadium, as freshman Matt Vierling tallied a three-run home run to tie the game in the seventh inning before cracking the game-winning single in the ninth to propel the No. 29 University of Notre Dame baseball team to a 7-6 win over Central Michigan.
For good measure, Vierling picked up the win on the mound after throwing two shutout innings and tying his career-high with three strikeouts. The win/walk-off hit combo marked the second time the St. Louis native has accomplished the task this season. He also did it against Niagara at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic in early March by throwing a scoreless inning in the 10th before hitting a lead-off homer in the bottom half of the game to give the Irish a 5-4 win.
Vierling now has five homers on the year, which ties teammate Jake Shepski for the team lead.
The walk-off win was the sixth of the season for the Irish.
Notre Dame had to extend a lot of effort to get to that point, though, as the Chippewas (8-29) showed a lot of scrap. Central Michigan held leads at 1-0, 2-1, 3-1, 4-3 and 6-3 and out-hit the Irish 13-11.
However, Notre Dame wouldn’t go away as it got big hit after big hit to answer the Chippewas each time. Before Vierling’s walk-off single, he hit a three-run homer in the seventh to tie the game at six and swing the momentum to Notre Dame’s side.
“Being in the outfield I was thinking about my next at-bat and I knew I would get a big one coming up,” said Vierling. “I think he threw me two of the same pitches before and he hung that one and I noticed it right away and put a good swing on it.”
After the homer, Vierling made the transition to the mound where a leadoff single in the eighth by Central Michigan’s Daniel Jipping gave the Chippewas a runner on base. However, that runner disappeared quickly, as Irish catcher Ryan Lidge made a monster throw to gun out Jipping trying to steal second. Vierling followed with back-to-back strikeouts to get out of the eighth. In the ninth, a runner got all the way to third base before another Vierling strikeout and a lineout to left field sent the contest to the bottom of the ninth.
“I just calmed myself down,” said Vierling after the leadoff single. “Obviously Lidge made a good play. It’s definitely a challenge going from the field to hitting to pitching. It takes a lot of focus. You just have to put yourself in the right mindset, calm yourself down and focus on what you’re doing. I’m glad things worked out.”
The Irish came to the plate in the bottom half looking to avoid extra innings. Similar to the seventh inning, junior Cavan Biggio and Shepski helped set the table for Vierling’s magic. Biggio started the frame with a sharply-hit double to right field and Shepski followed with a single to right field that placed runners at the corners for senior Zak Kutsulis, who was promptly walked to load the bases for Vierling.
Vierling went down 0-2 in the count, but came through with a rocket single to right field that scored Biggio and brought the Irish dugout onto the field for another celebration.
Notre Dame used eight pitchers on the day, with sophomore RHP Charlie Vorsheck (1.0 IP, 1 H) and Vierling both turning in solid outings.
Several Irish players enjoyed successful nights at the plate. Biggio finished with two hits and two runs, Shepski posted two hits, two walks and a run scored, Vierling had three hits, four RBI and two runs scored, senior Ricky Sanchez tallied two hits, a sac bunt, two stolen bases and a run scored, junior Kyle Fiala had a hit, stolen base and two RBI and Lidge had two walks.
With the victory, Notre Dame (23-12, 9-7 ACC) extends its winning streak to seven games. The Irish have also won 15 of their last 17 games and 17 of their last 21 to skyrocket up the Atlantic Coast Conference standings and NCAA RPI rankings.
After 12 of its last 13 games at home, the Irish will hit the road this weekend for a monster Atlantic Coast Conference series at No. 7 Florida State. Game times are set for 6 p.m. (ET) Friday, 6 p.m. (ET) Saturday and 1 p.m. (ET) Sunday. All three games will be available on ESPN3.
For more information on the Notre Dame baseball team, follow the Irish on Facebook (/NDBaseball), Twitter (@NDBaseball) and Instagram (notredamebaseball).
Russell Dorn, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2011 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame volleyball, rowing and baseball programs. A native of Greenwood, South Carolina, Dorn graduated from Furman University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in history before earning his master’s degree in sports communications from Georgia State University in 2011.