Irish Top Tigers

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Following an early March road sweep by national powerhouse Texas State, in which the Irish were outscored 17-0 in three games, prospects were not promising for facing No. 11 LSU the following weekend. Furthermore, the Irish were playing the Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader and had dropped a 6-5 late inning heart-breaker to Michigan earlier in the day.

Adding to the challenge was the atmosphere at Alex Box Stadium. LSU led college baseball in attendance in 2011 and drew 10,347 fans for Sunday night's game against the Irish.

"The atmosphere was phenomenal," Irish coach Mik Aoki said. "It's one of college baseball's best venues. It was exciting for our kids to play in that kind of facility and atmosphere."

Also, Tiger coach Paul Mainieri led the Irish program to eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1999-2006, including a trip to the 2002 College World Series during his time in South Bend.

Yet, the young Irish team overcame the obstacles of defeating a ranked opponent on the road and offered a glimpse of what the program is capable of achieving.

The Irish dominated LSU in a 7-1 win, led by the pitching of sophomore starter Sean Fitzgerald and timely hitting.

"[The win over LSU] certainly gets us recognition of temporal fashion," Aoki said. "It builds confidence in our team, and our guys can understand what feats we're capable of."

Unfortunately, inclement weather prevented a rematch the following Monday night. However, the Irish had not defeated a higher-ranked opponent on the road since beating No. 1 Florida State to advance to the 2002 College World Series.

After struggling in his first few outings on the season, Sean Fitzgerald spearheaded the upset bid, limiting the Tigers to one run in eight innings. The sophomore allowed only six hits and one walk while striking out four and shut out LSU the first seven innings.

The only time he ran into trouble came in the eighth, when he allowed three straight hits with one out. However, Fitzgerald struckout the final two batters of the inning to quell any hopes of an LSU comeback.

"Everything was a little bit sharper than his first few outings, especially his fastball and change-up," Aoki said. "His command was good, and he fell into very few negative counts."

Freshman center fielder Conor Biggio led the Irish offense from the leadoff spot. In the third, his two-run double to right-center field gave the Irish a quick 2-0 lead. In the seventh, Biggio's infield single plated another run to put the Irish up 6-0.

"Conor gave us a little spark in the lead-off spot," Aoki said. "He put together quality at-bats against a quality LSU team."

Catcher Joe Hudson, and outfielders Charlie Markson and Alex Robinson added two-hit efforts to lead the Irish offense.

Following the LSU win, the Irish built a four-game winning streak with three straight wins in San Antonio at the Irish Baseball Classic before dropping the final two games of the trip to Indiana State on March 17 and 18.

- Matt Unger ('15)

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