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Irish Win First BIG EAST Series of the Season

Mar 27, 2013, 1:17 PM EST

Notre Dame Cal Poly Baseball AP

After a month of games played in the warm weather states of Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and California, the Notre Dame baseball team returned to South Bend for its first home series of the 2013 season. Despite spring officially beginning on March 21, South Bend seems intent on holding on to winter for a little bit longer. Game time temperatures were in the mid-30’s, and the weekend’s games were moved to Coveleski Stadium in downtown South Bend to take advantage of better field conditions.

The No. 15 Irish opened up their first BIG EAST series of the season against Seton Hall on Friday night. The Pirates were able to hold off an Irish rally to take a 4-3 win and spoil the Irish’s home opener. Junior starting pitcher Sean Fitzgerald pitched well over 7.1 innings, allowing only one earned run. Unfortunately, a costly error in the third inning allowed three unearned runs for Seton Hall. The Irish scored their three runs in the bottom of the fifth on RBI singles from Zak Kutsulis, Frank DeSico, and Mac Hudgins. In the end, Seton Hall was able to prevail behind excellent pitching from starter Jon Prosinski and closer Brian Gilbert.

On Saturday, the Irish secured a pair of 3-2 victories to win the series over Seton Hall. The doubleheader sweep was their third sweep in as many chances on the season.

In Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader, senior starter Adam Norton took the mound for the Irish and continued his dominant season. He improved to 6-0 in six starts, striking out four Pirate batters and allowing only two earned runs in 7.2 innings pitched. The Irish offense played effective “small ball” in this game, scoring runs after a sacrifice fly and two key sacrifice bunts. DeSico scored on junior Trey Mancini’s sacrifice fly in the first inning, and later scored on a fielder’s choice from junior Eric Jagielo in the third. Junior catcher Forrest Johnson scored what would be the winning run in the seventh inning on a wild pitch. Junior closer Dan Slania picked up his sixth save of the season after pitching 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.

The nightcap of the doubleheader played out much like Game 1, with the Irish holding on for a 3-2 victory. DeSico scored on an RBI single from Mancini in the bottom of the first to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead. After the Pirates tied up the game at 1-1, the Irish took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI infield single from sophomore Ryan Bull. Senior co-captain Charlie Markson then scored a key insurance run (and the eventual game-winning run) on a Seton Hall throwing error to increase the lead to 3-1. After freshman pitcher Nick McCarty ran into some trouble in the eighth, Slania came on for a six-out save, his second of the day and seventh of the year.

Due to the inclement South Bend weather, a game scheduled with Kent State for Monday was cancelled. However, the Irish and Golden Flashes did in fact meet Tuesday night at the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. The Irish finally broke the streak of five consecutive one-run games, this time picking up an 8-1 win. Sophomore Pat Connaughton made the quick 4-day transfer from the hardwood to the pitcher’s mound, retiring all six batters he faced on a limited pitch count. Sophomore Matt Ternowchek came on in relief for Connaughton and earned the win after allowing only one run over 3.2 innings. Zak Kutsulis went 2-4 from the plate with a triple and 3 RBI. He also threw 1.2 innings of scoreless relief later in the game. A five-run bottom of the fifth provided all the cushion the pitching staff would need to secure the win.

After their three-game win streak, the Fighting Irish now sit at an impressive 15-6 record on the season. Next up is a critical BIG EAST road series at No. 10 Louisville. How the Irish play this weekend will give fans a better picture of where they sit among the elite teams in the nation.

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