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Irish claim series from Duke in walkoff fashion

| Monday, May 1, 2017

A Matt Vierling walkoff triple plated Kyle Fiala and lifted Notre Dame to a 3-2 win over Duke on Saturday, securing another home series win for the Irish.

With one out and a runner on first in the bottom of the ninth of a 2-2 game, the Irish sophomore center fielder drove the ball to the right-center field gap, the ball just eluding Blue Devils sophomore center fielder Kennie Taylor and dropping in to give Notre Dame (22-23, 10-14 ACC) its fourth conference series win of the season.

Irish sophomore outfielder Matt Vierling runs to second base  during Notre Dame’s 5-4 win over Duke on Friday.Michelle Mehelas | The Observer
Irish sophomore outfielder Matt Vierling runs to second base during Notre Dame’s 5-4 win over Duke on Friday at Frank Eck Stadium.

“He started me off with a changeup and then a fastball, both outside, so I was kind of looking out the outer half of the plate,” Vierling said. “[He] threw another fastball … and he brought it down for the third pitch, which is the one I hit. … Just put a good swing on it.”

On the strength of some opportune baserunning, the Irish jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning Saturday; sophomore second baseman Nick Podkul stole home on a first-and-third play to get Notre Dame on the board before senior catcher Ryan Lidge picked up an RBI on a groundout to third.

For most of the game, that looked like all the offense the Irish might need, as junior right-hander Brad Bass was in the midst of a gem — Bass didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning, and he faced the minimum through six as Notre Dame carried that 2-0 lead into the final three frames. Duke (23-23, 9-15) used a pair of doubles to pick up a run in the seventh, but it stranded runners on second and third to end the inning, holding the Irish lead intact headed into the stretch.

The Blue Devils, however, took advantage of one of Bass’ few mistakes to tie the game in the eighth. After a leadoff single put the tying run on base, Duke was content to give an out to move the runner to second. But Bass tried to gun down the lead runner at second off the sacrifice bunt, instead sending his throw into center field and leaving runners on first and third with nobody out as junior left-hander Sean Guenther entered to work out of the jam. A sacrifice fly knotted the game at 2-2, but Guenther worked out of a bases-loaded jam to keep the game tied.

Duke threatened again in the ninth after Taylor hit a one-out triple, but Guenther again sealed the deal, setting the stage for Vierling’s walkoff in the bottom of the ninth.

Irish head coach Mik Aoki said Guenther did a good job playing within himself to work out of a couple precarious situations.

“He gets the out [on the sacrifice fly], and the tying run comes across in exchanging the out, but sometimes I think it can be a deflating thing,” Aoki said. “ … I think he did a phenomenal job of just staying in the moment, did a phenomenal job of just trying to go out there and win pitches and not do too much.”

The story was similar in Friday’s series opener, where Notre Dame got out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, only to need a key late RBI to secure a 5-4 victory. Senior shortstop Fiala and Vierling each singled to pick up RBIs in the first inning, but Duke pegged the Irish back with a pair in the third and a pair in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead at the midway point. Vierling scored on a double play in the sixth to level the game, 4-4, before sophomore pinch hitter Eric Gilgenbach singled with the bases loaded in the eighth to give the Irish a 5-4 victory.

Vierling said the team’s late wins this weekend showed Notre Dame’s mental progress over the course of the season.

“We probably haven’t been playing our best baseball in the last week or two, but I just think that at the beginning of the year, if that would’ve happened to us, we probably would’ve responded in a different manner,” Vierling said. “Now, we have so much trust in each other, we believe in everybody and everybody believes that person can get it done. It shows a lot of resilience, a lot of toughness.”

In the second game of Friday’s doubleheader, Duke put up a crooked number late to pull away from Notre Dame, 14-1. The Irish got out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third on a junior right fielder Jake Shepski home run, but Duke tied the game in the fifth, then took the lead with a three-run sixth.

The real damage was done in the eighth, though, as the Blue Devils put up 10 runs on eight hits to put the game well out of reach.

Notre Dame will return to action Tuesday, hosting Northwestern for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch at Frank Eck Stadium.

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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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