March 19, 2014
CHICAGO, Ill. - Behind a two-hit shutout from five University of Notre Dame pitchers and a three-run third inning, the Irish baseball team snapped a three-game losing streak with a 3-0 victory over Robert Morris (IL) Tuesday night at Chicago State's Cougar Stadium. The game was Notre Dame's first stop on a region tour as its home field, Frank Eck Stadium, has an artificial surface installed.
Playing against the NAIA Eagles (7-5), Notre Dame scored its lone three runs in the third inning as they lit up Robert Morris pitcher Joey Gajda (0-1) with four singles to bring the runs home. Junior Mac Hudgins got the inning started by beating out a grounder to the second baseman. After Kyle Richardson bunted Hudgins over, sophomore Zak Kutsulis hit another infield single to the second baseman to place runners at the corners with one out. Up came freshman Kyle Fiala, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a base knock to left field that scored Hudgins and advanced Kutsulis to third after he hustled around the bags at the ping of the bat. Freshman Cavan Biggio converted on his team-high fourth sacrifice fly of the year to bring home Kutsulis and junior Blaise Lezynski dropped in a single to left field to plate Fiala.
The Irish offense wouldn't do much more on the day as four of their six hits came in the third inning. Fiala led the offensive charge for Notre Dame as he added a pair of walks to extend his on-base streak to 15 games.
"I would still like to see us swing the bat better," said said head coach Mik Aoki. "Like I've been telling the guys all season long, we have to get better at the little things. Our margin of victory is never going to be so great that we can afford to overlook three or four of the little things that help you win baseball games - whether it be scoring a runner from third base by making a productive out, moving a runner over or covering first base. If we can concentrate on playing the game the right way and doing those little things we should be ok."
Robert Morris threw out seven pitchers total in Tuesday's game as the Eagles limited the Irish bats for much of the night and maneuvered their way out of several jams. The shutout was the first by the Irish since Adam Norton hurled a complete-game shutout against Seton Hall in the BIG EAST Tournament last season.
"I thought Robert Morris did a good job on the mound tonight. Their guys came in and threw strikes, changed speeds and threw second pitches for a strike. They wiggled out of a couple of runner on third with less than two outs situations without us scoring. I thought those guys came in and played hard and honestly I wouldn't have expected anything less from them."
However, three runs would be all Notre Dame pitchers would need as they looked in control for much of the night. Starter Robert Youngdahl and relievers Matt Ternowchek, Donnie Hissa, Joey Cresta and Cristian Torres combined to allow two hits and two walks while striking out a season-high 12 batters. Hissa paced the team with five sit downs.
A scrappy Eagles squad reached base four times and had multiple opportunities to plate runs before the Irish pitchers shut the door.
"I thought Matt did a good job of coming in and steadying the game for us," said Aoki. "Robert was good, especially in the last inning where he got back to being aggressive and you could see a little arm speed. I was happy with Joey and Donnie ... I thought they all came in and gave us a good effort and did their jobs well tonight."
Ternowchek hurled the most innings as he went three to extend his scoreless streak to seven innings.
"When Matt stays aggressive and doesn't get caught up in moment and takes it pitch by pitch, this type of performance is who he can be," said Aoki.
Notre Dame (7-12) welcomes in former BIG EAST foe and current Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia Tech this weekend for a three-game set. Friday's game will be held at South Bend's Four Winds Field (formerly Coveleski Stadium) before the series moves to Gary, Ind., for a pair of contests at the U.S. Steel Yard. Stay tuned to UND.com and @NDBaseball on Twitter for a full weekend schedule as it becomes available.
--Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director