April 25, 2010
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - After Cincinnati plated two unearned runs in the top of the ninth inning to tie the score, 4-4, Notre Dame senior designated hitter David Mills took a 1-1 fast ball from Bearcats closer Andrew Burkett and deposited it over the left field wall for a walk-off home run that gave the Irish a thrilling 5-4 victory in the rubber game of the three-game series Sunday afternoon at Frank Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame improves to 17-22 overall and 7-8 in the BIG EAST, while Cincinnati drops to 19-19 and 5-10. The Irish have won five of their last six BIG EAST games.
Mills' heroics marked the first time an Eck Stadium crowd had been treated to a game-ending home run since nearly four years earlier to the day (April 15, 2006), as Alex Nettey's two-run bomb completed a rally that beat St. John's, 7-5, and give Notre Dame its 17th straight victory.
Mills' home run was not exactly a no-doubter. The senior appeared to have fouled the ball down the left field line, but as Cincinnati right fielder Jake Proctor raced toward the line to make an attempt; the ball appeared to change direction. Proctor then turned completely around, with his back to home plate, and hustled back to the left field wall, but it just cleared the 330-foot sign.
The home run made a winner out of sophomore reliever Will Hudgins. The sidewinder improved to 4-1 on the season. Hudgins did not allow an earned run in 1.2 innings of relief, but was victimized by a pair of errors from Irish senior centerfielder Brayden Ashdown in the top of the ninth inning.
With Notre Dame clinging to a two-run lead, Hudgins appeared to get Chris Peters on a routine fly out to open the top of the ninth inning, but Ashdown dropped the fly ball. Hudgins did retire Jake Proctor for the first out of the inning, ironically enough on a fly ball to Ashdown. After Hudgins walked Braden Kline, he punched out Kevin Johnson for the second out of the inning.
Kiley Jones pinch hit for Jamel Scott and hit a sinking line drive into shallow right centerfield. Ashdown came in and got to the ball in time, but was not able to squeeze the glove and the ball dropped out. Peters scored, pinch runner Brian Garman raced to third and Jones ended up on first.
Now, with runners on the corners, two out and the Notre Dame lead trimmed to one run, 5-4, Hudgins uncorked a wild pitch on a 1-2 count and Garman scampered from third to tie the score, 4-4. Hudgins did eventually get out of the inning with another fly out.
Cincinnati closer Andrew Burkett picked up the loss for the Bearcats. He faced just Mills and surrendered the walk-off homer. Burkett dropped to 1-2 on the year.
Lost in the madness of the ninth inning and suspension of the contest in the middle of the fifth inning from Saturday night, senior Eric Maust tossed 5.0 scoreless innings. He equaled his career-high with six strikeouts. Maust limited the Bearcats to just four hits and one walk, but was unable to return to action on Sunday.
Senior left fielder Ryan Connolly collected a career-high five hits. He became the first Irish player with a five-hit contest since A.J. Pollock on March 21, 2007 against Western Michigan. Connolly's five hits also tie for the third-most in Frank Eck Stadium history. Steve Sollman and Alex Porzel share the record with six.
Mills was the only other Notre Dame player with a multi-hit game. He went 2-for-4 with a run scored and two RBI. The home run was his second of the season.
Notre Dame returns to action against Toledo at 6:05 p.m. on Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium. Live stats, live web stream, live blog and a recap of the game will be available on UND.com. Tickets for all Fighting Irish home contests this season are available through the Notre Dame Athletics Ticket Office (574-631-7356), on-line at the official Fighting Irish athletics web site (www.UND.com/tickets), and at the Frank Eck Stadium ticket windows on game night.