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Baseball: Mills’ walk-off saves the day

Chris Masoud | Monday, April 26, 2010

In a season full of breaks not going their way, the Irish finally caught the biggest break of the season in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday. Playing in the pouring rain, senior designated hitter David Mills tomahawked the offering from Cincinnati closer Andrew Burkett over the left field fence to give Notre Dame a 5-4 victory in walk-off fashion.

“I don’t know how that ball one, stayed fair, or two, made it over the fence,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “It was slicing off the bat and the wind was blowing in over the right field wall, so it should have pushed it foul. It’s slicing off a lefty, and somehow it blew back the other way and made it over the fence.”

Sunday’s action was the conclusion of Saturday’s game, which was suspended in the fifth inning due to inclement weather. Notre Dame took a 4-2 lead heading into the ninth inning, but coughed up two runs in the top half following two errors in the field and a wild pitch.

Mills’ blast secured the series victory over the Bearcats (19-19, 5-10 Big East) and marked the fifth win in the last six conference games for the Irish (17-22, 7-8). The solo blast was also the first walk-off home run at Frank Eck Stadium since 2006.

“The way the weekend was going, it was a huge hit for us — it won the series,” Schrage said. “The way that we lost the lead in the ninth inning in back to back games, it really picked the team up for us.”

Mills is tied for the team lead in RBIs with 26, but has undoubtedly been Notre Dame’s most valuable player over the last two weeks. A versatile athlete, Mills has served capably as a reliever, an outfielder and, most importantly, as a timely hitter.

“He’s done a tremendous job on the mound,” Schrage said. “He’s had some clutch hits. I don’t think you can ask much more of a player. He’s done a great job in relief, and now he just continues to get some big hits for us — just having a great season.”

After an 8-12 start to the season, the Irish have reemerged in the second half to improve to seventh overall in the conference. Schrage believes the seniors have taken it upon themselves to salvage the remainder of the season in the hopes of a conference title in their final opportunity.

“A lot of the seniors like David Mills are stepping up,” Schrage said. “They know these conference games are very important each weekend. We’ve just talked about winning series and moving on to the next one.”

Notre Dame takes on Toledo Tuesday at home before putting its conference record back on the line Friday against St. John’s.