Bats power sweep over San Antonio
Brian Hartnett | Sunday, February 22, 2015
Notre Dame took the Irish Alamo Invitational in decisive fashion this weekend, outscoring its opponents 26-5 over three games at Nelson W. Wolff Stadium in San Antonio.
After winning three of four games in Oklahoma last weekend, the Irish (7-1) extended their winning streak to six games with an 8-1 win over Villanova on Friday, 7-3 victory over Northwestern on Saturday and 11-1 triumph over Incarnate Word in Sunday’s tournament championship game.
Irish coach Mik Aoki said this weekend’s results were important in maintaining the momentum generated from the team’s successful opening series.
“I would think that probably going into the weekend last week, Oklahoma would have been considered the favorite, and I think going into this weekend, on paper, we would have probably been considered the favorite for most of these matchups,” Aoki said. “For us to not have any letdowns, for us to go out there and play at a high level, I think speaks a lot to our team, and I think it certainly helps in terms of our guys feeling good about where we are.”
In Sunday’s tournament final, Notre Dame got on the board early, scoring two runs in the first inning and one in the second against Incarnate Word (4-4), which the Irish defeated 14-1 in their first game of the tournament Thursday. Notre Dame scored in every inning except the third and the eighth against the Cardinals, and junior starting pitcher Nick McCarty surrendered four hits and one earned run for the second consecutive week.
“[McCarty] being in that Sunday [starting] role is probably a perfect place for him,” Aoki said. “He throws strikes, he works very quickly [and] he is typically very efficient with his pitches because he’s getting some contact early in counts.”
Notre Dame was forced to go to its bullpen early Saturday against Northwestern (1-6), as freshman starting pitcher Brandon Bielak departed after three innings with the game deadlocked at three. Sophomore relief pitcher Scott Tully entered the game and shut out the Wildcats over the next six innings, yielding just three hits.
“You look at the swings the other team was taking, and I think Brandon was having some trouble locating some of his secondary pitches, so as a result, Northwestern did a good job of being on time to his fastball,” Aoki said. “I just felt like even though we were in the game, we just needed something different in there, and Scott Tully made me look pretty smart and pitched really well.”
Notre Dame took the lead on a fielder’s choice by sophomore third baseman Kyle Fiala in the fourth inning and then broke open the game in a three-run eighth inning, which included an RBI double by sophomore second baseman Cavan Biggio.
Irish senior starting pitcher Scott Kerrigan rebounded from a loss in his season-opening start with 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball in Notre Dame’s victory over the Wildcats (1-5) on Friday. Kerrigan struck out five and forced Villanova hitters into 12 groundouts.
“I thought [Kerrigan] threw the ball very well Friday, and we were able to make plays for him and not put him in tough spots where every pitch was a pressure pitch,” Aoki said.
After scoring two runs in five innings, Notre Dame expanded its lead with three runs in both the sixth and eighth innings.
With more than 40 runs scored in the four-day tournament, Irish hitters are now averaging nearly eight runs per game, a far cry from the 3.74 runs per game the team averaged last season. This difference in scoring is largely due to experience and a better approach at the plate, according to Aoki.
“I think we’re much more disciplined,” he said. “I think we make pitchers work a lot harder to get us out than we did a year ago. I think a lot of it is guys maturing mentally and understanding what we need to do and buying into it.”
Notre Dame will look to build on its winning streak when the Irish travel to Cary, North Carolina, for the USA Baseball-Irish Classic, which begins Friday.