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Baseball

Notre Dame holds on to early lead, tops rival Michigan

| Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Notre Dame and No. 17 Michigan renewed a rivalry stretching back to 1892 in a Tuesday game at Frank Eck Stadium, with the Irish building up a big lead before having to hold off the red-hot Wolverines for a 9-5 win.

The Irish (16-11, 6-6 ACC) opened up the scoring in the bottom of the second inning after a walk, a hit and a hit batsman loaded the bases. Junior catcher Ryan Lidge just missed a home run to deep center, but settled for a two-run double and a 2-0 Irish lead. The Wolverines (20-6, 3-0 Big Ten) pulled freshman left-hander William Tribucher after he failed to record an out in the four batters he faced in the frame.

The next batter, senior center fielder Kyle Richardson, drove the third pitch from Michigan freshman right-hander Troy Miller to the fence in left field for another two-run double, staking Notre Dame to a 4-0 lead.

And the Irish second-inning rally wasn’t done yet. With two outs, senior first baseman Zak Kutsulis hit a double of his own, bringing in Richardson from third base to make it 5-0.

Notre Dame added to its lead in the bottom of the fourth inning when sophomore designated hitter and pitcher Jake Shepski hit an opposite-field, two-run home run over the left field wall, extending Notre Dame’s lead to 7-0. Shepski leads the team with five home runs on the season.

All with two outs in the fourth, the Irish strung a walk and two hits together to add another run to the board. Senior left fielder Ricky Sanchez, with his third hit of the night, brought in freshman right fielder Matt Vierling from second base, making the score 8-0. Freshman third baseman Nick Podkul followed that up with an infield single, but the Irish left the bases loaded to end the inning.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Irish extended their lead to 9-0. Leading off the frame, Vierling hit a ball high in the air that carried over the left-field wall with some help from the wind for a solo home run, his third of the season.

Senior left-hander Michael Hearne got the start for Notre Dame, tossing seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball for the win, his third of the season. He threw a total of 103 pitches before being replaced to start the eighth inning. Hearne’s scoreless effort was spoiled by Michigan junior shortstop Michael Brdar, who crushed a ball over the left field fence in the seventh and final frame for the senior.

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

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

The Wolverines then put up a four spot off a combination of Irish sophomores Shepski and Brad Bass in the top of the eighth inning to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 9-5, which is where the score would remain.

“Outside of that one inning there, I thought we played really well from beginning to end,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “All along I felt like this was — the way we’ve been playing for the last two or three weeks — is how I thought we’d play the whole thing. Like I said, we got off to that slow start. But I think it speaks volumes to our team that they’ve stuck with it and they’ve hung in there and they didn’t let the little bit of disappointment of the way we started the year affect anything else.

“It’s a group that’s playing pretty loose. From an offensive standpoint, I feel like teams really have to make quality pitches to get us out. Then, I thought Mike Hearne tonight was outstanding. [Junior left hander] Jim Orwick, for his one pitch, was really good. I thought [sophomore right hander] Brandon [Bielak] looked really good at the end there. … I thought we played all three of the phases really well tonight.”

Richardson, who had career highs with three hits and two doubles en route to two RBIs and two runs scored, put into perspective what a win over a quality team like Michigan means moving forward.

“It’s great, especially with them coming in here on a hot winning streak, being 17th in the country,” Richardson said. “They’re a good team — one of the best in the country. For us to come out here and compete like we did at this point was huge.”

The Irish have a second scheduled midweek game coming up Wednesday night against visiting Valparaiso. Should the weather hold out, the Irish and the Crusaders will meet at Frank Eck Stadium at 6:05 p.m.

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