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Louisville pitching shuts down Irish bats in series sweep

| Monday, March 23, 2015

Innings were plentiful, but runs were difficult to come by this weekend for Notre Dame, which lost all three games to No. 16 Louisville in its first conference series at Frank Eck Stadium this season.

Notre Dame (15-7, 3-6 ACC) played 36 innings in three games, as the Irish went 18 innings before falling 6-4 to the Cardinals (18-6, 8-1) on Saturday. Notre Dame failed to score in its other two series matchups, a 2-0 loss Friday night and a 3-0 defeat Sunday afternoon.

“Louisville has one of the better pitching staffs in the country, and I thought we acquitted ourselves fine,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said.

Irish batters had plenty of exposure to Louisville’s pitching in Saturday’s marathon game; the second-longest by innings and time in Frank Eck Stadium history. Notre Dame held a 3-2 lead entering the seventh inning, courtesy of a two-run double by junior left fielder Ricky Sanchez in the fourth inning and a long home run by senior right fielder Robert Youngdahl in the sixth inning. Louisville responded in the top of the seventh inning when sophomore left fielder Nick Solak drove in senior shortstop Sutton Whiting, who had reached on a triple to deep center field.

The game’s next run wouldn’t come until the 14th inning, when Solak reached on a triple and dashed home on a wild pitch. Trailing for the first time in the game, the Irish tied it up in the bottom half of the 14th on a single from junior shortstop Lane Richards.

The two teams traded scoreless innings until the top of the 18th, when Louisville senior right fielder Corey Ray led off the inning with a home run that just cleared the right field fence. The Cardinals added one more run for insurance and shut down the Irish in the bottom half of the inning, ending the nearly five-hour contest.

Aoki, who coached in both a 25-inning game at Boston College and 19-inning game when the Irish played South Florida on May 3, 2012, said he was impressed with the consistent intensity of Saturday’s game.

“I’m proud of the way our kids competed,” he said. “I thought we played at a really high level. Certainly, Louisville played at a really high level and pitched at a really high level, but I don’t think that was anything over and beyond what we expected.

“Our guys have done well and for whatever we went, [18] innings, we pretty much matched them pitch-for-pitch.”

Notre Dame used 13 position players and five pitchers in Saturday’s game, and three of the Irish pitchers threw for four or more innings.

Notre Dame only needed to use one pitcher Friday night, as senior right-hander Scott Kerrigan went the distance in a complete game. Kerrigan surrendered seven hits and two runs, both of which came on a single up the middle by Louisville senior center fielder Mike White in the second inning, and struck out six.

“I thought he came back and competed great,” Aoki said of Kerrigan. “… A little bit of bad luck [in the second inning], it certainly wasn’t a ball that was scalded up the middle, kid got a clean base hit, but [Kerrigan] did a great job.”

Notre Dame batters reached base in seven innings, but the Irish didn’t advance a runner past second against Cardinals junior right-hander Kyle Funkhouser, a first-team ACBA All-American last season.

The Irish had similar struggles Sunday against Louisville sophomore left-hander Josh Rogers, who allowed six hits and no runs while striking out six in 7 and 1/3 innings. Irish junior right-hander Nick McCarty went seven innings and allowed three runs, the first two of which came on ground outs and a third that came on a single to center field by Louisville freshman second baseman Devin Hairston.

“We certainly left a couple of runs out there on the board [Saturday], maybe a couple [Sunday], but to a certain extent, that’s the nature of baseball, too,” Aoki said. “You get into that excuse-making mindset of ‘We should have done this, or we could have done that.’

“I think that sort of takes away a little bit from what the other team was able to do too. Louisville pitched well, they did a good job, and that’s kind of what it is.”

Notre Dame will return to action Tuesday night when the Irish travel to Chicago to face Illinois-Chicago.

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About Brian Hartnett

Brian Hartnett is a senior marketing major and journalism, ethics and democracy minor. The Carroll Hall resident hails from Clark, New Jersey and covers Notre Dame football, as well as other University topics.

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