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Matt Vierling powers Irish to come-from-behind win over Central Michigan

| Thursday, April 21, 2016

It was the Matt Vierling show as Notre Dame walked off Central Michigan, 7-6, on Wednesday night at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish (23-12, 9-7 ACC) hadn’t been able to find the big hit it needed against the Chippewas (8-29, 3-6 MAC). The Notre Dame bats made solid contact all night but kept watching their would-be hits find the mitts of Central Michigan defenders, including two separate line-drive-turned-double-play incidents that smothered would-be rallies.

Then Matt Vierling put a ball where no Central Michigan glove could get to it.

Irish freshman outfielder Matt Vierling takes a cut during Notre Dame's 6-3 win over Chicago State at Frank Eck Stadium on April 12. Kathleen Donahue | The Observer
Irish freshman outfielder Matt Vierling takes a cut during Notre Dame’s 6-3 win over Chicago State at Frank Eck Stadium on April 12.

With his team trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the seventh, runners on second and third and one out, the freshman turned on a pitch and sent it twenty feet beyond the left field wall to tie the game at six runs apiece.

“Being in the outfield, I was thinking about my next at-bat. I knew I was going to get a big one coming up,” Vierling said. “Came up, and I think he threw me two of the same pitches before and he hung that one, and I recognized it right away and put a good swing on it.”

“That swing that he made was huge, you know,” Irish head coach Mik Aoki said. “One swing of the bat changes it all around, ties it, and at that point it kind of felt like our kids — they kind of swelled up from there thinking it just doesn’t matter, we can go out there and give up a run and we’re still going to win this game.”

And Vierling made sure of it.

After starting the game in center field, Vierling took the mound and threw two scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth.

Chippewa sophomore left fielder Daniel Jipping led off the eighth with a single but was thrown out trying to steal second by Irish junior catcher Ryan Lidge to halt any response to Vierling’s home run.

Central Michigan then lead off the ninth with a double and then advanced the go-ahead run to third with yet another sac bunt, but Vierling struck out the next Chippewa batter and then induced a fly-out to left to escape the jam to give Notre Dame a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth.

“Just calm myself down,” Vierling said when asked how to adjust from the field and the adrenaline of the home run to taking the mound. “Obviously Ryan Lidge made a great play. It’s definitely a challenge going from the field and hitting and then pitching takes a lot of focus and a lot of different things going on. You just put yourself in the right mindset, calm yourself down, relax yourself, focus on what you’re doing, and I’m glad things worked out.”

Junior second baseman Cavan Biggio led off the bottom of the ninth with a double and then sophomore right fielder Jake Shepski singled to move Biggio to third and put runners on the corners with no outs.

After an intentional walk to senior left fielder Zak Kutsulis to load the bases, Vierling strolled to the plate.

The freshman turned on an 0-2 pitch and sent it to the fence in left-center for the walk-off victory.

“It really didn’t change my approach,” Vierling said. “I was actually surprised they [walked Kutsulis], but I saw them walk him and I just said I’m going to stay with my approach and try to hit something to the outfield and I did, so I guess I’m happy they did that.”

“He got into that 2-0 count, and I think he sat that breaking ball and he didn’t miss it,” Aoki said.

Vierling’s final stat line? Three hits in five plate appearances, four RBIs, two runs scored and the winning pitcher of record, pushing his record to 2-0 on the year. Both of his victories on the mound have come after he delivered the walk-off hit at the plate.

“It’s the right move to walk Zak, and then Matt, two strikes, gets that [pitch], does a phenomenal job. The kid was really good tonight,” Aoki said.

Before Vierling took over, the Chippewas were schooling the Irish in the art of playing small ball. Of the Chippewas’ six runs, four were helped in part by either sacrifice bunts or sacrifice flies, and a fifth run was aided by a wild pitch.

“I think our problem on our side was that we weren’t retiring the leadoff hitter,” Aoki said. “ … Give them a lot of credit. There were sometimes we weren’t in a negative count and they got a two-strike hit to score the kid from second or score the kid from third.”

Central Michigan drew six walks and had another two batters hit by a pitch as the visitors built a 6-3 lead heading into the home half of the seventh.

Notre Dame did not lead until Vierling’s walk-off in the ninth, though on three separate occasions the Irish fought back to draw even.

The victory comes in the final home game of a recent stretch that has seen the Irish play at Frank Eck Stadium in 12 of their last 13 games. Notre Dame hits the road again in a return to ACC play and a visit to No. 9 Florida State this weekend.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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