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Baseball: Irish win three of four games at tournament

Isaac Lorton | Monday, March 4, 2013

The No. 22 Irish won three of their four games this weekend at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic in Cary, N.C., including a 9-4 routing of Massachusetts, a 12th inning walk-off for a 3-2 win against Tennessee and a 3-0 shutout of No. 25 Virginia Tech.

In the last matchup Sunday, Notre Dame (8-2) conceded a 4-3 loss to Rhode Island.

Irish coach Mik Aoki said he was pleased with the performances displayed over the weekend.

“Overall, it was a good weekend,” Aoki said. “We faced some outstanding arms and some great teams. We got some timely hits, and we played well. Dropping the game against Rhode Island put a tough spin on the weekend. When you are playing four games in a weekend, it’s hard to win them all, but, overall, it was a good weekend.”         

At 8-2, the Irish are off to their best start since 1960. Notre Dame is playing team ball, Aoki said, and key players are stepping up when needed.

Aoki said one key player for the Irish is senior right-hander Adam Norton, who pitched a complete game shutout against the Hokies (11-2) on Saturday. In his third career complete game, Norton (3-0) threw 108 pitches (76 strikes), struck out five and walked one. It is the first time a Notre Dame pitcher has thrown a complete-game shutout against a top-25 team since former player Danny Tamayo did against Mississippi State on May 28, 2000.

“[Norton’s] performance was phenomenal,” Aoki said. “Virginia Tech is one of the better offensive teams we will play this year. There’s little margin of error out there against a team like that, and he pitched great.”     

All Norton needed was a little bit of offense, and junior first baseman Trey Mancini provided it, driving in all three of Notre Dame’s runs. Mancini hit a two-run homer down the right-field line in the fourth inning and added an extra insurance run in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single.

Mancini did not play in Friday night’s game against Tennessee (4-7) due to a shoulder injury.

The Irish capped off a perfect Friday in the 12th inning against the Volunteers. The Irish and Volunteers were deadlocked at one run apiece until the top of the ninth inning, when Tennessee sophomore third baseman Will Maddox hit a two-out RBI triple to make the game 2-1. In the bottom of the ninth, Irish junior third baseman Eric Jagielo reached base on a dropped routine fly ball and was moved over to third. With two outs, Irish freshman shortstop Lane Richards singled to left field to bring in Jagielo and move the game to extras. Junior right-handed reliever Dan Slania was awarded the win. Slania (1-0) pitched 3.1 perfect innings, shutting down all ten Volunteer batters faced and fanning three. The Irish missed two game-winning opportunities in the 10th and 11th, but Irish sophomore first baseman Ryan Bull came through with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th to give the Irish a 3-2 win.

“It was a clutch hit, and [Bull] put a good swing on it,” Aoki said. “Tennessee had some really good arms throughout, and we had some opportunities earlier on that we didn’t convert on.
But we got some runners on at first and second, and Bull came through.”

Friday’s game against Massachusetts (1-2) was characterized by Notre Dame’s offense. Bull led the Irish offense with three hits, Mancini hit a three-run homer and junior catcher Forrest Johnson had a three-run triple.  Sophomore right-handed pitcher Matt Ternowchek (1-0) pitched five scoreless innings in relief with eight strikeouts to pick up his first win of the season.

On Sunday, Rhode Island (2-9) took advantage of an Irish error in the top of the ninth and bested the Irish 4-3. Notre Dame took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but the Rams scored three in the top of the third to make it 3-1. The Irish tied the game up at three in the bottom half of the inning, and the game remained tied until the ninth. Rams senior first baseman Pat Fortunato reached first on an error when Irish freshman reliever Nick McCarty (2-1) missed touching first base as he covered on a ground ball.

Despite the loss, Aoki said he is happy with how the Irish have started their season.

“We have played a challenging schedule up to this point, and it is good to see us where we are at,” Aoki said. “We are very good team playing well. We need to worry about what we do and not everything else – play as close to or at our potential and we will be great.”

The Irish will travel to Los Angeles to compete in the Dodgertown Classic, which begins Friday.     

Contact Isaac Lorton at [email protected]