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Baseball: Team sweeps opening doubleheader, drops finale

John Sandberg | Monday, February 18, 2013

Notre Dame kicked off its 2013 campaign in Sarasota, Fla., this weekend with back-to-back wins against Florida Gulf Coast and Ohio State on Saturday before suffering a loss to Mercer on Sunday.

Saturday’s doubleheader wins marked the first time since 1992 that the Irish swept their opponents on opening day. 

In the season opener, the Irish (2-1) fell behind early to Florida Gulf Coast (2-1). Notre Dame trailed 4-0 until the bottom of the third, when the Irish scored once. In the fourth, a solo home run by junior first baseman Trey Mancini and a sacrifice fly by freshman shortstop Lane Richards brought the Irish within one.

In the bottom of the ninth, Notre Dame trailed 5-3 when junior infielder/outfielder Eric Jagielo launched a two-run home run beyond the fence in centerfield, tying the ballgame at five apiece. The Irish held the Eagles to no runs in the top of the tenth and, in the bottom half of the inning, an RBI single by senior infielder Frank DeSico brought in freshman outfielder Kyle Richardson to seal a 6-5 victory for Notre Dame.

“I was walking up to the plate, and I just had this calmness and confidence come over me,” DeSico said. “I’ve been in that situation before and I just told [sophomore outfielder] Conor [Biggio] as he was walking back to the dugout that I was going to pick him up.

“I knew it was a situation where I was going to see some off-speed. … I just told myself throughout the at bat to stay calm and stay clear-headed. … I stayed short to the ball and did what I do best, which is hit line drives.”

Junior right-hander Sean Fitzgerald started on the mound for the Irish, giving up five runs on seven hits in five innings pitched. Freshman reliever Nick McCarty earned the win in relief, throwing five innings and giving up no runs on four hits.

The nightcap against Ohio State (1-2) wasn’t as suspenseful as the first game of the day, but the Irish came away on top of a 13-3 rout. DeSico’s game winning hit in the opener propelled him into the second contest, and he produced four hits, including a double and a homerun. 

The Irish logged 16 total hits against the Buckeyes. Jagielo homered and racked up five RBIs, while sophomore infielder/catcher Phil Mosey also homered. Notre Dame led 8-3 after six innings played and then tacked on five more runs to end the game.

“We just had a confidence after a big win, coming back after being down pretty much the whole game,” DeSico said. “We brought that confidence into the second game. I was really proud of the guys being able to flush the victory before and being able to refocus and get after Ohio State.”

Senior starter Adam Norton, who is DeSico’s roommate, earned the credit for the win. Norton threw seven innings, giving up three runs on 10 hits and walking none. 

“Every single game Adam Norton pitches, you know he’s going to come out and compete,” DeSico said. “He has four or five pitches that he throws consistently that are all very effective. For a pitcher to be able to locate four or five pitches in college, even at the highest level, no team can handle that.”

In the Sunday finale, Notre Dame again staged a late-inning rally. Trailing by one in the ninth, Jagielo drew a two-out walk. Mancini stepped into the box for the potential winning run and drove a ball to deep left-centerfield, but the ball couldn’t fight the strong Florida winds and fell for the final out, as Notre Dame lost, 5-4. 

The Notre Dame offense sputtered against Mercer (3-0) until the seventh inning. Trailing 5-2, Biggio and DeSico both reached base to start the inning. Two batters later, Jagielo doubled, bringing in Biggio. Mancini followed with a sacrifice fly to make the score 5-4. 

Despite trailing, DeSico said Notre Dame was confident they could come back as they had the prior day.

“We kind of had some slow bats, but, even with that, we had some loud outs early,” DeSico said. “There’s no real panic factor that sets in [when Notre Dame trails early]. There’s a calmness over the whole team that really unexplainable. It’s awesome to be a part of it and as a leader it really makes your job easy.”

Freshman starter David Hearne saddled the loss in his collegiate debut but turned in a solid performance. Hearne threw five innings, giving up three earned runs on four hits, while walking two and striking out eight. 

Junior reliever Dan Slania also made his first appearance the season Sunday, throwing the eighth and ninth innings. The junior right-hander allowed no runs and no hits, while striking out three and walking one Mercer batter. 

“It’s a good thing to have that sort of humbling experience, knowing you aren’t going to win every close game,” DeSico said. “But, as long as you give your best effort and you’re willing to compete, that’s going to take you a long way. You’ll win more games than you lose if you have that mentality.”

The Irish will now turn their attention to a week of practice before traveling to New Orleans to play Tulane on Friday. 

Contact John Sandberg at [email protected]