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Notre Dame shuts out Eagles

| Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Small ball was the name of the game for Notre Dame on Tuesday night at Frank Eck Stadium, as the team utilized walks, stolen bases and sacrifices to open up an early lead en route to a 6-0 victory over Eastern Michigan.

Sophomore right-hander Ryan Smoyer also continued his success as a midweek starter with his first collegiate complete game and shutout.

“I think situational hitting is a big part of what you need to do to win ballgames,” Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki said. “You’re not going to go out there and roll out 15 hits every game and put up big numbers, so when you have the opportunity to convert with runners on third base and less than two outs, just moving guys over [is important].”

Notre Dame (17-10, 3-9 ACC) broke open the game with three runs in a fourth inning during which it only hit two balls out of the infield against the Eagles (9-17, 2-4 MAC).

Leading 1-0, the Irish loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth on a hit by pitch, walk and bunt single down the third-base line. Irish junior centerfielder Kyle Richardson laced a single up the middle to put Notre Dame up by two runs.

Junior designated hitter Ricky Sanchez then drew a bases-loaded walk, one of the four free passes the Irish had on the night. Sophomore third baseman Kyle Fiala ended the scoring in the inning by hitting a sacrifice fly to left field, driving in junior first baseman Zak Kutsulis.

“It felt like those were situations where we need to do it; we just need to be able to go up there with the proper approach and execute,” Aoki said. “It doesn’t always end up with the appeal of a hit, but those things are just as important. The name of the game is not trying to get a great batting average; the name of the game is trying to cross home plate more times than they do.”

Notre Dame was aggressive on the base paths early, recording four steals in the first three innings. A stolen base in the second inning set up Notre Dame’s first run, as senior right fielder Robert Youngdahl stole second and then made it home on sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge’s bloop single to right field.

Aoki said the Irish were able to get good jumps against Eastern Michigan freshman left-hander Adam Hornstra, who was making his first collegiate start. Hornstra was removed with no outs in the fourth inning after surrendering four runs on five hits.

“If the numbers add up right, [Hornstra] was pretty slow to the plate,” Aoki said. “ … I thought that his move was pretty readable, so we were able to put some pressure on him that way. We just looked at it as an opportunity that presented itself, so we tried to take advantage of it.”

Smoyer, Notre Dame’s usual midweek starter, outlasted his former career-high of 5 1/3 innings pitched in Tuesday’s complete-game performance. Smoyer allowed hits in all nine innings — 10 hits for the game — but repeatedly pitched out of trouble, something Aoki said is one of his strengths.

“That’s kind of who and what Ryan is,” Aoki said. “Ryan’s a kid who throws a lot of strikes — he relies on his ability to command pitches, whether it’s a curveball, slider, fastball, that sort of thing.

“He gives up a hit, but he manages it. He does a good job inducing some groundballs.”

Notre Dame recorded its only two extra-base hits in a two-run eighth inning. Youngdahl drove in senior left fielder Ryan Bull with a double, and two batters later, Kutsulis slammed a triple to score Youngdahl.

Notre Dame will look to rebound from its last two conference series — sweeps at the hands of No. 7 Louisville and No. 9 Virginia, respectively — when it travels to Pittsburgh this weekend to face the Panthers (11-16, 4-8).

Despite their recent conference struggles, this weekend’s series isn’t any more important or crucial for the Irish, Aoki said.

“I think we just continue to sort of stay the course,” he said. “We went through a stretch with two elite pitching staffs. In one of those series, we didn’t have two of our better offensive players.

“I think we just continue to concentrate on having quality at-bats and making quality pitches and playing defense, and I think when it’s all said and done, we’ll be fine.”

Notre Dame and Pittsburgh will meet in a three-game series at Charles L. Cost Field in Pittsburgh starting Friday at 3 p.m. Saturday’s game is also scheduled for 3 p.m., while Sunday’s series finale is set for 1 p.m.

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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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