Notre Dame baseball: Irish shake slump to handle Huskies

CURT RALLO South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — A long night in Toledo on Tuesday led to a short fuse for Notre Dame baseball coach Mik Aoki.

Now, the Irish have rediscovered their spark.

Notre Dame rallied for two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat Connecticut, 4-3, Saturday afternoon in Big East baseball action.

Notre Dame (25-16 overall; 6-8 Big East) hosts Connecticut (25-18, 8-9) in the series finale Sunday at 1 p.m.

Connecticut led 3-2 when Frank DeSico singled to left-center to lead off the Irish eighth inning. Charlie Markson advanced DeSico to second with a sacrifice bunt. Eric Jagielo reached on an error by second baseman LJ Mazzilli that moved DeSico to third.

Trey Mancini hammered a single to right field to score DeSico with the tying run, and Jagielo advanced to second. Jagielo took third on a fielder’s choice, and Aoki send Conor Biggio to the plate.

Biggio connected on a ‘swinging bunt’ that Connecticut third baseman Bryan Daniello fielded. Daniello fired the ball to first baseman Bobby Melley. Melley couldn’t handle the throw as the speedy Biggio reached first, allowing Jagielo to score the go-ahead run.

Aoki credited Biggio beating out a play that the Irish were in desperate need of making.

“That’s one of the things that (Biggio) brings to the table, his ability to run,” Aoki said. “He does a great job with that. He’s been swinging the bat really well. We wanted to see if we could ride the hot hand. If it’s somebody else running, it doesn’t put quite as much pressure on that whole thing, and it makes it a much easier play (for UConn). That was a big one, because we weren’t exactly knocking the cover off the ball ... but we hung in there.”

Dan Slania shut down the Huskies in the ninth for his 10th save. Adam Norton (9-1) earned the victory.

Notre Dame’s victory is its third in a row after a six-game losing streak. The Irish hit a low point Tuesday, the sixth loss in the slump, when Toledo whacked Notre Dame 15-3.

“We kind of got together with the team and basically lit them up like Christmas trees and challenged them,” Aoki said. “They responded great. I think part of why they’ve responded great is they agreed with me. We talked about holding each other accountable and being the one that throws the first punch.

“We talked about going out there and winning pitches instead of hoping that we win pitches. We talked about it in a lot more colorful language than that. They got the message. I honestly think that they agreed with everything I had to say, which is why they responded well.

“I don’t raise my voice a ton. I demand a lot from them, but I don’t raise my voice a ton, simply for the reason that when you do, it’s not ambient noise. I think they’ve responded great so far.”

Mancini said that Aoki was right to turn up the volume on the Irish. Notre Dame won eight of its first nine games and surged up the polls to No. 15. Then, the Irish were swept by Pittsburgh, and a six-game tailspin ensued.

“We definitely got lit up like Christmas trees,” Mancini said. “That’s a good way to put it. We’ve done a good job of responding. We all stepped up after that. We need to play hard every game and every at bat. We haven’t been doing that. It needed to happen. It was a really good thing that it did happen.”

Notre Dame snapped out of the funk with a 7-3 victory Wednesday against Michigan State, and then clobbered Connecticut 12-2 on Friday.

“There’s a lot within reach, still,” Mancini said of the Irish and their Big East and NCAA goals. “It’s kind of funny to think that after how we’ve played the past few weeks. Thankfully, we’ve played well after that little slump we played.”

Connecticut200010000 — 3 9 3
Notre Dame00010102x — 4 5 2

Anthony Marzi, David Mahoney (8) (L, 0-2), Jordan Tabakman (8); Adam Norton (W, 9-1), Dan Slania (9) (S, 10).

HR: Tom Verdi (C).

T: 2:05. A: 620.