Illini next for Notre Dame after Irish rally past Wright State

Tribune Staff Report
ND Insider

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – After waiting nine years to play in another NCAA Regional, the Notre Dame baseball team’s bats certainly weren’t rusty.

The Irish collected 16 hits – including four home runs – to beat Wright State, 13-7, in the opening game of the NCAA Champaign Regional Friday at the University of Illinois.

The Irish (37-21) advance into the winner’s bracket game against top-seeded Illinois (47-8-1), a 10-3 winner over Ohio late Friday.

That game was originally scheduled for 8 p.m., on Saturday but was pushed back until Sunday because of rain delaying a Saturday elimination game between Wright State and Ohio. 

“It certainly didn't start out the way we wanted it to, but I'm proud of the way our kids continued to compete,” said Irish coach Mik Aoki. “We made some big swings. Ryan (Bull) and Robert (Youngdahl), and a few other guys, made some big plays.

“It was a good ballgame, kind of back and forth. From a fan's perspective, it was probably a pretty entertaining game. Wright State did a good job of competing against us. Ultimately, we just made a couple of more swings.”

After falling behind 3-0 early, Notre Dame finally figured out the puzzle that was Raider starter Luke Mamer. The senior righty retired all but one batter the first time through the order for a clean 2 2/3 innings of work. The Irish had their way with him the second time through. With two outs in the bottom of the third, the Irish proceeded to tally five hits in a row – including a pair of two-RBI doubles by seniors Ryan Bull and Robert Youngdahl – to jump out in front 4-3.

“The Miami game (in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament) just reaffirmed what we knew all year; that we could play with anyone and beat anyone,” said Youngdahl. “Today was maybe more similar to the North Carolina game. We fell down 6-0, and just battled back and ended up winning. So I think that we have learned that no matter what the score is, we can just keep playing our game and we can battle back from anything.”

With both starting pitchers out of the game, neither team scored in the fourth or fifth innings before the floodgates opened in a back-and-forth game. Wright State tied the game in the top of the sixth before a Zak Kutsulis solo homer gave Notre Dame a 5-4 lead. For Kutsulis, the homer was his sixth in his last 31 games after not hitting a homer in any of his previous 119 games at Notre Dame.

The Raiders wouldn’t go away. They regained the lead at 6-5 in the top of the seventh on RBI doubles by Sean Murphy and Michael Timm. The Irish answered in the bottom half of the frame with a Bull two-run homer, before exploding for six runs in the eighth to put the game away.

Highlighting the eighth inning were a three-run homer by sophomore second baseman Cavan Biggio and a two-run homer by Youngdahl.

Seven of Notre Dame’s 13 runs came with two outs, as the Irish went 9-for-17 when two outs on the board.

Notre Dame’s 13 RBI were a season high, while the Irish tied their season high in hits with 16.

After Irish starter Scott Kerrigan was pulled following three innings (6 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 0 SO, 48 pitches), Notre Dame turned to sophomore reliever Scott Tully, who got eight consecutive outs to steady the Notre Dame ship before giving up a solo homer to Ryan Fucci. Tully exited after 3 2/3 innings (3 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 51 pitches) in favor of freshman RHP Brandon Bielak.

Despite allowing a solo homer, Bielak (6-2) turned in a solid 2 1/3 innings (2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SO, 35 pitches) in relief to pick up his sixth win of the year.

The top five Irish batters went a combined 13-for-23 with four doubles, three homers, 12 RBIs and nine runs scored. Bull (3-for-4) had a monster day with two doubles, a homer, four RBIs and two runs scored, while Youngdahl went 3-for-5 with a double, homer, four RBIs and a run scored. All four of Youngdahl’s RBIs came with two outs.

Biggio (2-5, HR, 3 RBIs, 2 R), Fiala (2 H, 2 R) and catcher Ryan Lidge (3-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 R) also were clutch at the top of the Notre Dame lineup.

With a single in the third inning, Fiala improved his on-base streak to 47 games. The streak began March 6 in Notre Dame’s first Atlantic Coast Conference game of the season at Georgia Tech.

Wright State 021 001 201 — 7 11 0

Notre Dame 004 001 26X — 13 16 0

Scott Kerrigan, Scott Tully (4), Brandon Bielak (7) (W, 6-2); Luke Mamer, E.J. Trapino (5), Trevor Swaney (6) (L, 4-3), Logan Blair (7)

2B: (W) Sean Murphy, Michael Timm; (ND) Ryan Bull 2, Ryan Lidge, Robert Youngdahl, Lane Richards.

3B: (W) John Brodner.

HR: (W) Ryan Fucci, Andrew McCafferty; (ND) Cavan Biggio, Bull, Youngdahl, Zak Kutsulis.

Records: Notre Dame 37-21.

Notre Dame's Robert Youngdahl singles during the second inning against Wright State during the Champaign Regional of the NCAA college baseball tournament, Friday in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/BRADLEY LEEB)