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Baseball

Notre Dame wins two at Irish Baseball Classic

| Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Irish won games against Gonzaga and Incarnate Word in San Antonio on Friday and Saturday, but on Sunday they concluded the Irish Baseball Classic the same way they opened it on Thursday: with a one-run loss to Santa Clara.

Irish senior pitcher Sean Fitzgerald winds up in a game against Quinnipiac on April 21. Fitzgerald earned a win Saturday against Incarnate Word.Joseph Monardo | The Observer

Irish senior pitcher Sean Fitzgerald winds up in a game against Quinnipiac on April 21. Fitzgerald earned a win Saturday against Incarnate Word.

“Overall I thought our level of play was much improved over Florida Atlantic,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said, referring to the team that took two of three from Notre Dame the previous weekend. “We had couple of tough losses against Santa Clara, but overall we played well.”

After a 2-1 loss to Santa Clara (5-4) on Thursday, the Irish (3-4) bounced back with a 3-2 win against Gonzaga (2-6) on Friday. Irish junior pitcher and Kansas State transfer Robert Youngdahl took the mound for his first start as a member of the Irish, and though he struggled to find the strike zone, at times he was aided by his defense, who turned three double plays in the first four innings. It was a welcome sight after the team accumulated 10 errors during their three-game series against Florida Atlantic.

“I think the way we played in games two and three against Florida Atlantic were really an aberration,” Aoki said. “To kick the ball around the way that we did last weekend was out of the norm. It wasn’t who we are. We got back to playing much more like who we actually are. I think we’re a pretty solid defensive club, and I think we played that way this weekend. We didn’t reinvent the wheel, we just got back to laying to our capabilities.”

Youngdahl exited the game in the sixth inning without giving up any runs and stranded 11 Bulldogs runners. The Irish put their first run on the board in the second inning when sophomore center fielder Kyle Richardson and senior catcher Forrest Johnson hit consecutive doubles. Notre Dame manufactured two more in the eighth, scoring freshman second baseman Cavan Biggio on a bloop single from Richardson and Youngdahl on an  error that allowed Johnson to reach base. Though sophomore pitcher Michael Hearne and junior pitcher Cristian Torres each allowed a run in the top of the ninth, the Irish escaped with the win.

On Saturday, Irish senior pitcher Sean Fitzgerald allowed two runs on four hits in 7 2/3 innings of work, setting the Irish up for an 8-2 win over Incarnate Word (2-5).

Notre Dame scored three runs in the first inning as Incarnate Word committed two errors, and the Irish added runs in the fifth and sixth innings before tacking on three insurance runs in the seventh. The Cardinals committed four errors in the game. In the sixth, junior designated hitter Blaise Lezynski got on base via throwing error, advanced to second on a wild pitch and later scored from third on another throwing error. Youngdahl, sophomore left fielder Zak Kutsulis and Biggio all had multi-hit games. Biggio has reached base in all seven games played so far, and has recorded a hit in six.

“Cavan was a pretty high-profile recruit,” Aoki said. “To see him playing the way that he has doesn’t really come as a surprise. I think how under-control he is and the way in which he plays … the world just kind of slows down for him. And I think that is really unusual for a freshman. No matter how highly-touted you are, there’s a time when the game starts to move quickly in your mind, and he’s never looked like he’s coming out of his approach in this league. Defensively, I think he plays very steadily. He’s just really good, and certainly it’s great to see.”

But after two days of promising play, the Irish again fell to Santa Clara on Sunday afternoon, 8-7.

The Irish took a three-run lead in the first and added another in the top of the second, but in the bottom of the inning the Broncos closed the deficit with four runs of their own. Both teams added a run in the fourth inning, and Santa Clara took a one-run lead in the fifth. When the Irish tied it up in the sixth, the Broncos responded by adding two more of their own. The Irish added a final run in the seventh but could not pull even. Kutsulis had four hits, three of them doubles, and Richardson went 3-for-5, while freshman third baseman Kyle Fiala scored twice. Notre Dame used six pitchers for eight innings of work.

“Today was a little bit of a back-and-forth affair,” Aoki said. “It was a good college baseball game to be a part of. “

The Irish will return south for the USA Baseball-Irish Classic in Cary N.C., next weekend. They will face UCLA in the first of four games at the USA baseball complex beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu

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