The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Baseball: Irish finish series with Pittsburgh in winning fashion

Chris Allen | Monday, April 4, 2011

Just as they have all season, the Irish found themselves in close games in their three-game series at Pittsburgh this weekend, dropping the first two games in one-run fashion, 6-5 and 3-2, and rallying late to take Sunday’s series finale by the score of 8-6.

Close games have been something of a trend for Irish coach Mik Aoki’s squad, as Notre Dame (10-14-1) has had 18 of its 25 games decided by one or two runs.

“I think the way we’re hitting, pitching and most of all playing defensively, we’re going to continue to play close games,” Aoki said.

The Irish held a big lead late in Friday’s opener, but five runs from Pittsburgh (15-10) in the eighth inning allowed the Panthers to steal a 6-5 win. The rally came off of Notre Dame sophomore reliever Adam Norton and freshman reliever Dan Slania, who were not able to preserve the strong start of senior starting pitcher Brian Dupra. Dupra did not allow an earned run in his 6.1 innings of work.

“I thought [Dupra] did a great job,” Aoki said. “Obviously [Norton] had a tough outing, but I can’t say that the balls hit off him were hit on the screws, it wasn’t exactly a laser light show out there or anything.”

Senior right-hander Cole Johnson picked up where Dupra left off Saturday, tossing 6.2 innings of two-run ball and keeping the Irish offense in the game. Notre Dame was unable to muster enough offense to give Johnson the win, and the game moved into extra innings where Pittsburgh left fielder Casey Roche laced a walk-off single off freshman left-hander Anthony McIver to give Pittsburgh its second win of the series.

The Panthers seemed poised to take a series sweep Sunday, holding a 6-2 lead in the seventh inning, but a six-run frame highlighted by a three-run home run by freshman first baseman Trey Mancini gave the Irish an 8-6 win. Aoki said his team showed heart in the late comeback.

“I thought the guys did a great job of battling,” he said. “[Senior right-hander Todd Miller] wasn’t as sharp as he usually is, obviously. The way our offense has been, when we find ourselves down four runs it’s been tough, but they did a great job.”

Aoki said the key to the late comeback was an improvement in the team’s at-bats at crunch time.

“I think the thing that makes me happy is the quality of at-bats late in the game,” he said. “For the most part, it was better. We did a good job of swinging at good pitches, even if the results weren’t what we wanted.”

Despite Notre Dame’s sub-.500 record, the coach said that he is seeing on-field improvement as he attempts to turn around a program that has struggled in recent years.

“Maybe the results aren’t coming around as quickly as we would all like, but the players are doing the things that I value on the field.”

Notre Dame resumes play with Western Michigan at Frank Eck Stadium Tuesday night.