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Baseball: Eagles no match for ND offense

Andrew Gastelum | Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Just four days after playing in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Irish freshman pitcher Pat Connaughton took the mound for his collegiate debut in Notre Dame’s 11-4 win over Eastern Michigan on Tuesday.

On a limited pitch count of 31 pitches, Connaughton impressed in his 1 2/3 innings pitched, topping out at 94 mph in front of his basketball teammates, Irish coach Mike Brey and Notre Dame basketball coaching legend Digger Phelps. All five of the freshman’s outs came from strikeouts, often blowing past opposing hitters with a steady diet of fastballs and the occasional, deceptive curve.

“I was really excited, and I knew coach Brey and all the basketball kids were coming,” Connaughton said. “I tried not to think about the loss with basketball and this kept me occupied.

“I got the call Saturday afternoon from [Irish coach Mik Aoki] about what their plan was and seeing if it was ready and alright … We have beaten a few good teams, so I am just trying to help out any way I can.”

Aoki said Connaughton’s performance was right on par with his expectations and plans to allow the right-hander plenty of time to find his rhythm.

“I thought Pat did well,” Aoki said. “He did as I would expect. There were some pitches that were big misses of the strike zone and then he made some quality pitches. The way I have always seen Pat is when you put him up against the wall … he has a knack of making good pitches.

“31 pitches allows him to be available this weekend against Pitt and it gets his feet wet on the mound. Right now we have got to get him consistent outings so he can get his pitch count up. Maybe at one point we decide he needs to be a weekend guy for us.”

The Irish (11-7) gave Connaughton the early lead with a two-run first inning highlighted by back-to-back two-out RBI singles from sophomore first baseman Trey Mancini and junior catcher Joe Hudson. The heart of the lineup for the Irish – consisting of sophomore third baseman Eric Jagielo, Mancini and Hudson – combined for eight hits and six RBIs to lead Notre Dame to the comfortable victory.

“They have given us quality at-bats all year long and today was no exception, ” Aoki said. “To be honest if those guys aren’t going well we as a club are kind of scuffling along.”

Aoki pulled Connaughton – who was in line for the win – towards the end of the second with a 2-0 lead, replacing him with senior left-hander Steve Sabatino. The Irish pulled out to a 4-1 lead following three-straight doubles in the third, but the Eagles (5-13) came back to tie the game at four in the top of the fifth. Sabatino was shaky in his 2 2/3 innings of relief, giving up four earned runs.

But the Irish responded quickly in the bottom half of the fifth with two runs to take a 6-4 lead after a deep blast to right from Jagielo for his team-leading fourth home run of the year. Jagielo finished 3-for-5 and was a triple short of the cycle.

Meanwhile up two in the sixth, Aoki summoned senior southpaw reliever Ryan Richter to get the Irish out of a one-out bases-loaded jam, the Eagles’ last threat to the Irish lead.

“It was big because we kind of lost control of the game,” Aoki said. “I don’t know if [Eastern Michigan] ever took control of it but it was a jump ball at that point … Ryan getting us out of that inning was a big part of us starting to pull away from them a little bit.”

In the bottom of the seventh, Notre Dame exploded for a six-run outburst to put the game out of reach, assisted by two errors and a wild pitch. Freshman left fielder Conor Biggio opened the floodgates with a two-run double to deep left-center as the Irish went through 10 batters in the inning.

Notre Dame will try to build a winning streak with a 5:35 p.m. home game today against IPFW at Frank Eck Stadium.


Contact Andrew Gastelum at [email protected]