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Irish win one game, drop two against Hokies

| Monday, March 24, 2014

Notre Dame opened up its first “home” series away from the familiar confines of Frank Eck Stadium by collecting its first ACC victory over Virginia Tech on Friday, but the Irish lost both games over the next two days to give the Hokies the series win.

“We’re right there, but sometimes we’re not making those plays, be it mentally or physically ¾ or even sometimes both ¾ that are going to help us win those games,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “I think our hearts are there, but it’s been enough where we can’t overcome making four or five different mistakes in every game.”

Irish junior outfielder and first baseman Ryan Bull leads off against the Hokies. The Irish won their first game Friday before dropping two straight.Ally Darragh
Irish junior outfielder and first baseman Ryan Bull leads off against the Hokies. The Irish won their first game Friday before dropping two straight.
In Friday’s opener at Four Winds Field in South Bend, senior right-hander Sean Fitzgerald pitched his first career complete game en route to a 2-1 Irish victory.

The matchup was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth, when back-to-back singles from sophomore shortstop Lane Richards and sophomore centerfielder Kyle Richardson put Irish players on first and second. Junior designated hitter Conor Biggio then hit a fielder’s-choice groundball to knock in Richards and put a run on the board for Notre Dame.

That momentum carried through to the next inning, when junior first baseman Blaise Lezynski set up the winning run with a single up the middle and eventually crossed the plate on a wild pitch from Virginia Tech senior starter Brad Markey, who took the complete-game loss.

The Hokies, however, did not make the win easy for the Irish. Virginia Tech redshirt freshman centerfielder Saige Jenco reached base with a two-strike double and headed home on an RBI single from junior second baseman Alex Perez in the following at-bat. However, three outs in the next three at-bats sealed Notre Dame’s first ACC win and Fitzgerald’s third victory of the season.

“At this point, with the way the season is going, we’re relieved to just get wins, whether they’re conference or not,” Aoki said.

Saturday was not as productive for the Irish, as a move to Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., brought an 8-3 loss. Virginia Tech picked up all eight of its runs in the first two innings as sophomore right-hander Nick McCarty gave up seven runs and freshman reliever Jim Orwick surrendered the final score. McCarty left the game after allowing five hits and two walks in one-and-one-third innings and is still looking to collect his first win of the season.

“I certainly think that a couple of instances have been tough luck [for McCarty],” Aoki said. “[Saturday] was just one of those days where he wasn’t good. Sometimes that happens, and obviously the whole situation gets a little exacerbated when you’re 0-4 going into it.”

Notre Dame got on the board with a run in the second inning and two more scores in the fourth, but it could not muster enough of an effort to complete the comeback.

With a mark in the win column for each team, Sunday’s cold and snowy finale brought a hard-fought, 5-4 loss for the Irish in 12 innings at Grand Park.

A successfully executed double steal plated a run in the first inning for Virginia Tech, but Lezynski tied the game up in the bottom of the inning by driving in freshman second baseman Cavan Biggio with a two-out, RBI line-drive single.

After a single from sophomore right fielder Ricky Sanchez moved him up to second, Lezynski stole third and headed home on an errant throw over the third baseman’s head. Sanchez scored on an RBI groundball from Richards, giving Notre Dame a 3-1 lead at the end of the first.

A two-hit second inning cut the Hokies’ deficit to 3-2, and Virginia Tech tagged on another run in the third to tie the game up.

Junior starter Pat Connaughton exited in the fourth after giving up three hits and a lead-off walk in two of those innings.

In the sixth, the Irish loaded the bases, and senior catcher Forrest Johnson delivered a one-run single to reclaim the lead for Notre Dame. Two Irish runners originally crossed the plate and would have given the team a 5-3 lead, but Sanchez was called out after failing to touch third base.

“I think there’s a lot of things that conspired against us,” Aoki said. “Unfortunately, right now, it’s a little indicative of the way we’re playing. It’s just a handful of mistakes, be it mental or physical, that are keeping us from winning some of these games.”

The Hokies responded in the next inning when junior catcher Mark Zagunis picked up a two-out, RBI single to knot the game at four.

The score remained tied until Virginia Tech freshman rightfielder Tom Stoffel knocked in Zagunis on a fielder’s choice to take the lead and the 5-4 win in the top of the 12th. Sophomore left-hander Michael Hearne was charged with the loss in his eight-and-one-third-innings performance.

“I thought Michael pitched great,” Aoki said. “I thought he pitched out of some tough spots that we created for him. With regards to Mike, he’s been really good about every single time he’s taken the ball for us, and I was really pleased with the way Michael threw.”

The Irish look to rebound against Illinois-Chicago on Tuesday at Four Winds Field. First pitch is set for 5:35 p.m.

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