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Baseball: Mancini’s walkoff lifts Irish to win

Andrew Gastelum | Monday, May 2, 2011

Heading into a meeting between the two top pitching staffs in the Big East, it looked as if the series would come down to hitting. And with Notre Dame’s top hitter, freshman first baseman Trey Mancini, mired in a slump, the offense looked to be at a disadvantage.

But it took one swing from Mancini to change all of that — a two-out, three-run blast in the bottom of the eighth that cleared the left field fence and gave the Irish (16-21, 7-10 Big East) a 5-4 win in Sunday’s rubber match.

“I hit the ball pretty well,” Mancini said of his go-ahead home run. “I was looking for a fastball and [Seton Hall sophomore reliever Ryan Harvey] threw it to me, and I was definitely really excited about [the home run].”

With the win the Irish jump from 10th place in the Big East into a tie with Rutgers for eighth, a crucial spot, as the top eight teams from the conference advance to the Big East tournament, which will be played on May 25.

“Winning two out of three in this series was really big for us because we needed to get past Seton Hall (20-21, 7-11) [in the standings] to get into the Big East tournament,” Mancini said.

But the Irish got off to a rough start in Friday’s opener, which featured an intense pitching matchup between senior aces Brian Dupra (2-5) and Joe DiRocco (6-0). Dupra — who has given up more than two runs only three times this year — outpitched the right-hander from New Jersey, but recorded a loss in his solid complete game performance.

The veteran righty gave up only two earned runs on seven hits, but the Irish offense couldn’t muster enough run support to give Dupra the victory.

The Irish bats did chase DiRocco from the game after recording nine hits in 6.1 innings but still left 10 on base, as Notre Dame’s only run came from a sixth-inning RBI single by junior center fielder Alex Robinson to bring the score to 2-1.

Pirates sophomore closer Ryan Harvey relieved DiRocco and recorded the save by pitching the final two and two-thirds innings, but not without some controversy in the ninth.

After senior pinch-hitter David Casey lined a leadoff single into right field down one run in the bottom of the ninth, sophomore designated hitter Adam Norton laid down a sacrifice bunt that caused Harvey to stumble while fielding it. Harvey made an errant throw that hit Norton in the back, but Norton was called for interference as he was ruled to be out of the baseline.

Casey was then ordered to return to first on a play that would have put runners at the corners with no one out. Harvey proceeded to strike out the next two batters to seal the 2-1 Seton Hall victory.

In the second game of the series, the Irish found themselves on the winning side of a 2-1 result, as freshman left fielder Eric Jagielo hit a walk-off RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the 12th inning off sophomore reliever George Fernandez.

Notre Dame left another 11 runners on base, only managing an RBI double in the second inning by sophomore second baseman Frank DeSico, who had a multi-hit game against Pirates sophomore starter Jon Prosinski.

The Irish were led by another stellar nine-inning performance, this time from senior right-hander and Lowe’s Senior Class Award finalist Cole Johnson. Johnson took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before it was broken up by a ground-ball single from sophomore second baseman Mike Genovese.

“[Dupra and Johnson] have been outstanding all year long,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “They did a good job of throwing strikes, competing and making big pitches when you had to. Those guys have done that all year.”

The Irish will take to the road to start a home-away series against Michigan Wednesday at 6:05 p.m., before heading to Rutgers for a crucial series that will weigh heavily into who claims the final spot in the Big East tournament.