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Irish Take Home Finale from South Florida

May 7, 2013, 2:25 PM EDT

Trey Mancini steps up to the plate and cranks one. (photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Here’s a basic math problem for all you mathematics majors out there. If the Irish played 38 innings of baseball against South Florida this past weekend, how many games did they play? The rational answer would be four, with one game lasting a few extra innings. However, the Irish only played three games at Frank Eck Baseball Stadium this weekend.

Yup, you read that correctly: 38 innings stretched across a mere three games.

The Irish and the South Florida Bulls played an entire game’s length worth of extra innings in Friday’s 19-inning thriller. Technically, the game stands as the longest on record in both Notre Dame and BIG EAST Conference baseball history. In May of 2003, Notre Dame faced off against Rutgers in a game that entered the 19th inning, but that matchup ended after only two outs in the 19th. Ironically, the longest game in NCAA history was played in 2009, and lasted 25 innings. That game took place between Texas and Boston College, who were coached by current Irish head coach Mik Aoki.

Unfortunately, the Irish dropped the first two games of the series to BIG EAST leader USF, before salvaging their final home game of the season on Sunday with a 10-1 score.

Friday’s game looked as normal as any other typical Notre Dame baseball game this year, with the Irish taking a 2-0 lead into the ninth behind a sac fly from freshman Zak Kutsulis and an RBI single from sophomore Mac Hudgins. Closer Dan Slania came on to pick up the save, and looked well on his way to doing so when South Florida RF Alex Mendez delivered a two-out two-RBI double to tie the game. After the Irish failed to plate a run in the bottom of the ninth, the two teams then traded nine scoreless frames.

Slania stayed on the mound for an incredible performance, essentially throwing a complete game across 9.0 innings of relief. After giving up the tying runs in the ninth, he would not allow another runner to cross home plate as he struck out 7 USF batters over the next 7.0 innings. Thanks to Slania’s efforts on the mound, the Irish had multiple opportunities to win the ball game were it not for stranded runners in scoring position across multiple innings.

In the top of the 19th, the Irish faced the consequences of two key fielding errors, which allowed the Bulls to stay in the batter’s box. Ultimately, junior Donnie Hissa gave up 6 unearned runs as a result of the errors, and USF went on to win the game 8-2. While the game ended in heartbreaking fashion, it certainly provided some extra entertainment for the fans at Frank Eck Stadium. Ultimately, the contest lasted five hours and featured 36 different players.

Saturday’s game also featured extra innings, but nothing on the scale of Friday’s “one-game doubleheader.” South Florida took game two of the series 4-3 in ten innings during Saturday’s matinee.

The Irish trailed 1-0 heading to the bottom of the ninth, and this time they got a little late-game magic of their own. With the Irish facing their final out, a passed ball allowed Hudgins to cross the plate and tie the game at 1-1. Senior Adam Norton was fantastic yet again in his starting role, allowing just one run in his first 9.0 innings on the mound. However, Norton stayed on the mound for the tenth inning and ran into trouble, giving up three earned runs to give the Bulls a 4-1 lead.

The Irish would not go down easily. Senior Frank DeSico drove in fellow co-captain Charlie Markson with a two-out RBI single, and sophomore Blaise Lezynski scored on a bases loaded walk of freshman Kyle Richardson. With the bases still loaded and the score now 4-3, BIG EAST Player of the Week Trey Mancini came to the plate. He worked the count full, but unfortunately his ground ball up the middle was stabbed by USF pitcher Jordan Strittmatter and thrown to first to end the game.

Things turned around for the Irish in Sunday’s series finale, as they cruised to victory over South Florida. Junior Sean Fitzgerald was fantastic in his start, pitching 6.2 innings while allowing only one run. Fittingly, DeSico was 2-5 with an RBI and Markson was 1-3 with 2 RBI in the final home game of the co-captains’ Notre Dame careers. Sophomore Ryan Bull was also 1-4 with 3 RBI, while sophomore Phil Mosey smacked a two-run pinch-hit homer in the bottom of eighth.

The Irish are now 28-19 on the season, and 8-10 in the BIG EAST. With two conference series left at St. Johns and Cincinnati, they have an opportunity to improve their position before the BIG EAST Tournament, which begins on May 22 in Clearwater, FL.

The team definitely has a chance to make a serious run in the Conference tournament, and will likely rely on the bats of Mancini and junior Eric Jagielo. Looking ahead to the NCAA College World Series, if the Irish are looking to advance into their first NCAA Tournament since 2006, every pitcher and player alike needs to bring their “A game” to the field in preparation for facing off against the nation’s elite ball clubs.

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