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Baseball: Irish stop six-game slide, sweep Quinnipiac

Isaac Lorton | Monday, April 22, 2013

It was an eventful weekend for the Irish, as they swept Quinnipiac, ended a six-game losing streak and raised awareness and money for Lou Gehrig’s Disease research through their Strike Out ALS game Saturday afternoon. 

Due to inclement weather Friday night, Saturday’s game became a double-header, as Notre Dame (22-15) defeated the Bobcats (10-24) 9-6, then 6-0 in the Strike Out ALS game. On Sunday, the Irish won 5-1. 

Irish coach Mik Aoki said the weekend was special for him because one of his former players at Boston College, Peter Frates, was diagnosed with ALS, the official name for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in March 2011. Since then, the Frates family has traveled around the country to raise awareness of and seek a cure for ALS. Aoki said he was pleased with how the weekend went beyond the sweep. 

“I think just being able to put [the Strike Out ALS game] on, despite the results, was great,” Aoki said. “I’m indebted to Quinnipiac for being a part of it and being so gracious. It’s a cause that means a lot to me ⎯ a very personal cause ⎯ and I thought it went off really well. That was really, really gratifying for me.”   

The Irish offense awakened for the weekend series and struck early and often. The middle of the lineup, accompanied by two stellar pitching performances from senior right-hander Adam Norton (8-1) and junior right-hander Sean Fitzgerald (2-3), powered Notre Dame to a very solid weekend.

“I thought we swung the bats really well all weekend long.” Aoki said. “I thought even our outs were loaded. Our bats were much more competitive, we took walks when they presented themselves. I was pleased with our offense this weekend.”  

In the first game Saturday, the Irish scored three runs in the bottom half of the first and second innings to take an early 6-0 lead. 

Quinnipiac would not be silenced, however, and mounted a comeback. The Irish led 7-2 going into the top of the seventh, but the Bobcats scored four in the top of the inning to cut the lead to one. Aoki praised the team for not letting the rough inning turn into anything more. 

“That first game, I think we got a little sloppy in the middle,” Aoki said.” I thought we could have pitched a little better, but we stayed composed.” 

Notre Dame was quick to respond and earned two much-needed insurance runs in the bottom half of the eighth. With runners on second and third and one out, Quinnipiac elected to intentionally walk junior first baseman Trey Mancini – who had already smacked a three-run triple in the second – to load the bases. Sophomore designated hitter Ryan Bull came to the plate and hit a rope to right field to bring in two runs and make the game 9-6. 

Junior closer Dan Slania came in for the top of the ninth and sat down the three Bobcat batters he faced, ending the game on an emphatic called third strike. With the save, Slania tied the school record for most saves in a career at 25.

Dominant pitching from Norton and Fitzgerald marked the second game Saturday and the game Sunday. 

“[Fitzgerald and Norton] were great,” Aoki said. “Fitz got back to being who he is. He was in the strike zone, his slider was solid. And Norty was just Norty. He plugs along that way, it’s great.”   

Saturday’s second game was the Strike Out ALS Game. The crowd was a sea of red, as hats and shirts emblazoned with the No. 3 were worn in honor of Frates and for everyone with ALS. Norton was all for striking out the Bobcats, as he threw a five-hit, complete-game shutout with nine strikeouts, tying a career high.

Notre Dame’s offense jumped to an early lead for the second time that day, as the triple threat of junior third baseman Eric Jagielo, Mancini and Bull struck once again. 

Jagielo hit a laser up the middle with two men on, bringing in senior second baseman Frank DeSico. With runners on first and third, Mancini hit a sacrifice fly to center, then Bull hit an RBI double, scoring Jagielo from first. Freshman shortstop Lane Richards capped off the inning with a sacrifice fly to make the Irish lead 4-0. That was all the lead Norton needed to finish the game out for a 6-0 Notre Dame victory.

On Sunday, Notre Dame spread out its scoring compared to the first two games in the series but went on to win 5-1. The Irish scored one run in the second, fifth and seventh innings, and scored two in the third. Fitzgerald pitched seven innings, giving up one run on four hits with four strikeouts, and earned the win. 

The heart of the lineup of Jagielo, Mancini and Bull went 17-33, with 16 RBI, 11 runs and nine extra-base hits on the weekend. 

The Irish next play Toledo on Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium at 5:35 p.m.

Contact Isaac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu