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Baseball: USF takes two of three to cool down Irish

Brendan Bell | Monday, April 2, 2012

By BRENDAN BELL

Sports Writer

In three close games between Big East foes, Notre Dame defeated South Florida in an extra-inning thriller Friday night, before falling to the Bulls on Saturday and Sunday.

“It was two pretty evenly-matched teams,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “They made a few more plays then we were able to that made the difference for the series.”

On Friday night, Notre Dame (16-10, 4-2 Big East) faced USF’s (20-9, 5-1 Big East) daunting senior left-handed pitcher Andrew Barbosa. The Bulls’ six-foot-eight Barbosa struck out all six batters in the first two innings, but the Irish managed to wear the ace down during the game.

“Barbosa was dominating us early, but we got his pitch count up,” Aoki said. “We got an opportunity to tie it and actually go ahead against him.”

The Irish utilized senior right-handed pitcher Will Hudgins, who wasn’t to be outdone by Barbosa, to take a 3-1 lead.  Hudgins’ scoreless streak was snapped, though, allowing his first run in 25.2 innings off a solo shot by senior catcher Daniel Rockhold. The Irish senior continued his strong performance by getting out of a jam in the bottom of the sixth when South Florida had the bases loaded. The game was all knotted up at 3-3 after nine innings and headed into extras. Notre Dame freshman outfielder Conor Biggio delivered a clutch pinch-hit two-run single to give the Irish a 5-3 lead.  There was no turning back, as the Irish piled on three more runs before closing out the Bulls to end the game, 8-3.  

“Our kids showed good resilience,” Aoki said. “When South Florida had a couple of opportunities to win, we were able to hold them off, and then we were able to put things together in the late innings ourselves.”

The momentum shifted the Bulls’ way Saturday and Sunday, as the Bulls took a page out of Notre Dame’s book and orchestrated two wins thanks to late-inning rallies.

“They turned the tables on us on Saturday and Sunday,” Aoki said. “We were able to make that pitch, that play on Friday, but unfortunately they were able to change that in the last two games.”

Junior right-handed pitcher Adam Norton started Saturday’s game for the Irish and kept the score close, but South Florida’s offense took the game out of reach in the later innings. After falling behind 4-1 early on, Notre Dame rallied when sophomore third baseman Eric Jagielo hit a two-run home run, followed by sophomore first baseman Trey Mancini’s solo shot to tie the game at four. In the top of the seventh, the Bulls exhausted the Irish pitching staff, forcing Notre Dame to go through five pitchers, who allowed two runs and gave up the lead to make it 6-4. South Florida managed to pull away and win, 11-6.

For the rubber match Sunday, Notre Dame sophomore right-handed pitcher Sean Fitzgerald gave the Irish a solid start and kept the Irish in contention. In the fourth inning, freshman right-hander Pat Connaughton stepped on to the mound and provided strong middle relief, as the Irish were able to catch up and tie the game at 3-3. In the seventh inning, the Bulls tallied three more runs and closed Notre Dame out, defeating the Irish, 6-4.

Despite the solid relief by Connaughton on Sunday, Aoki said a key difference between the two teams in the series was the bullpen.

“Pat did a good job out of there today and so did Steve Sabatino,” Aoki said. “But I would like to see it more often. We need to attack the batters and the strike zone and get ahead in counts.”

The Irish will have a chance to make adjustments this week with a matchup against Toledo, before traveling to face Seton Hall this weekend.

“We need to snap this two-game skid and go into the Big East series this weekend with some momentum,” Aoki said.

Notre Dame will host Toledo on Tuesday at 5:35 p.m.

Contact Brendan Bell at

bbell2@nd.edu

In three close games between Big East foes, Notre Dame defeated South Florida in an extra-inning thriller Friday night, before falling to the Bulls on Saturday and Sunday.

“It was two pretty evenly-matched teams,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “They made a few more plays then we were able to that made the difference for the series.”

On Friday night, Notre Dame (16-10, 4-2 Big East) faced USF’s (20-9, 5-1 Big East) daunting senior left-handed pitcher Andrew Barbosa. The Bulls’ six-foot-eight Barbosa struck out all six batters in the first two innings, but the Irish managed to wear the ace down during the game.

“Barbosa was dominating us early, but we got his pitch count up,” Aoki said. “We got an opportunity to tie it and actually go ahead against him.”

The Irish utilized senior right-handed pitcher Will Hudgins, who wasn’t to be outdone by Barbosa, to take a 3-1 lead. Hudgins’ scoreless streak was snapped, though, allowing his first run in 25.2 innings off a solo shot by senior catcher Daniel Rockhold. The Irish senior continued his strong performance by getting out of a jam in the bottom of the sixth when South Florida had the bases loaded. The game was all knotted up at 3-3 after nine innings and headed into extras. Notre Dame freshman outfielder Conor Biggio delivered a clutch pinch-hit two-run single to give the Irish a 5-3 lead.

There was no turning back, as the Irish piled on three more runs before closing out the Bulls to end the game, 8-3.

“Our kids showed good resilience,” Aoki said. “When South Florida had a couple of opportunities to win, we were able to hold them off, and then we were able to put things together in the late innings ourselves.”

The momentum shifted the Bulls’ way Saturday and Sunday, as the Bulls took a page out of Notre Dame’s book and orchestrated two wins thanks to late-inning rallies.

“They turned the tables on us on Saturday and Sunday,” Aoki said. “We were able to make that pitch, that play on Friday, but unfortunately they were able to change that in the last two games.”

Junior right-handed pitcher Adam Norton started Saturday’s game for the Irish and kept the score close, but South Florida’s offense took the game out of reach in the later innings. After falling behind 4-1 early on, Notre Dame rallied when sophomore third baseman Eric Jagielo hit a two-run home run, followed by sophomore first baseman Trey Mancini’s solo shot to tie the game at four. In the top of the seventh, the Bulls exhausted the Irish pitching staff, forcing Notre Dame to go through five pitchers, who allowed two runs and gave up the lead to make it 6-4. South Florida managed to pull away and win, 11-6.

For the rubber match Sunday, Notre Dame sophomore right-handed pitcher Sean Fitzgerald gave the Irish a solid start and kept the Irish in contention. In the fourth inning, freshman right-hander Pat Connaughton stepped on to the mound and provided strong middle relief, as the Irish were able to catch up and tie the game at 3-3. In the seventh inning, the Bulls tallied three more runs and closed Notre Dame out, defeating the Irish, 6-4.

Despite the solid relief by Connaughton on Sunday, Aoki said a key difference between the two teams in the series was the bullpen.

“Pat did a good job out of there today and so did Steve Sabatino,” Aoki said. “But I would like to see it more often. We need to attack the batters and the strike zone and get ahead in counts.”

The Irish will have a chance to make adjustments this week with a matchup against Toledo, before traveling to face Seton Hall this weekend.

“We need to snap this two-game skid and go into the Big East series this weekend with some momentum,” Aoki said.

Notre Dame will host Toledo on Tuesday at 5:35 p.m.

Contact Brendan Bell at bbell2@nd.edu