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Baseball

Michael Hearne pitches Notre Dame to ninth consecutive midweek victory

| Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Notre Dame cruised to yet another midweek victory Tuesday night in Indianapolis, defeating Indiana, 5-0, thanks to another strong pitching performance from senior lefty Michael Hearne.

In the 101st meeting between the two programs, the Irish (24-15, 9-10 ACC) played at Victory Field, home of the minor league Indianapolis Indians, and improved their record to 6-3 in neutral site contests and 9-0 in midweek games. Notre Dame also claimed its first victory against the Hoosiers (23-16, 8-4 Big Ten) since 1998, as the two teams only revived their rivalry last year.

“Anytime you can play in a professional stadium, it’s always pretty special, especially against an in-state rival like Indiana, who’s been having a pretty good year,” junior second baseman Cavan Biggio said. “I look forward to this game because it’s a great atmosphere and a lot of people in the area are IU or ND fans. So I think it’s a perfect place to play a good in-state rival.”

Acting as the home team, Notre Dame jumped out to an early lead in the bottom of the first inning after senior designated hitter Ricky Sanchez doubled, then scored when senior first baseman Zak Kutsulis singled to right field.

In a close play at the plate, home plate umpire Jason Stidham called Sanchez safe, earning the ire of Indiana head coach Chris Lemonis, who argued that freshman catcher Ryan Fineman had tagged Sanchez on a throw from sophomore right fielder Logan Sowers. However, the call stood.

That was all the offense the Irish pitching staff needed the rest of the night. Senior left-hander Michael Hearne entered the matchup off back-to-back complete games but struggled to be as efficient as he had in his previous starts, hurling 106 pitches over six innings. Still he was able to scatter five hits and two walks without giving up a run, extending his streak of scoreless innings to 15. He has given up just two earned runs in his past 31 innings pitched.

“Mike was just being Mike,” Biggio said. “He pounded the zone, got ahead early and he did a really good job of keeping the defense ready to play by pounding the zone and making sure balls got put in play.”

Irish senior left-hander Michael Hearne releases a pitch during Notre Dame’s  9-5 win over UIC at Frank Eck Stadium on March 22.Michael Yu | The Observer

Irish senior left-hander Michael Hearne fires a pitch during Notre Dame’s 9-5 win over UIC at Frank Eck Stadium on March 22.

The Irish defense recorded 27 putouts and one double play without committing an error, while Hearne struck out three. He leads the Irish in wins (6), ERA (2.02) and opponents’ batting average (.213).

“He was just commanding the zone really well,” Biggio said.

In the bottom of the third, Notre Dame padded its lead when junior catcher Ryan Lidge doubled and Biggio followed up with a blast to right field that cleared the fence easily, making the game 3-0. It was Biggio’s fourth home run of the year.

“The first pitch of the at-bat [the pitcher] left up with a fastball,” Biggio said. “So the second pitch he corrected himself and went just a little bit lower for a strike, and I was just ready to hit it and got the bat head out there, made a good swing on it.”

Irish junior second baseman Cavan Biggio follows through on a swing during Notre Dame’s  6-3 win over Chicago State in Frank Eck Stadium on April 12. Biggio finished with two hits, two RBIs and a home run against Indiana on Tuesday.Kathleen Donahue | The Observer

Irish junior second baseman Cavan Biggio follows through on a swing during Notre Dame’s 6-3 win over Chicago State in Frank Eck Stadium on April 12. Biggio finished with two hits, two RBIs and a home run against Indiana on Tuesday.

Lidge jumpstarted the offense once more in the bottom of the fifth inning, getting hit by a pitch to make his way aboard. After Biggio and Sanchez both struck out, Kutsulis homered to right for his second round-tripper on the season. Kutsulis’s three-RBI night extended his team-leading total to 29 this year.

All of Notre Dame’s hits and RBIs on the evening came from its ninth and first through third hitters, as the Irish left just three runners on base, compared to nine for Indiana.

As the season draws to a close, the Irish have not lost a nonconference game since the beginning of March and are perfect in midweek games. Biggio credited that success to the coaches keeping the team focused.

“It’s easy to not play hard in a midweek game or not take it seriously,” Biggio said. “But we’re really big on our team about … taking it one pitch at a time. It doesn’t matter who it is we’re playing, we have to bring confidence and energy.”

Notre Dame has a chance to reach 10-0 in midweek games Wednesday night against Eastern Michigan at home. The Irish are 12-2 at home this season, while the Eagles (14-22, 6-6 MAC) are 6-14 on the road and have lost six of their last seven games.

Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan face off at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium.

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg