March 21, 2014
South Bend, Ind. - Behind senior RHP Sean Fitzgerald’s first career complete game, the University of Notre Dame baseball team earned its first Atlantic Coast Conference win in school history with a 2-1 victory over former BIG EAST foe Virginia Tech Friday night at Four Winds Field in downtown South Bend.
Making his sixth appearance of the season, Fitzgerald (3-1) needed 119 pitches to rack up his fifth quality start as he shut down the Hokies for much of the night as he gave up just one run on six hits. He also walked one and struck out three. The lone run and two of the six hits came in the ninth inning.
“I was trying to get deeper in the game today,” said Fitzgerald. “I had been going six or seven innings (in previous starts). I took the focus away from trying to get strikeouts and turned to trying to get more soft contact hits and fly balls.”
“Fitz was able to get ahead of hitters tonight,” said head coach Mik Aoki. “He got his slider going and used his change up when he needed to. I think the big thing was that he was in the strike zone and he got those guys in swing mode and did a really good job of locating and mixing up his pitches when necessary.”
A native of McLean, Va., Fitzgerald helped the Irish earn their first ACC win, over a Virginia school as a matter of fact, after a 0-6 start.
“Getting this win tonight was awesome,” said Fitzgerald. “I grew up watching the ACC. It’s a very nice feeling and a weight off our shoulders to break the ice and get that first conference win.
“It was a big win for us,” said head coach Mik Aoki. “We needed a big effort from Fitz and he gave it to us. You don’t want to go to 0-7 (in ACC play). That’s a pretty big hole. Not to say 1-6 isn’t a hole, but it seems more manageable. Hopefully we sort of broke the dam so to speak and a few more will come.”
With Fitzgerald dealing, the Irish offense didn’t need to do much to support their pitcher.
The Irish used back-to-back singles to put themselves in position to plate the game’s first run in the fifth. With runners at first and second, junior Conor Biggio hit a hard grounder up the middle that forced out Kyle Richardson at second, but easily scored Lane Richards from third to give Notre Dame a 1-0 lead.
Just one inning later, the Notre Dame offense struck again as junior Blaise Lezynski singled to lead off the inning, advanced to third on a throwing error and then snuck home on a wild pitch from Hokie starter Brad Markey (2-3) to give the Irish a 2-0 lead.
That would be all Fitzgerald needed as he continuously got ahead in the count and sat the Hokies down in order in innings immediately following an Irish run.
“When you see your team go ahead as a pitcher you need a shutdown inning after they score,” said Fitzgerald. “That was my main focus today … to get that first out after we score and go from there.”
After getting into a bit of trouble in the ninth with Virginia Tech scoring a run on a single through the right side by Alex Perez, Fitzgerald forced two consecutive fly outs and a ground out to finish off the complete game.
The performance was the first Irish complete game since graduate Adam Norton blanked Seton Hall, 5-0, in last year’s BIG EAST Tournament.
At the plate, Co. Biggio and Kyle Fiala offered a solid one-two punch at the top of the lineup. Biggio had a hit, two walks and the game’s first RBI, while Fiala had a hit and walk. The two combined for all three Irish walks and two of the team’s six hits. Fiala extended his hit streak to 12 games and his on-base streak to 16 contests.
As has been the M.O. for much of Aoki’s career, nine of Notre Dame’s 20 games this year have been decided by one run with the Irish improving their mark to 3-6 on the season.
The Irish improved their mark against the Hokies to 9-6 all-time and have won three in a row.
Notre Dame and Virginia Tech will continue their series at 4:30 p.m. Saturday as they head to Westfield, Ind., and Grand Park. The final two games of the series will take place just a few miles outside Indianapolis.
Fans can follow the game through WatchND’s audio broadcast, gametracker or @NDBaseball on Twitter. Links for WatchND and gametracker can be found at UND.com.
--Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director