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Baseball: Mancini clinches victory

John Sandberg | Thursday, April 4, 2013

Scoring came at a premium Wednesday night in a pitchers’ duel at Frank Eck Stadium, with No. 20 Notre Dame ultimately pulling out a late-inning 3-1 victory over Valparaiso.

Notre Dame (17-9, 2-4 Big East) trailed Valparaiso (10-17, 1-5 Horizon) 1-0 in the eighth when junior first baseman Trey Mancini stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Mancini ripped a ball off Valparaiso reliever Ben Mahar to the outfield. The ball slipped under the glove of the Valparaiso center fielder, scoring all three Notre Dame runs and giving the Irish a 3-1 lead.

“When I stepped up to the plate I was just thinking, at the very least get a sac fly,” Mancini said. “It was 2-0 and I was just sitting dead red. I knew he’d be coming with a fastball and I was ready for it and made good contact.”

Mancini’s heroics spoiled an outstanding starting pitching effort from Valparaiso starter Dalton Lundeen. The left hander threw 7.0 scoreless innings, scattering seven Irish hits while walking none and striking out three.

“It was kind of frustrating because we didn’t have a lot of opportunities with runners in scoring position,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “But when we did have runners in scoring position, I thought we had really good at bats. … I thought our at bats got progressively better against [Lundeen] as the game went on, … but you give a lot of credit to that kid.”

Notre Dame’s pitchers were also solid. Freshman right hander David Hearne started for the Irish and pitched 4.1 innings, giving up one run on three hits while walking two. Freshman left hander Zak Kutsulis was strong in relief, pitching 2.2 innings and giving up no runs on one hit.

Freshman right hander Nick McCarty was the winning pitcher for the Irish, throwing one inning and giving up no runs and no hits. Junior right hander Sean Fitzgerald recorded the save, his first of the season.

The Irish threatened in the sixth inning after senior outfielder Charlie Markson led things off with a one-out single. Junior third baseman Eric Jagielo followed with a single of his own and Markson advanced to third on some aggressive base running.

With Irish runners on the corners, Mancini ripped a ball directly at the Valparaiso third baseman, who stepped on the third base bag after making the catch to complete the double play and get the Crusaders out of the inning.  

Valparaiso notched their lone run in the fifth inning when Hearne walked the leadoff man and hit the next Crusader to come to the plate. Two batters later, third baseman Andy Burns delivered a line drive RBI single off freshman Irish reliever Zak Kutsulis to give Valparaiso a 1-0 lead.

With the score still 1-0 heading in the eighth inning, senior second baseman Frank DeSico reached on an error with one out. Markson and Jagielo then reached on back to back walks, loading the bases and setting the stage for Mancini’s heroics.

After a four-hit performance yesterday and another hit in today’s game, Mancini is now batting .340 on the year with 23 RBIs.

“I’m feeling really good,” Mancini said. “The wind blowing in in left field today kind of helped because I knew I wasn’t going to hit one out. So I was just thinking [opposite field] because that’s when I hit best.”

Notre Dame returns to action at Frank Eck Stadium on Friday with a game against Villanova at 5:35 p.m.

Contact John Sandberg at  jsandbe1@nd.edu