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Irish Spend Spring “Break” in California

Mar 19, 2013, 4:31 PM EDT

Kevin DeFilippis (photo by Maria Massa)

While students packed their bags and headed for warm places for some much needed rest and relaxation over Spring Break, the Notre Dame baseball team headed off to California. Although the weather was gorgeous, the Irish had little time to relax, playing seven games in nine days over their “break.” Facing five different teams, including three top 25 ranked opponents, the Irish had their work cut out for them. They left “the Golden State” with four more hard-fought victories.

The week opened up on Friday, Mar. 8 with a 2-1 extra innings loss in the Dodgertown Classic against No. 7 UCLA. After allowing a run in the bottom of the first, junior starter Sean Fitzgerald settled down to pitch 6.0 innings while striking out five Bruins batters. The Irish tied up the game, 1-1, in the fifth on an RBI single from catcher Forrest Johnson. The score remained 1-1 through the bottom of the ninth, sending it to extra innings. After the Irish went down 1-2-3 in the top of the tenth, Eric Filia was able to pick up a win for the Bruins with a walk off RBI single.

On Saturday, the Irish found themselves on the winning side of another 2-1 final, beating rival USC. Senior starting pitcher Adam Norton settled down after a second inning jam, and threw 7.0 innings, striking out three and allowing only one run. Notre Dame tied the game 1-1 on a sixth inning homer from junior Eric Jagielo, his fourth of the season. The Irish then broke the tie in the eighth when sophomore Ryan Bull scored on 1B Trey Mancini’s sac fly. Junior Dan Slania came on to pitch 2.0 scoreless innings for his third save of the season.

The string of one-run ballgames continued on Sunday with the Irish’s thrilling, 6-5 comeback win over No. 10 Oklahoma. Notre Dame tied up the game 4-4 in the bottom of the fifth on Jagielo’s two-run homer, his fifth of the season. However, the Irish fell behind 5-4 in the eighth, and would need some late-game heroics to pull out the win. Sophomore Phil Mosey led off the bottom of the ninth with a pinch-hit double. Sophomore Conor Biggio pinch-ran for Mosey, and scored the tying run on another Mancini sac fly. Then, in the bottom of the eleventh, sophomore INF Kevin DeFilippis broke the tie with a pinch-hit, walk-off RBI single on the first pitch he had faced all season. Slania earned a much-deserved win after 3.1 scoreless innings in relief to keep the Irish in the game.

The Irish struggled in Tuesday’s trip to UC Santa Barbara, falling 7-2 to the Gauchos. They uncharacteristically fell behind 6-0 after the first five innings, and were unable to make up the ground over the remaining four innings. Their lone runs came on RBI singles from Bull and Jagielo in the top of the sixth. On a positive note, Mosey went 3-4 with a run scored in his first start of the season.

The California trip wrapped up with a three-game series at No. 20 Cal Poly. The Irish dropped Thursday’s series opener, 6-3, to the Mustangs. Notre Dame took a 3-1 lead in the top of the third on an RBI single from Jagielo and an RBI double from Mancini. However, the Irish struggled in the bottom of the third, giving up five runs, while falling behind 6-3. That would be the final score as Cal Poly starter Joey Wagman pitched flawlessly over the last six innings, allowing only two more hits and striking out twelve Irish batters.

Notre Dame got back to its winning ways on Friday, pulling out a hard-fought 1-0 victory. After eight innings of scoreless baseball, the Irish finally broke through on senior co-captain Frank DeSico’s RBI infield single in the top of the ninth. That would be all the offense the team would need as Slania pitched a scoreless bottom of the ninth for his fourth save of the year. Starter Adam Norton was phenomenal, striking out five batters over eight shutout innings to improve to 5-0 over his first five starts of the season.

In Saturday’s series finale, the Irish held off a Mustang rally to earn a 6-5 win. The Irish jumped out to a 5-0 lead after Jagielo’s sixth home run of the season and RBIs from Mancini, Mosey, and Richards. However, Cal Poly battled back to cut the Irish lead down to one in the bottom of the sixth. Sophomore pitcher Matt Ternowchek earned his second win of the season with 1.2 scoreless innings of relief, while Slania picked up his fifth save with another 2.0 innings of shutout pitching.

The Irish finished the California trip 4-3, with three of those wins coming against top 25 opponents. Now 12-5 on the season, the team is ranked No. 15 in the most recent Baseball America poll. Although the team has started the season strong against quality opponents, the Irish must now continue their success as BIG EAST conference play begins. The Irish open up their BIG EAST slate with their first home series of the season against Seton Hall this upcoming weekend.

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