Notre Dame baseball: Historical heartbreak for Irish

Staff reports
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame can claim the longest baseball game and men’s basketball game in Big East regular-season history, and Pat Connaughton was a part of both of them.

By the time Friday night’s 19-inning, five-hour baseball marathon with 20th-ranked South Florida was over, however, ND’s latest foray into the league record books felt more heartbreaking then historical.

And Connaughton’s seven shutout innings were a distant memory.

Big East leader USF took advantage of a pair of Irish errors in the top of the 19th inning to plate six unearned runs and pull away for an 8-2 victory at Frank Eck Stadium. The contest equals both the longest game ever played in the 120-year history of Fighting Irish baseball and the longest in Big East Conference history.

Notre Dame and Rutgers also went 19 innings on May 11, 2003.

The two teams went into extra innings Saturday as well, with the Bulls (31-15, 15-2) edged NF (27-19, 7-10) in 10 innings by a 4-3 count. The final home series of the regular season concludes Sunday with an 11:30 a.m. matchup.

Steven Leasure (3-1) picked up the victory with three scoreless innings of relief. Irish junior right-hander Donnie Hissa (1-1) was charged with the loss. He fanned four in three innings, but was victimized by an error that ultimately led to six unearned runs. Hissa yielded six hits, three of which never left the infield.

Notre Dame closer and All-America candidate Dan Slania allowed a two-out, game-tying two-run double in the top of the ninth inning that tied the score, 2-2, rebounded with 7Ð consecutive scoreless innings afterwards. Slania retired 21 of the last 23 USF batters he faced.

In all, Slania tossed nine innings of relief and limited the Bulls to a pair of earned runs on six hits. He struck out seven and walked two. His pitch count finished at 132.

“That’s what’s going to make him a really high draft pick and, hopefully, a very, very successful pro,” Irish coach Mik Aoki told und.com. “I mean, he’s just unbelievable with what he did out there. We were probably ready to take him out after about 100 (pitches), and he was like, ‘Nope, nope, not coming out, not coming out. I want to go back out there.’

“It’s probably right on the edge of what I’m having him comfortable throwing, but when a kid rises to the occasion like that, I think you ride him. At some point you’ve got to take care of the kid’s arm and do the right thing by him, but it was an unbelievable effort.”

The Irish advanced the potential winning run into scoring position with fewer than two outs on four different occasions in extra innings, but could not deliver the critical hit.

Connaughton was spectacular in a no-decision. He tossed seven scoreless innings and limited USF to five hits, all singles. Connaughton struck out three and walked four. He had 16 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in Notre Dame’s 104-101, five-overtime victory over eventual national champion Louisville on Feb. 9, longest in Big East regular-game history.

USF000000002000000000 68 17 2
ND001000100000000000 02 12 3

Jimmy Hegert, Lawrence Pardo (8), Chad Taylor (8), Janick Serrallonga (10), Adrian Pulg (14), Steven Leasure (17, W); Pat Connaughton, Dan Slania (8), Donnie Hissa (17, L).

2B: Alex Mendez (USF), Jimmy Falla (USF), Kyle Copack (USF), Trey Mancini (ND).

3B: Ryan Bull (ND), Charlie Markson (ND).