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Fiala’s bat leads Notre Dame to sweep of Georgia Tech

and | Monday, April 10, 2017

Notre Dame continued its midseason resurgence this weekend, sweeping Georgia Tech in an ACC series at Frank Eck Stadium to move within one win of .500 in the league.

The Irish (13-17, 7-8 ACC) came from behind to win Friday’s series opener, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to win 4-3.

After Georgia Tech (16-14, 4-11) got an unearned run in the first and an earned one off Irish junior starter Brandon Bielak in the fifth to take that 2-0 lead, the Irish bats came alive in the fifth, when an RBI single from sophomore center fielder Matt Vierling cut the deficit to 2-1. A pair of runs in the sixth — one scored off the bat of freshman pinch hitter Connor Power, the other off senior third baseman Fiala’s — gave Notre Dame a 3-2 lead, but Georgia Tech got an unearned run in the eighth off junior southpaw Sean Guenther to tie the game, 3-3.

Irish senior third baseman Kyle Fiala tries to beat a runner to the base during Notre Dame’s 4-1 win over N.C. State on March 31. Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish senior third baseman Kyle Fiala tries to beat a runner to the base during Notre Dame’s 4-1 win over N.C. State on March 31.

That set the stage for a winning run in the bottom of the eighth, when junior left fielder Jake Johnson singled home sophomore shortstop Cole Daily, who had tripled to start the inning, to give Guenther the run he needed to secure the win in the top of the ninth.

Saturday afternoon, one swimg was all the Irish needed to take another 4-3 win.

With two down in the bottom of the second, Fiala got hold of a first-pitch fastball, sending it over the outfield fence for a grand slam that gave Notre Dame a 4-0 edge.

“The kid left a fastball up in the zone and [I] put a good swing on it and it happened to go out,” Fiala said.

Georgia Tech added unearned runs in the fourth and eighth, as Irish graduate student starter Michael Hearne toed the slab into the ninth before finally allowing an earned run with two outs in the final frame. That forced Irish head coach Mik Aoki to go to his bullpen, with junior right-hander Peter Solomon inducing a popup on his first, and only, pitch to pick up the save and secure the Notre Dame victory.

Hearne’s 8 2/3-inning, eight-hit start is something the Irish are accustomed to, Fiala said.

“We’ve gotten used to that, because any time he goes out and pitches, you know he’s going to compete and put you in a position to win,” Fiala said. “He did that again [Saturday]; he always does it. It’s huge.”

The Irish were able to secure themselves the series sweep Sunday afternoon, defeating Georgia Tech 9-6. After falling behind 4-0 early on in the ballgame, Notre Dame was able to string together an enormous inning in the bottom of the third, scoring six runs off their 11 plate appearances in the inning. Over the course of the next few frames, junior starter Brad Bass was able to settle in, keeping the Yellow Jackets from tacking on any more runs during his six-inning performance. After letting the game get close in the seventh inning when Georgia Tech put on a couple more runs to cut the Irish lead to 8-6, Notre Dame got one back itself in the bottom of the seventh to make it 9-6, a lead it maintained the rest of the way.

Aoki said he was happy with his team’s performance over the weekend in picking up its first ACC sweep of the season.

“I was really pleased with the way we handled a little bit of the adversity that we at times created for ourselves,” said Aoki. “The way in which we bounced back, I think earlier in the year that was something that may have spun out of control on us a little bit. I think some of the resilience that we’ve been able to build up from having made some mistakes in that department earlier in the year was really big.”

Moving forward, the Irish will have yet another busy week, starting Tuesday with hosting Michigan State at 6:05 p.m., followed by Toledo on Wednesday before heading to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for a weekend series against Wake Forest. Aoki believes his team can be successful as long as it approaches the upcoming stretch with the right mindset.

“We just have to keep grinding away. We have to worry about the next pitch and playing that as well as we can,” Aoki said. “We’ve got a busy week ahead of us with five games … we just have to keep trying to get better and just keep worrying about the pitch we’re about to play.”

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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