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Baseball: First Big East series brings sweep of Pittsburgh

Andrew Owens | Monday, March 26, 2012

Due to a strong showing from their pitching staff and timely hitting throughout the weekend, the Irish swept Pittsburgh in a perfect 3-0 start to conference play.

The sweep gave the squad its first home sweep to open Big East play since 1998 and the first sweep overall to begin its conference schedule since 2008, with both series coming against Georgetown.

Notre Dame (15-7, 3-0 Big East) won 6-5 Friday in dramatic fashion, with a leadoff, walk-off home run by freshman right fielder Ryan Bull.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “I had never done something like that before. It was really exhilarating and my parents were here [from Minnesota], so I’m just glad they could see it.”

The Irish trailed the Panthers (10-11, 0-3) by four runs in the fourth inning and two in the eighth inning, but rallied back to tie the contest on a one-out, two-run double by sophomore first baseman Trey Mancini.

“I just think it was an overall really good team effort,” Bull said. “Everybody contributed in a positive manner and we were stringing hits together, putting up some runs and when somebody may have had a play that wasn’t so hot, somebody else was there to pick them up and we were all contributing.”

Junior pitcher Adam Norton followed Bull’s performance with a stellar outing on the mound in Notre Dame’s 3-2 win Saturday. The right-hander tossed 8.1 innings of five-hit ball, yielding only two first-inning runs. All five of the game’s runs were scored in the first inning.

“[Our pitchers] are strike-throwers and I think all three are great competitors, in particular Norty,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “He just goes out there and has no fear about putting his stuff in the strike zone. He doesn’t seem to get rattled … I really think, from a numbers standpoint, we’re a little behind what those guys did last year, but they’re every bit as effective.”

The Irish erased a 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the first with a two-run single from junior catcher Joe Hudson. Senior infielder Tommy Chase gave Notre Dame a lead it would not relinquish with a squeeze bunt the next at-bat.

Notre Dame completed the sweep Sunday, as it held on despite a late Pittsburgh rally to win 7-5. The Irish scored three runs in the first inning for the second consecutive game and added three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. Aoki said Notre Dame’s timely hitting helped the squad hold on, despite the awakened Panther bats.

“I thought we put so much pressure on their pitching staff to have to make pitches, and credit to them because they did in a lot of situations,” he said. “The kids played great, they competed great, it was a really good weekend.”

Aoki said the Irish will enjoy the victory before suiting up Tuesday at Illinois-Chicago, with Notre Dame looking for its sixth-consecutive victory after a perfect homestand.

“I hope that [the players] draw some confidence from [the series],” he said. “I think we saw some kids [Sunday] to be perfectly honest that had first-time-in-the-conference butterflies … I thought it was a situation where we can build on it and hopefully move forward.”

Notre Dame and Illinois-Chicago will face off Tuesday, with the first pitch slated for 7:05 p.m.


Contact Andrew Owens at [email protected]