ND sweeps weekend series in Pittsburgh
Brian Hartnett | Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Notre Dame continued its string of road success over the weekend, sweeping Pittsburgh in a three-game series during which it surrendered only five runs.
The Irish (20-10, 6-9 ACC) took both games of a doubleheader Saturday, winning 8-1 and 7-1, respectively, before closing out the series with an 8-3 win over the Panthers (11-19, 4-11) on Sunday.
With the victories, Notre Dame won its second consecutive conference road series and earned its first conference road sweep since April 2012.
Regular weekend starters freshman right-hander Brandon Bielak and junior right-hander Nick McCarty led the Irish in Saturday’s twin bill. Bielak shut out the Panthers over seven innings in the first game, allowing four hits and striking out eight, while McCarty held Pittsburgh to two hits and one run in six-and-two-thirds innings in the later game.
Notre Dame jumped to early leads in both games Saturday. The Irish scored seven runs in the first four innings of the first game, while they used a four-run second inning and two-run fourth inning to jump out to an early 6-0 advantage in the second game.
“We’ve been pretty good when we’ve scored first all year long,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “To be able to do that is good. It gives the pitchers more of a comfort level. It allows the hitters to just settle into something where they’re not pressing to try to make up runs.
“Those are things you’re always talking about trying to not let affect you, but the fact of the matter is that when you’re chasing runs early, it does have a bit of a different feel to it.”
The bottom of Notre Dame’s lineup helped key the Irish in the doubleheader victories, as the hitters in the No. 7, 8 and 9 slots combined for 10 hits over the two games.
“Those guys led to a lot, especially [junior shortstop] Lane Richards, [junior first baseman] Zak Kutsulis and [senior leftfielder] Mac Hudgins in games one and two being down there helped us out a lot,” Aoki said. “… As we hopefully start to get healthy … I hope that we get that length to our lineup we had earlier in the year.”
Notre Dame had a more difficult start Sunday, as Pittsburgh erased an early three-run deficit by scoring three runs in the first inning off Irish freshman right-hander Evy Ruibal. After sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer relieved Ruibal in the second inning, however, the Irish did not allow another run, and the team retook a lead it would not relinquish on a single by senior right fielder Robert Youngdahl.
Notre Dame broke from its usual midweek schedule Tuesday and traveled to Four Winds Field to face the South Bend Cubs, the single-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, in an exhibition game, losing 5-3 in seven innings.
The two teams were hitless until the bottom of the fourth inning, when the Cubs scored the first run of the game on a sacrifice fly. The Irish tied the game up in the top of the fifth when senior designated hitter Conor Biggio walked with the bases loaded, but the Cubs broke the game open with three runs in the bottom of the inning before going on to the victory.
“It was nice to come over here and have an ongoing relationship with the South Bend Cubs,” Aoki said. “… More than anything else, I was pretty impressed with their outfield. It didn’t seem like there was a whole lot of green grass with those three guys running around.”
Notre Dame will resume play tonight when the Irish face Valparaiso at Frank Eck Stadium at 6:05 p.m. Sophomore left-hander Scott Tully will make the midweek start.