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Baserunning boosts Irish to victory over Michigan State

| Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Notre Dame continued its midseason renaissance Tuesday night, downing Michigan State 2-1 at Frank Eck Stadium for its fourth consecutive win.

The Spartans (18-11, 2-3 Big Ten) played from ahead, in part because of the legs of their leadoff hitter, freshman left fielder Bryce Kelly. Kelly took Irish senior starter Scott Tully’s first offering and singled to right center, then stole both second and third — as the front end of a double steal — before scoring on junior center fielder Brandon Hughes’ two-out single to left center. But Tully and Notre Dame (14-17, 7-8 ACC) got out of the inning otherwise unharmed, with the frame’s second out coming on the back end of that Spartans double-steal attempt.

Notre Dame did not play from behind for too long, though, as sophomore center fielder Matt Vierling led off the bottom of the second with a solo home run to left field, knotting the game at 1-1. The Irish left runners on base in the second and third innings without adding another run, but in the bottom of the fourth, Notre Dame had an opportunity to break the game open.

After Vierling grounded out to start the inning, the Irish loaded the bases with one out on a single by senior catcher Ryan Lidge and a pair of walks, issued to freshman first baseman Daniel Jung and freshman designated hitter Connor Power. Sophomore shortstop Cole Daily, however, hit into a fielder’s choice — with the Spartans choosing to record the out at home — before junior right fielder Jake Shepski grounded out to second on a 3-1 count to end the inning.

The pitching load was well balanced Tuesday night for the Irish, as Tully — who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery — exited after just two innings of work. That brought freshman left-hander Cameron Brown in from the third through sixth innings, leaving the final three innings to junior southpaw Sean Guenther. Each pitcher gave up just three hits, as the Spartans stranded multiple runners just once in the game’s final seven innings.

Following a quiet bottom of the fifth, Vierling and the Irish returned the Spartans’ earlier favor with influential baserunning of their own, working the basepaths to take the 2-1 lead, one that held up throughout the game.

Vierling singled up the middle on a 2-1 count to lead off the bottom of the sixth, while Michigan State aided in its demise as Lidge reached on an error to put runners on first and third with nobody out. With the count at 2-2 and one down, Lidge broke for second, and despite Power striking out, the Irish catcher got himself in enough of a rundown to let Vierling break for home. Instead of pursuing the out with Lidge, the Spartans threw home. The throw was late, though, as Vierling scored what would be the game-winning run.

That run put Brown in line for the win — one he picked up for his first career decision — and allowed Irish head coach Mik Aoki to go to Guenther, who recorded a rare three-inning save to seal the victory, throwing just 37 pitches in the process.

Notre Dame returns to action Wednesday night when it hosts Toledo for a 6:05 p.m. first pitch, then jets off to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for a three-game set with Wake Forest this weekend. If the Irish take two of three from the Demon Deacons, they’ll move to .500 in conference play with four series left to contest.

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