Notre Dame splits Irish Classic
Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, March 2, 2014
Notre Dame rebounded after losses to No. 19 UCLA and Michigan to beat Youngstown State and Appalachian State this weekend at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic in Cary, N.C.
“Second weekend in a row where I think we were knocking on the door of being 3-1 or even maybe 4-0,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said.
The Irish (5-6) lost to the defending national champion Bruins (7-4) on Friday night 2-1 despite six innings of two-hit ball from senior right-hander Sean Fitzgerald (2-1). Notre Dame managed just one hit off of UCLA sophomore right-hander James Kaprielian in eight innings.
“That’s UCLA’s MO,” Aoki said. “They pitch the heck out of it and they try to make a couple of runs stand up. They were able to do that.”
Helped by a hit batsman, an error and a passed ball, the Bruins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on Notre Dame in the first two innings. Fitzgerald allowed only two Bruins to reach second base in his final four innings.
“When you give two runs away to a club like UCLA who pitches it as well as they do and who’s as comfortable playing with a one or two-run lead like they are, it’s difficult,” Aoki said. “That was their recipe for winning the national championship last year and unfortunately for us, we’ve seen that recipe be successful against us two years in a row now.”
The Irish also lost to UCLA, 2-1, last year in Los Angeles. Fitzgerald also started that game, pitching six innings and giving up one earned run.
“We just didn’t get that equalizer and that go-ahead the last year or this year,” Aoki said. “It’s somewhat the nature of baseball and when you go against a team with the kind of arms UCLA has, you understand that runs are going to be at a premium.”
In the first game of a double-header Saturday, Michigan (2-8-1) beat Notre Dame 4-2, in 10 innings. The Irish wasted another solid starting pitching effort, this time from sophomore right-hander Nick McCarty. McCarty threw 7 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on five hits.
The Wolverines tied the game in the eighth inning with two runs and took the lead in the 10th inning after junior center fielder Jackson Glines led off with a triple. Two batters later, sophomore right-hander Jacob Cronenworth drove him in with a sacrifice fly.
“It’s tough to get out of a runner on third, nobody out situation,” Aoki said.
Just a few hours later on Saturday, the Irish bounced back to beat Youngstown State (1-7) 6-3 behind 7 1/3 relief innings from sophomore left-hander Michael Hearne.
After freshman right-hander Ryan Smoyer struggled in his first start of his career (one inning, four hits, two walks and three runs, two earned), Hearne shut down the Penguins. Hearne (1-0) escaped from a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the second inning and allowed just one hit.
“Huge innings,” Aoki said. “Bases loaded, no out and he gets out of the inning without giving up a run, it gives our offense to equalize and sort of settle in a little bit. He took the game and put it under his control and gave us a chance.”
Hearne allowed just one Penguin to reach second base and the Irish offense scored three runs in the sixth inning to break a 3-3 tie.
Junior designated hitter Blaise Lezynski drove in junior right fielder Robert Youngdahl with an RBI double and senior catcher Forrest Johnson had a two-run single later in the inning.
In its finale Sunday, Notre Dame outlasted Appalachian State (1-10) in 11 innings to win 4-3.
In the 11th inning, Johnson reached on an error, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a wild pitch. Sophomore left fielder Zak Kutsulis drove in Johnson with a single through the right side to win the game for the Irish.
“I was proud of the way our kids competed,” Aoki said. “I didn’t sense a lot of panic on the bench or anything. I thought they just kind of stuck to their approach and were able to string a couple of hits together and tie it up and win it late.”
Notre Dame will open ACC play on Friday when it faces No. 6 North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C.