March 11, 2014
BOONE, N.C. - The Irish like to save their best stuff against Appalachian State until the ninth inning. Just nine days after a thrilling come-from-behind, extra-inning victory over the Mountaineers, 4-3, the University of Notre Dame baseball team did it again Tuesday night in Boone, N.C., in a game that was eerily similar to the one barely a week earlier in Cary, N.C. After scoring two runs in the ninth to send the game to extras, the Irish blew the game open with four runs in the 10th to win, 13-9, in front of 681 fans at Smith Stadium.
Notre Dame entered the ninth trailing 9-7 after App State (4-12) exploded for five runs in the sixth inning. With his team down to its last out with no runners on base, freshman catcher Ryan Lidge didn’t buckle under the pressure as he blasted a double to left center to keep the Irish alive. Pinch hitter Ryan Bull stepped into the box and drew a walk to give the Irish pinch runners (Jack Flaherty and Conor Biggio) at first and third after a passed ball moved Flaherty up a base. One of the heroes in the first victory against Appalachian State, sophomore Zak Kutsulis took the first pitch he saw and knocked a two-run double to left field to tie the game up after Biggio just beat out the throw at home plate by turning on the jets as he sprinted around the bases from first.
In extras, the Irish were again down to two outs, but this time had runners at second and third. Sophomore Lane Richards, who has been swinging a steady bat ever since the Irish arrived in North Carolina almost two weeks ago, stepped up and cracked a triple over the heads of a moved in outfield to score two runs and give Notre Dame an 11-9 lead. Looking to make the lead insurmountable, catcher Forrest Johnson kept the run going by absolutely crushing the first pitch he saw from closer Robert Whaley (0-1) over the left center field fence for his first career home run.
“I got behind in the count but I was trying to put good contact on it and he tossed me a pitch up and I jumped on it,” said Richards. “I was pretty lucky they brought the centerfielder in to prevent a bloop hit, but I got it over his head and I’m so happy right now with this win.
“It (the Irish competitiveness) comes from all the preparation in the fall with coach Aoki and our strength and conditioning coach Craig Cheek. They really push us to compete a lot. So we’ve been doing it all year and that’s what it came down to tonight.”
Carrying a four-run lead into the bottom half of the 10th inning, junior Cristian Torres earned the second win of his career (both against Appalachian State) by striking out the side to give the Irish another thrilling victory over the Mountaineers.
“I think we really struggled as a pitching staff to change the momentum, which has unfortunately been a bit of a common theme this season in that we can’t seem to get a guy in that sort of rights the ship," said Aoki. "We had that with Michael Hearne against Youngstown, but tonight it seemed to sort of snowball on us. I thought Donnie (Hissa) coming out clean in his second inning was huge as well as Cristian (Torres) coming up clean throughout. You can tell how much better the team plays simply because one guy is pitching better. Maybe it’s a little bit too much of a burden for some of these young players, but the team sort of feeds off the guy on the bump – defensively and offensively. But having said that I was proud of the way these guys came back and competed and overcame some adversity to win.”
Notre Dame (6-9) notched season highs in at-bats (43), runs (13), hits (15), RBI (12), total bases (29), walks (8) while tying season highs in home runs (2), doubles (4) and triples (2). The Irish also improved to 11-12-1 (2-1 this season) in extra innings under head coach Mik Aoki.
In the longest game of the season for Notre Dame (3:31), the Irish used six pitchers to pick up the win.
At the plate, junior Robert Youngdahl and Johnson cracked homers and a whopping six Notre Dame players recorded two RBI. Junior Blaise Lezynski continued his torrid streak with a 3-for-4 day against the Mountaineers. The Newtown, Pa., native added two RBI, a walk and run scored. Ten different players scored runs on the evening, including three from freshman Kyle Fiala and two from sophomore Ricky Sanchez. Also scoring a run in his first career game was sophomore Jack Flaherty.
Despite the fireworks of the last two innings, the first eight offered plenty of their own. Four lead changes occurred in the first six innings as the two teams put up a combined 15 runs. To get to 9-7 in the top of the ninth, let’s take a look back at how we got there.
The Irish struck first as they capitalized on the unsteady pitching of Mountaineer starter Blake Burkett. Burkett entered the game with an ERA of 14.54 and a 0-2 record and didn’t get off to a good start as he gave up a single, hit a batter and walked three before being lifted for reliever Dallas DeVrieze.
Kutsulis led off the game with a single and Fiala followed that up by barely getting nicked to give Notre Dame runners on first and second with no outs. A ground out advanced the runners and a Lezynski sac fly easily scored Kutsulis. After back-to-back walks from Sanchez and Youngdahl loaded the bases, a passed ball by catcher Ozzy Gonzalez allowed Fiala to scurry home. Another walk issued to Richards loaded the bases and led to Burkett’s removal from the contest. DeVrieze kept more runs from crossing the dish by inducing a groundout to end the threat.
Starter Michael Hearne entered the game on a pitch count and went three innings, giving up two hits and two walks while striking out four. Hearne left as the pitcher of record, but a tough fourth inning from the Irish bullpen allowed the Mountaineers to bring four across home plate and take their first lead of the game.
Freshman Ryan Smoyer started the inning and gave up a single through the right side before forcing the Mountaineers into back-to-back flyouts. However, right fielder Preston Troutman jumpstarted what would become a big inning for ASU by doubling to right center to plate Gonzalez and move the score to 2-1. After Smoyer issued a walk, junior RHP Matt Ternowchek entered to try and minimize the damage.
Unfortunately for the Irish, Tyler Zupcic doubled to left center to plate Troutman and tie the game at two. An intentional walk to Dillon Dobson brought up Jaylin Davis. Davis gave the Mountaineers their first lead of the game with a two-run single to right field. That ended the night for Ternowcheck as freshman Jim Orwick made his 11th appearance of the season and struck out Alex Leach to end the inning. Appalachian State entered the game with five two-out RBI for the season and produced four in the fourth inning alone.
Notre Dame answered with a monster inning of its own in the top of the fifth as the Irish scored four to reclaim the lead, 6-4. After Fiala and Lezynski hit singles to put runners at second and third, Sanchez maked his presence known with a monster triple to left centerfield to tie the game at four. Youngdahl came up next and notched his second homer of the season, a two-run rocket that just cleared the right field fence over a leaping Preston Troutman.
The back-and-forth game continued as Appalachian State scored five in sixth inning to pull ahead 9-6. Orwick opened the inning by hitting and walking two batters before being removed by senior RHP Donnie Hissa. The Iron River, Wis., native struck out one batter before the wheels came off in the form of a bases loaded walk, back-to-back singles that scored three and a sac fly that plated another run. The inning finally ended with a deep fly out to centerfield.
Hissa got back on track in the seventh with a 1-2-3 inning and Torres put together a clean slate in the eighth to give the Irish some confidence as they entered a critical eighth inning down by three runs. The visitors got a run back in the eighth as Lezynski hit an absolute laser down the left field line to bring Fiala around from first and trim the lead to 9-7, which set up the ninth-inning heroics.
--Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director