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Baseball: Irish take two of three from Villanova

Isaac Lorton | Monday, April 8, 2013

The Irish had a rough three days but still managed to take two out of three in the weekend series against Villanova. The Irish went 4-3 on Friday night and 11-8 on Saturday before losing 10-6 Sunday afternoon.
“We were really fortunate to take two out of three this weekend,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “I thought we played as bad as a three game stretch as we have played all year and we still managed to get two…so that’s good. Hopefully it is a funky three game stretch and we get better.”  
In Friday’s game, No. 20 Notre Dame (19-10) edged out the Wildcats (9-21) in a contest where both teams struggled to score runners on base. Going into the 11th inning, the No. 20 Irish were 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position, while Villanova batters went 3-for-19. In the 11th, freshman catcher Ricky Sanchez hit a walk-off single up the middle to give the Irish the 4-3 victory.
The middle of the lineup jumpstarted the scoring drive by Notre Dame in the bottom of the fourth. Junior third baseman Eric Jagielo led off with a double, then junior first baseman Trey Mancini hit a sacrifice fly to right field to move Jagielo over to third. Sophomore left fielder Ryan Bull then grounded out to the right side to bring in Jagielo. The Irish got another run in the bottom of the fifth when Wildcats starting pitcher Pat Young, a junior, plunked Jagielo with the bases loaded.
Villanova and the Irish both tallied a run in the sixth to make the score 3-1.
In the top of the eighth the Irish ran into trouble. Junior closer Dan Slania came in for a two-inning save with runners on second and third. Slania struck out the first batter, but Wildcats junior catcher John Cialone smacked a double to right-center to bring the runners in and tie the game at 3-3.
It was Slania’s first blown save of the season and only the third blown save of his college career.
Notre Dame’s pitching was uncharacteristically wild over the course of the weekend.
“It’s understandable to a certain extent with [sophomore pitcher Pat Connaughton] getting his legs under him a bit,” Aoki said. “But for the rest of the staff was just inexcusable to do that, especially some of the guys that it came from, guys that shouldn’t be [giving up walks]. We created a ton of offense for them.”  
Connaughton recorded his third start of the year and was relieved by freshman Nick McCarty. Going into the game Notre Dame led the Big East in fewest walks per game, but the Irish gave up nine walks and one hit-by-pitch. Slania (3-1) eventually picked up the win and Villanova junior reliever Chris Haggarty received the loss after the Irish scored in the bottom of the 11th inning.
On Saturday the Irish and Wildcats battled back and forth before Mancini hit a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the sixth to make the score 9-6 and put the Irish ahead for good. Mancini had a career high six RBIs in one game and was one RBI away from tying the school record of seven in one game.
Irish junior pitcher Adam Norton kept his perfect 7-0 season record intact largely because of Mancini’s grand slam. Norton was on the verge of earning a loss or no decision in the middle of the sixth, as Villanova led 6-4. Norton allowed six runs in six innings, three of them earned, as well as 10 hits, seven strikeouts and two walks.
The Irish got the lead early, scoring one run in the bottom of the first and two in the bottom of the second. In the fourth and fifth the Wildcats struck back. Villanova freshman first baseman Max Beermann hit a hanging curveball out of the park with Norton on the mound in the fourth and an inning later the Wildcats scored three more runs on an error and a few miscues to take the 4-3 lead. Notre Dame tied the game at 4-4 on a sacrifice fly by Mancini in the bottom of the inning, but the Wildcats again came back and tallied two more runs in the top of the sixth. Mancini hit the grand slam in the bottom of the sixth, icing Villanova. The teams weren’t done scoring runs: Notre Dame scored two more and the Wildcats earned three more before the end of the game, but the Irish held on for a 11-8 victory.   
Aoki said the Irish pitching was not up to typical Notre Dame standards on Sunday, which led to opportunities for the Wildcats.
“[The problems we had] all stem from the pitching,” Aoki said. “We were, from the second inning on, put on our heels. We never got back into. When we opened the door for them, they kicked it wide open.”
On Sunday, the Irish couldn’t keep up with the Wildcats. The Wildcats took advantage of the numerous walks issued by Notre Dame’s pitchers. Six of the 10 runs scored by Villanova were players who were walked or hit by a pitch.
This was Villanova’s first win at Notre Dame. Previously the Wildcats were 0-18-1 when visiting Eck Stadium.  
Villanova broke the scoreless tie in the top of the second inning when Irish sophomore starting pitcher Matt Ternowchek loaded the bases with no outs. Ternowchek walked in two, and a bad hop and a sacrfice fly gave the Wildcats at a 4-0 lead before freshman Zak Kutsulis was called on from the bullpen to end the inning. Ternowchek was charged with the loss, while Wildcats starter sophomore Josh Harris threw 134 pitches and earned a win.
Bull, however, batted in five runs in Sunday’s game, a career best.
“It’s important that [Bull] provides protection to [Jagielo and Mancini],” Aoki said. “For Bull to have the day he did, I thought that was good.”
Two of Bull’s RBI came in the bottom of the third with a two-out single while the bases were loaded. Notre Dame cut the Wildcats lead to one in the third, but Villanova scored again in the fifth to make the game 5-3. In the top of the seventh, the Wildcats scored five runs off of Irish reliever Sean Fitzgerald to make the game 10-3. All five of those runs came with two outs.
The Irish picked up a run in the seventh on an RBI single from Bull and added two more on another Bull single in the bottom of the ninth, but it was not enough to catch up to the Wildcats.    
The Irish next take on Michigan on Tuesday at 5:35 p.m. at Frank Eck Stadium.
Contact Isaac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu