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Irish take first conference series

| Sunday, April 13, 2014

Junior Pat Connaughton and sophomore Michael Hearne both earned complete-game wins against Boston College during Saturday’s doubleheader, leading Notre Dame to its first conference series win as a member of the ACC.

“It was good,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said of the series win. “I’ll just say, it’s been a long time coming. Michael and Patrick both played well; I thought we played pretty well.”

Connaughton (1-2) allowed six hits during the 4-2 victory, while Hearne (2-4) shut out the Eagles (11-24, 3-15 ACC), 7-0, in Saturday’s nightcap at Cougar Stadium at Chicago State. Boston College won Friday night’s series opener 4-1 in 11 innings despite a strong start from Irish senior right-hander Sean Fitzgerald (3-2).

“I thought all three of them pitched great,” Aoki said. “I think it took maybe three innings for Fitz [Fitzgerald] to really get himself into a groove, but once he did I thought he was really outstanding, and I thought he was really dominant.”

“Pat was really good, greatly improved and much more in the strike zone. And Michael played outstanding from beginning to end. Of [Boston College’s] base hits, I can only think of two that were really well hit.”

The Eagles struck first in Friday night’s contest when sophomore shortstop Joe Cronin hit a double off of Fitzgerald to score junior second baseman Blake Butera.

The Irish (14-21, 3-15) tied the game at 1-1 in the sixth inning when junior first baseman Blaise Lezynski led off with a single to center and made his way around the bases on a hit-by-pitch, sacrifice bunt and ground out.

The stalemate continued until the top of the 11th, when Irish senior right-hander Donnie Hissa (0-2) began the inning allowing a walk and a single. Junior right-hander Cristian Torres replaced Hissa after a Boston College hitter executed a sacrifice bunt to move his teammates to second and third, and Torres promptly issued a walk to load the bases. Junior Matt Ternowchek took the mound and gave up an infield single to sophomore third baseman Gabriel Hernandez that allowed Boston College to score one run, and Butera followed with a double to left-centerfield that gave the Eagles a 4-1 advantage. Those three 11th-inning runs were half of all the runs scored by Boston College in the series.

“We had as much to do with creating that inning as they had to do with it,” Aoki said, calling the inning an aberration in an otherwise excellent weekend.

Lezynski knocked in the first Irish run in the bottom of the first Saturday afternoon, and Notre Dame scored three more in the fifth inning when senior catcher Forrest Johnson hit a single and scored on a triple from junior right fielder Robert Youngdahl. Sophomore shortstop Lane Richards followed with a double that scored Youngdahl, and Richards made his way home on back-to-back singles from junior designated hitter Conor Biggio and junior center fielder Mac Hudgins.

Connaughton opened the game with three perfect innings and did not allow a runner past first base until the seventh inning. He walked just one batter in his first complete game as a collegiate pitcher.

The Irish began the second game of the doubleheader with a two-run first and never looked back. Lezynski had four hits in five at-bats and is now hitting .338 for the season. The Irish finished the game with 11 hits, including three doubles and two triples.

“Overall, we’ve been making pitchers and defenses make plays and make pitches against us,” Aoki said. “I think we were in a rut for a while – and I think a lot of that was due to guys pressing — where we were getting ourselves out more than opposing pitchers were getting us out. We just weren’t being aggressive enough when we committed to swinging the bat, and I think that part’s been a lot better.”

Over 1,000 spectators watched at least one game of the series, which also served as a fundraiser for the Pete Frates #3 Fund. The fund supports ALS research and helps cover medical expenses for Frates, a former Boston College player suffering from ALS. The Notre Dame players also had the chance to meet Frates, who was a captain at Boston College when Aoki was the Eagles’ skipper.

“It was great. Fans from BC came out, some of the former players from when I was at BC came out, we had former players from Notre Dame come out,” Aoki said. “I can’t be grateful enough to all those people, and I think we did a good job of raising money for Pete.”

The Irish look to keep the winning streak going against Michigan State on Tuesday. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. at McLane Baseball Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.

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