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Baseball: Irish win two on opening weekend

Brendan Bell | Sunday, February 19, 2012

Notre Dame got the better of the Big Ten Conference over the weekend in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge, defeating Illinois and Iowa before falling to Purdue.

Junior catcher Joe Hudson set the tone for the weekend in Friday’s 13-12 win against Illinois (1-2) by hitting a go-ahead solo shot in the top of the ninth inning. Hudson went 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs for the game.

“In Joe Hudson’s case the numbers speak for themselves,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “He swung the bat really well, but also looked comfortable up there and had big hits in timely moments.”

Sophomore first baseman and 2011 Big East Rookie of the Year Trey Mancini went 4-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs. Senior left-handed pitcher Steve Sabatino made a return to the mound for the first time since 2010 after coming off Tommy John surgery, tossing four innings of relief. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Dan Slania earned the victory for the Irish, pitching 2.2 innings while allowing only one run in relief.

Saturday’s game against Iowa (1-2) was played at a different pace, as Notre Dame (2-1) orchestrated a late rally to win 5-2. Junior right-handed pitcher Adam Norton threw a complete game and did not surrender a run to the Hawkeyes in the final 7.1 innings. Norton tallied four strikeouts and only gave up one walk to the Hawkeyes.

“After a slugfest Friday, it was great to have Adam go out there and be able to give the bullpen a rest,” Aoki said. “We had Dan Slania available, but there is a reason that we have Adam Norton in that second spot in the pitching rotation. He has the ability to go deep in games and he throws a lot of pitches that force the hitters to make bad contact early in the count.”

Iowa pitcher Matt Dermody could not find the plate, throwing 113 pitches in 4.2 innings. Despite Norton’s strong performance and Dermody’s struggles, the Irish still found themselves down 2-1 for most of the game.

In the fifth inning, Dermody walked the bases loaded and found himself in a jam. Iowa pitcher Ricky Sandquist replaced Dermody, though, and shut the Irish down to escape the inning. In the eighth inning, the Irish finally made a rally and scored four runs to take a 5-2 lead. Hudson continued to make contact at the plate for the Irish, going 2-for-2 with two doubles and a RBI.

In the final game of the weekend, Notre Dame fell to rival Purdue 15-8. The Irish held the lead until the Boilermakers (3-0) scored nine runs in the sixth inning.

“We need to give credit where credit is due as Purdue played a great game, but in large part the sixth inning was also our own creation,” Aoki said. “If we had given up only two or three runs in that inning, it would have been a different ball game. We threw some balls away and could not find the strike zone well, and Purdue capitalized.”

While the Irish could not accomplish the Big Ten sweep, the team learned a lot about its strengths and weaknesses by facing challenges early in the season.

“We need to address our sixth, seventh and eighth innings so that we can get the ball to Danny Slania to close it out,” Aoki said. “For the first weekend, we played infinitely better offensively than we did at any point last year.

“We will just continue to get better game by game and hopefully improve throughout the season.”

The Irish will look to improve against every opponent, starting Saturday when they have a double-header against Hofstra in Cary, N.C.


Contact Brendan Bell at [email protected]