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Rockets blank streaking Irish

| Thursday, April 16, 2015

On the back of freshman left fielder A.J. Montoya’s three-RBI game, Toledo beat Notre Dame 5-0 at Frank Eck Stadium on Wednesday night.

The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Irish (24-11, 9-9 ACC) and marked the first time Notre Dame was shutout since a 3-0 loss to Louisville on March 22.

“I guess we fell into a trap,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “I didn’t think our energy level was great. I didn’t think it was terrible, but I think there were times where — like over the course of the weekend against FSU I never questioned it — there was enough of a question tonight. To a certain extent,  I think we came in potentially a little bit complacent, maybe a little bit over confident. My message to them was we’re good enough to beat anybody in the country on any given day. We also can be beaten by anybody on any given day.”

Irish sophomore Scott Tully and Toledo freshman Alex Wagner coasted through the first six innings, both giving up only four hits and no runs. Tully set a career high in strikeouts, striking out seven.

Toledo (13-23, 6-6 MAC) opened up the scoring, however, with a three-run seventh. The Rockets led off with two singles from junior outfielder Ryan Callahan and sophomore infielder Josh Cales before the Irish gave Toledo an extra out on a mental error. Rockets junior designated hitter John Martillotta laid down a sacrifice bunt on the third-base side, but when Irish sophomore third baseman Kyle Fiala went to throw over to first no one was covering. With the bases loaded and no outs, Tully induced a fly out.

But with one out, the Rockets struck. Senior third baseman Nate Langhals slid a hit between shortstop and third to score the first run of the game. Tully struck out the next batter to get to two outs. Toledo freshman left fielder A.J. Montoya, however, hit the Irish hard with a soft blooper up the middle to score two runs and give Toledo a 3-0 lead.

Despite Toledo’s six-hit inning, Aoki said Tully was not getting hit hard enough to warrant being removed from the game. The Rockets were simply finding the gaps in the Irish defense.

“He’d been cruising,” Aoki said. “When it really gets down to it, outside of maybe the first two hits of the inning, there wasn’t anything that was barreled up. It was two shots that found the right place on the field. But that’s a function that they did a really good job competing with two strikes. … It’s one of those things that maybe a little misfortune hit us too.”

The Rockets capped off their seventh inning with another two runs in the ninth to take the dooming 5-0 lead.

Langhals got on base with a one-out single and was then moved over by junior catcher Lucas Sokol on a perfectly executed hit-and-run. Montoya hurt the Irish again with a two-out double off the left field fence to bring in Langhals. Sokol then scored on a passed ball that hit off Irish sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge’s glove.

Offensively, the Irish gave Wagner some help on the mound by recording seven first-pitch outs. Aoki said it was small things like these that helped sway the game in Toledo’s favor.

“You want to control the controllables, and I’m not 100 percent certain whether we did that or not tonight,” Aoki said. “So we kind of potentially made a deposit into the regret bank, and you certainly don’t want to have too many of those over the course of the season. We talk a lot all the time about it’s not the better team that wins, it’s the team that plays better that wins.”

Toledo outlasted the Irish and took advantage of opportunities, hitting especially well with two strikes.

“Give Toledo every accolade,” Aoki said. “They outplayed us. They outplayed us in every way, shape and form. And with two strikes, I think they flat-out just outcompeted us. That’s something that hasn’t really happened to us really all year long. So, if we can take a lesson from this and understand that on any given day anybody can beat us and that we’ve got to make sure that we come and don’t even have a shadow of a doubt in terms of what kind energy or engagement level we brought to it, then it will be a lesson well learned.”

Notre Dame returns to conference action with a three-game series against North Carolina State at Frank Eck Stadium beginning Friday.

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