March 4, 2017
By Michael Scholl
CARY, North Carolina -- Michael Hearne and Matt Vierling propelled the Notre Dame baseball team back into the win column on Friday night. The Irish took an 8-4 decision from Rhode Island to cap day two at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic.
Hearne gave the Irish 5.1 innings, allowing four earned runs while striking out three. He was given a 6-0 lead thanks in part to a grand slam by Vierling. After Sean Guenther threw 3.1 innings of one-hit ball in relief, Vierling moved to the mound to nail down the save.
Following the loss to UMass Lowell earlier in the day, Mik Aoki wanted his club to jump out to a lead and it did just that. Vierling singled through the left side before Jung doubled to the right field corner. Vierling was poised to score but tripped rounding third. After Ryan Lidge walked, Jake Shepski drilled a single to right to put the Irish up, 1-0.
With Hearne cruising, the Irish added on in the fourth. Vierling was the spark again, this time singling up the middle to start the frame. Jung followed with a single to right, moving Vierling to third. Lidge did his job with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0, Notre Dame.
The big blow came in the fifth as the Irish capitalized on some URI miscues. Jake Johnson drilled a one-out single through the right side before Kyle Fiala reached on a grounder to short which saw the shortstop pull the first baseman off the bag with the throw. Nick Podkul then got hit by a pitch to load the bases and Vierling took advantage, driving a 2-2 pitch over the wall in left-center to make it 6-0.
Hearne ran out of steam in the sixth, letting the Rams back in the game. The inning opened with a double by Laurence Hill, single by Greg Cavaliere and bunt single by Jordan Powell. Chris Hess knocked in a pair with a single through the right side, then Martin Figueroa doubled down the left field line to make it 6-4. After a Fiala fielded a chopper and gunned Figueroa down at the plate, Mik Aoki turned to Sean Guenther who got a pair of strikeouts sandwiched around a single to minimize the damage.
With URI back in the game, the Irish refused to allow the Rams a shutdown inning. With two outs, Daily hit an infield single, then stole second base. Johnson walked before Fiala sent a single to right to score Daily and make it 7-4.
Guenther cruised through the seventh and eighth, sending URI down in order. In the ninth, he struck out the first hitter before walking Sonny Ulliana. Pinch hitter Sam Ilario hit into a fielder's choice, with Ulliana out at second on the play, but Guenther issued a two-out walk to Laurence Hill. Aoki came to the mound and brought in Vierling, who froze Cavaliere on a payoff pitch to get the strikeout, the save and the 8-4 win for the Irish.
The Skipper's Thoughts
On Michael Hearne...
"He's such a steady presence for us, regardless of how he pitches. (His) demeanor is where we're trying to get a lot of these younger guys. Mental toughness is a choice and the stability he brings to our team is just phenomenal."
On Matt Vierling...
"He's a terrific player and he's an even better kid. He had a really good night tonight. He's a very talented kid who works hard at his craft. We need to work to get that pitching role expanded a little bit, but he had a really good day for us."
On his message to the team after splitting two games Saturday...
"In the first game, I thought we were feeling a little sorry for ourselves. For me, attitude and effort level are always things we can control. Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way, sometimes you might not be feeling it that day and might not play great, but the attitude and the effort level have to be there all the time. I felt like that was a little lacking (against UMass Lowell), but I thought our kids did a great job bouncing back and beating a URI team that is a pretty solid club."
On the importance of scoring first against URI...
"It's one of the things that we emphasize, the ability to score first. Unfortunately, during this stretch, we haven't done a whole heck of a lot of that. Scoring first and trying to win the 'free 90' (walks, hit batsmen, errors, wild pitches, passed balls, etc.) battle are the most important keys for us. To be able to get out there (with a lead) and then add to it a couple innings later, allowed that dark cloud that had sort of settled in on us to be lifted."
The Irish wrap-up action at the 2017 USA Baseball-Irish Classic on Sunday against Monmouth. First pitch is set for 11 a.m. and the game can be heard live on WatchND and 103.1 FM in South Bend.
Michael Scholl joined Fighting Irish Media in August 2016, coordinating communications for the baseball program and assisting with the football team at his alma mater. The South Bend native earned a degree in political science from the College of Arts & Letters in 2009 before going on to work in athletics communications at Providence College, Vanderbilt and Cincinnati.