Notre Dame baseball: Irish blast Bulls in series finale

CURT RALLO South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — On a weekend when the Notre Dame baseball team took some jarring body punches, the Fighting Irish countered with a haymaker of their own on Sunday.

Suffering two gut-wrenching, extra-inning losses to Big East leader South Florida on Friday and Saturday, the Irish struck back with a 10-1 rout on Sunday.

Notre Dame (28-19 overall and 8-10 in the Big East) closed out the home portion of its regular-season schedule with the critical victory. The Irish have seven games left in the season, including a three-game league series at St. John’s, and a three-game league series at Cincinnati. South Florida is 31-16 overall and 15-3 in the Big East heading down the stretch to the league tournament, May 22-26 in Clearwater, Fla.

“It’s probably two swings of the bat and it could have been a sweep for us,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “You tip your hat to South Florida. They kept us from doing it. They’re a good club.’’

Notre Dame was 2-for-23 (.087) with runners in scoring position with fewer than two out in the first two games of the series. On Sunday, the Irish came out swinging, jumping to a 3-0 lead after two innings, and then blasting the Bulls for a six-spot in the eighth.

“We were able to do what was missing the past couple of days, get a timely hit,” Aoki said. “This was a really important win. There’s no question, it was. It’s an RPI boosting win.

“The kids did an unbelievable job of competing. I’m proud of them. They should be proud of themselves. We’re in a good place. We erased the margin for error for the NCAA Tournament. At the same time, if we win six out of seven, or seven out of seven, which I certainly think we’re capable of doing, going down the stretch, then I think we’re comfortably in.

“If we’re not, then we have to make a run in the Big East Tournament. I think we control our own destiny, and the way we’ve been playing, despite the two losses, I think we’ll be fine.”

Notre Dame halted an 11-game Big East winning streak by South Florida. The Bulls had won 17 of their last 18.

Sean Fitzgerald started for the Irish and pitched 6ð innings, allowing one run and seven hits.

“The first two games were pretty tough on us,” Fitzgerald said. “Playing 19 innings and losing is never going to help with the morale. Then we lost another extra-inning game. We knew we had to come out and do the job (on Sunday).

“They’re a very left-handed heavy lineup. I worked my fastball and change-up to them the majority of the game. I threw maybe seven sliders. The slider is my best pitch, but I’ve been struggling with it lately. It was good to get my fastball and change-up in there a lot today.”

Reliever Nick McCarty entered the game with one out and two on in the eighth and the Irish owning a 4-1 lead. It took him two pitches to coax a double play ball to end the threat. McCarty then slammed the door after the Irish hung a six on the scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth, picking up his first save.

“I’m not a big power pitcher,” McCarty said. “I have a two-seamer, a four-seamer and a change-up. I threw a two-seamer in the eighth, and that has really helped me in the past to get ground balls. The coaches put me in there to get ground balls. That’s my job to do.”

Trey Mancini played third for injured All-America candidate Eric Jagielo and slugged a triple and a double, extending his hitting streak to 15 games.

Frank DeSico, Zak Kutsulis and Lane Richards also had two hits each for the Irish.

Jagielo streak ends

Notre Dame third baseman and All-America candidate Eric Jagielo missed the first games of his three-year career in the South Florida series. Jagielo suffered a hamstring injury in the eighth inning of Friday’s 8-2 loss in 19 innings to South Florida. Jagielo took off from first on a double by Trey Mancini. He was about 10 feet from home plate when he went down with the injury. Instead of scoring easily for a 3-0 Irish lead, Jagielo was tagged out, and South Florida went on to score a pair in the ninth to force extra innings.

Jagielo, who leads the Irish with a .389 batting average, started 156 games in a row. He missed Saturday and Sunday’s game after suffering Friday’s injury. The Irish are hoping he will be able to play in next weekend’s series at St. John’s. Center fielder Steve Stanley owns the Irish record for most consecutive games started, 256, set from 1999-2002.

Long hours

Aoki was the head coach at Boston College when the Eagles played Texas in the longest game in NCAA history, a 25-inning game in 2009 that the Longhorns claimed, 3-2. Now, he’s coached in the Big East’s longest game, Friday’s 19-inning 8-2 loss to South Florida.

Notre Dame baseball sports information director Michael Bertsch also owns the distinction of being the official scorer in the longest baseball games in the Big East Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference. Bertsch was the official scorer at Wake Forest when the Demon Deacons played 20 innings against Florida State in 2006, a game the Seminoles won, 4-3.

South Florida000010000 — 1 9 2
Notre Dame12000016x — 10 13 1

Joey Lovecchio, Janick Serrallonga (8), Adrian Puig (8), Justin Patrick (8); Sean Fitzgerald, David Hearne (7), Nick McCarty (8).

W - Fitzgerald (4-3). L - Lovecchio (5-3). S- (1).

2B - Charlie Markson (ND), Frank DeSico (ND), Trey Mancini (ND).

3B - Zak Kutsulis (ND), Trey Mancini (ND).

HR - Phil Mosey (ND).

T- 2:35. A - 791.

Staff writer Curt Rallo: