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Irish sweep No. 8 Seminoles with strong pitching

| Monday, April 13, 2015

Notre Dame faced a jam in the top of the ninth Sunday, with two Florida State runners on base and just one out.

A sweep of the nation’s No. 8 team was on the line, but Mik Aoki wasn’t nervous.

“I think I’m beyond that with this group,” the Notre Dame head coach said. “I just trust them to go out there and compete, and had one of those kids been able to take a ball and put it into the gap and we end up chasing runs in the bottom of the ninth, to be honest with you, I feel like we would’ve come back in the bottom of the ninth.

“You get the nervous energy that you do anytime in competition, but they work so hard, and the way in which they work has been so good that, at this point, you just let them go out there and do their thing and trust them, and I do.”

Sophomore lefty Scott Tully came in — the fourth Irish pitcher on the afternoon — and calmly collected two strikeouts to put the sweep in the books before releasing a big fist pump as he walked off the mound at Frank Eck Stadium.

Sophomore left-hander Scott Tully pitches the ball to a Central Michigan batter in the 8-3 win at Frank Eck Stadium.Michael Yu | The Observer
Sophomore left-hander Scott Tully pitches the ball to a Central Michigan batter in Notre Dame’s 8-3 win at Frank Eck Stadium.

This weekend’s success marked the first series win for Notre Dame (24-10, 9-9 ACC) over a top-10 opponent since it beat then-No. 1 Florida State in the 2002 NCAA Super Regionals. Coupled with last week’s three victories over Pittsburgh, it was also the first back-to-back sweeps of conference opponents since 2008.

Sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer got the nod for Friday’s opener and continued his recent string of strong outings, earning the 5-2 win for the Irish.

Notre Dame fell behind early after Smoyer allowed a two-run home run to Seminoles freshman third baseman Dylan Busby, but he locked down batters after that. Smoyer allowed just four more hits and struck out five before leaving after seven innings and 109 pitches.

“I think a big thing for him is that he’s been on top of the baseball, so his fastball is kind of running downhill, and he’s done a good job of commanding the strike zone, which is unbelievably important against a team like Florida State, who’s so prolific at being able to draw walks, and their plate discipline is really, really good,” Aoki said. “I kind of thought that Ryan would be a good matchup for these guys because he is in the zone, and recently, he’s done a good job of working downhill, so it’s good.”

Sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer pitches against Central Michigan on March 18 at Frank Eck Stadium.Michael Yu | The Observer
Sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer pitches against Central Michigan on March 18 at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish responded to Florida State’s deep ball with a two-run shot over the right-field wall from sophomore second baseman Cavan Biggio in the third. In the next inning, a trio of juniors — shortstop Lane Richards, first baseman Zak Kutsulis and designated hitter Ricky Sanchez — pieced together three consecutive two-out singles, with Sanchez’s knock bringing home Richards to give the Irish the 3-2 lead.

Notre Dame continued to come through in two-out situations in the seventh, when sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge rocketed a single to right field that plated two more runs.

“I think that was Lidgey doing a really good job of two-strike adjusting, cut that change up and just stay right on it and drove it into right field there,” Aoki said. “Especially considering the inning before, we had bases loaded with one out, and we weren’t able to capitalize on it. … Two-out RBIs are always important, and those two were huge.”

Freshman lefty Sean Guenther relieved Smoyer in the top of the eighth and notched five strikeouts to earn the save in the 5-2 win.

The Irish followed a similar pattern when they earned the series-clinching win Saturday off another strong performance from the starter, freshman right-hander Brandon Bielak this time around.

Notre Dame got on the scoreboard first in the second matchup off a two-out, RBI single to right field from senior left fielder Ryan Bull, and it tacked on a second run in the fourth inning with a single to center by Kutsulis.

The home team was up 2-1 headed into the game’s home stretch, and Lidge cushioned that lead again with a two-out double to the left-field corner in the seventh that put the game at the 4-1 final score.

“I just stay in that moment; I just stay with my approach, and it just so happens that I’ve been coming through, and I guess I’ll take it,” Lidge said.

The Irish came into Sunday’s finale looking for the sweep, and they earned it with a win-by-committee-style game from the pitching staff.

Freshman Brad Bass started the game but, on a 30-pitch limit, came out in the second inning in favor of junior Connor Hale. Hale, the winning pitcher, threw the next 3 2/3 innings and allowed three hits and one earned run in the top of the sixth.

While Hale was on the mound in the fourth, Irish sophomore third baseman Kyle Fiala doubled to the left-field corner and advanced to third on a fielding error, and he scored two pitches later on a double to the opposite corner by Biggio.

The left-handed Kutsulis hit the eventual game-winner with an opposite-field home run into the left-field hedges in the fifth.

The Seminoles had the bases loaded with no outs after they plated their run in the sixth, and freshman Evy Ruibal entered the fray in relief of Hale. Ruibal induced a double play from the next batter, the team’s ACC-leading 44th of the season, with the outs coming at home and first base, and a foul out after that to escape the inning unscathed.

“That’s who we are — we’re a really good defensive club,” Aoki said. “I mean, there might be teams that can make flashier plays or this or that, but I think that the balls that are supposed to turn into outs, they turn into outs. The balls that are supposed to be turned into double plays, for the most part, are turned into double plays.”

After Ruibal’s 3 1/3 innings, Tully came in to record the game’s final two outs and secure the sweep for the Irish.

Notre Dame returns to Frank Eck Stadium for a midweek matchup with Toledo on Wednesday.

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Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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