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Irish Continue Hot Start, Improve to 8-2

Mar 5, 2013, 12:22 PM EDT

Charlie Markson

The Notre Dame baseball team played four games this past weekend at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic in Cary, N.C., and came away with three more impressive wins. The team’s 8-2 record to the year is their best start since the 1960 season.

The No. 22 Irish opened up the Baseball Classic at the USA Baseball Complex by sweeping a doubleheader on Friday. In the series opener, the Irish bats were on display, as Notre Dame defeated Massachusetts, 9-4. Junior catcher Forrest Johnson drove in three Irish runners with a second inning triple, while junior 1B Trey Mancini added a three-run homer in the fourth. Sophomore Matt Ternowchek came on in relief for starting pitcher Donnie Hissa, tossing 5.0 shutout innings, striking out eight Minutemen batters, and earning his first win of the season.

In the nightcap of the doubleheader, the Irish came away with a thrilling 3-2 victory in 12 innings over Tennessee. Junior starting pitcher Sean Fitzgerald and Tennessee starter Zack Godley battled throughout the entire game in a classic pitchers’ duel. Fitzgerald struck out eight Volunteer batters and gave up only one earned run over 8.0 excellent innings. Normally, such a performance would be enough to earn the win, but the score remained 1-1 when Fitzgerald left the mound for the night.

In the top of the ninth, Tennessee took a 2-1 lead after a two-out RBI triple from Will Maddox. However, with the Irish down to their final out, their late game magic was on display again. Freshman SS Lane Richards tied the game up 2-2 with a two-out RBI single, sending the game into extra innings. Junior RP Dan Slania was incredible in relief, retiring all 10 Tennessee batters he faced over 3.1 innings pitched. After stranding five base runners in the tenth and eleventh innings alone, the Irish rewarded Slania with the victory in the bottom of the twelfth on sophomore Ryan Bull’s walk-off RBI single.

In Saturday’s 3-0 win over No. 25 Virginia Tech, senior starting pitcher Adam Norton was phenomenal. Norton tossed a complete game shutout, improving his season record to 3-0. The senior pitcher faced only 32 batters over nine innings (5 more than the minimum for a complete game), and struck out five while allowing only four hits. Mancini provided all the offense the Irish would need, going 2-4 with three RBI, including a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. The homer was his third on the season.

The Irish struggled in Sunday’s series finale, dropping a 4-3 loss to Rhode Island. Freshman pitcher David Hearne threw well, striking out six and giving up three earned runs over 7.0 innings pitched, but five errors proved to be too costly for the Irish. Tied 3-3 in the top of the ninth, a critical error extended the inning and allowed the Rams to take a 4-3 lead. The Irish had run out of late game magic in this one, and were retired 1-2-3 to end the game. Junior 3B Eric Jagielo, senior co-captain Charlie Markson, and freshman OF Zak Kutsulis provided the RBIs for the Irish.

This upcoming weekend, the Irish will be granted a major opportunity to back up their hot start to the 2013 season. On Friday, the team opens up the Dodgertown Classic at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif. against No. 4 UCLA. They then face rival USC on Saturday, and close out the weekend on Sunday with a game against No. 10 Oklahoma. The Irish will be challenged by these elite opponents, but these are types of teams that they should get used to playing if they hope to return to the College World Series at the end of the season.

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