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Lidge leads Notre Dame past Western Michigan

| Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Irish put down Western Michigan, 8-3, at Frank Eck Stadium on Wednesday night in a one-off game scheduled Tuesday.

Notre Dame (16-7, 3-6 ACC) was paced by sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge, who went 4-for-4 with two doubles, three runs and an RBI.

“No matter what game it is, it’s always nice to come through in those situations,” Lidge said. “I don’t change my approach or anything, but in those situations, I kind of embrace it a little more … do anything to help the team win.”

Western Michigan (8-12, 1-2 MAC) got close to making it a game with bases loaded in the sixth inning, but the Irish were able to prevent any comeback and added three insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to take a comfortable 8-2 lead.

“It makes it more comfortable at the end and just kind of gives you a little breathing room,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “Had that been a three-run game still and you open with the seeing-eye base hit and the error [in the ninth], you’ve got a little tighten up situation. It was important for us to get some separation.”

The seventh-inning scoring was sparked by Lidge. He hit a ground-rule double to get runners on second and third, and Western Michigan intentionally walked freshman pinch hitter Brandon Bielak. In walking Bielak, the Broncos instead faced junior center fielder Kyle Richardson, who hit a line drive back up the middle to score two runs for his second and third RBIs of the night. Junior first baseman Zak Kutsulis capped off the seventh inning with an RBI bunt single to make the game 8-2.

Lidge said it was important to hold off the charging Broncos and get the win.

“Nonconference games are just as important,” Lidge said. “They still go on your record. At the end of the day, it’s a loss or a win, and I don’t think we changed our attitudes at all with these games. We keep the respect for every single team.”

The Broncos cycled through seven pitchers on the night, including four in the first four innings, while Notre Dame used three. Sophomore Ryan Smoyer got the start and pitched 5 and 1/3 innings, giving up two earned runs and striking out three, and sophomore Scott Tully pitched Notre Dame out of some crucial situations in relief. Freshman Sean Guenther closed out the game, also giving up one unearned run.

“I thought Ryan was better than he was a week ago, so that was good,” Aoki said. “Tully wasn’t quite as sharp as he’s been for us earlier on, but he certainly came in and got us out of a difficult situation there. [Guenther] was really good there.”

Western Michigan took the early lead in the game on an RBI double from junior first baseman Hunter Prince. Broncos senior right fielder Jared Kujawa took off on a 0-1 count, and Prince roped a ball down the left-field line, successfully executing a hit-and-run to take a 1-0 lead.

“They were fighting — Western Michigan is always a great team,” Lidge said. “I think there is a sense of urgency with this team just naturally. We want to score runs, we want to score them in bunches, we want to score them in every inning. But I don’t think when they scored the run to take the lead anybody was pressing or anything.”

Notre Dame responded in the bottom half of the second to tie the game up, 1-1. Lidge led off with a stand-up double and was then bunted over by junior right fielder Ricky Sanchez. Richardson grounded out on the next play to Western Michigan junior shortstop Kurt Hoekstra, bringing in Lidge and knotting the game up. It was Richardson’s first RBI of the season.

“Lidge got us going, being able to answer that run we gave up,” Aoki said. “And then the double he hit to center field [in the seventh] got us going as well.”

Notre Dame’s bats ignited in the bottom of the third for four runs to take the 5-1 lead. After junior designated hitter James Nevant got on base with a leadoff walk, the Irish took the lead on an RBI double from sophomore third baseman Kyle Fiala, who advanced to third base on the throw. Irish junior shortstop Lane Richards then hit a laser off the glove of leaping Broncos second baseman Nick Vogelmeier to score Fiala.

Senior right fielder Robert Youngdahl hit a single to right field, chasing Broncos freshman left-hander Tanner Allison from the game. Lidge hit a gapper between third and short off the Broncos’ new reliever, freshman Peyton Gray, to score Richards and make the game 4-1. The final run was brought in by Sanchez, who hit a stand-up triple to left-center field.

“I think it was important for us to come back out and play the way that we’ve been playing all year and get rewarded for it,” Aoki said. “I think that was good for our guys.”

The Broncos chipped away at Notre Dame’s lead in the fourth to make it 5-2. Prince tallied his second RBI of the night with a double. The Broncos added a run to make it 8-3 in the top of the ninth, but that was as close as they would get.

Notre Dame returns to action Friday when it starts a three-game series with No. 12 Virginia at Frank Eck Stadium.

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