NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Michigan State junior lefthander/designated hitter Mike Mulder-who is considered one of the nation's top professional pitching prospects--tossed four no-hit innings while providing himself some insurance runs with a two-run, fifth-inning single as visiting Michigan State held on to defeat Notre Dame, 4-1, in non-conference baseball action Tuesday night at Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame (35-12)--which entered the game having won 51 of its previous 56 home games-put runners on base in each of the final three innings but failed to string together the winning rally. The Irish-who stranded eight baserunners vs. the Spartans-had pieced together a 23-1 run heading into last weekend but have since lost two of their last four games.
Irish junior lefthander Chris McKeown (4-2) pitched the first four and two-thirds innings, allowing four earned runs on nine hits and two walks, with four strikeouts. Freshman righthander Aaron Heilman extended his shutout streak to 33 and one-third innings over his past 18 appearances, notching eight strikeouts while allowing three hits and one walk over four innings.
Heilman dropped his season ERA to 0.95, which ranks second in Irish history behind Jack Mitchell's long-standing record mark of 0.71 in 1960. Heilman would be leading the nation in ERA--a distinction currently held by Florida junior Josh Fogg (1.29)--but the BIG EAST Conference rookie-of-the-year candidate is two-thirds of an inning shy of the NCAA required minimum of one inning pitched per team game (he has logged 46 and one-thirds innings).
Heilman has totaled 62 K's and just 10 walks this season while leading the squad in low opponent batting average (.182), K's per nine innings (12.04) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.20).
Michigan State (24-20) jumped out to an early 2-0 lead behind Mulder's strong pitching before four relievers combined to hold the Irish to four hits the rest of the way. Mulder (6-4) tossed four shutout, no-hit innings in a planned rotation, allowing one walk while striking out five Irish batters.
Sophomore righthander Chris Yens came on to record his sixth save of the season in the ninth, facing five batters while allowing two baserunners (one on a hit-by-pitch, the other on an infield error).
MSU's two-run first inning began when Mike Wagner's single to right plated Carlos Fernandez, followed by a Joe Kalczynski sacrifice fly that scored Tom Grigg. The Spartans stretched to a 4-0 lead in the fifth, when Mulder sent a first-pitch offering from McKeown into center field to score Grigg and Wagner.
The Irish entered the game ranked 10th in the nation with a 3.90 team ERA, thanks to a 2.30 ERA during the previous 16 games (a 15-1 run). The team ERA now stands at 3.91 while Tuesday's errorless game pushed the team's season fielding pct. to .962--a full 20 points above last season's mark and the third-best fielding pct. by an Irish squad since the stat first was recorded in 1982.
Notre Dame pushed across a run in the sixth, when sophomore Jeff Felker's one-out single to center field plated junior Allen Greene.
Heilman worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh, blowing a third strike by Mulder before forcing Mike Pisani into an inning-ending groundout to second baseman Todd Frye.
Notre Dame squandered a two-out rally chance with runners on first and second base in the bottom of the seventh, when catcher Joe Kalczynski picked Todd Frye off second base. Then, in the eighth, Felker battled through an 11-pitch walk to put runners on first and second with one out but Jeff Wagner grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
The Irish had runners on first and second in the ninth but Yens induced Mike Knecht into a game-ending flyout to left field.
Notre Dame has gone without a home run in consecutive games for just the fourth time this season. Tuesday's four-hit effort equaled Notre Dame's second-fewest hits in a game this season, as the Irish had four hits vs. Cincinnati on March 24 and three hits in the second game of a seven-inning doubleheader vs. Valparaiso on April 22). Notre Dame has not been shut out this season while previously being held to one run by only Cincinnati and Valparaiso (in the first seven-inning game on the 22nd).
MICHIGAN STATE (24-20) 2-0-0 0-2-0 0-0-0 4 12 2 NOTRE DAME (35-12) 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-0-0 1 4 0
Mulder, Murphy (5), Brandell (6), Axelson (8), Yens(9) and Kalczynski.
McKeown, Szczepanski (5), Heilman (6) and Knecht.