May 6, 2012
PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. - Notre Dame sophomore closer Dan Slania helped the Irish hold off a furious ninth-inning rally from Villanova en route to a 5-4 victory Sunday at the Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth Meeting. The Irish improved to 25-22 overall and 11-10 in the BIG EAST, while the Wildcats dropped to 27-22 and 9-12.
Notre Dame took a seemingly comfortable 5-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. Villanova had managed just one base hit after the first inning against Irish freshman RHP Pat Connaughton and sophomore RHP Sean Fitzgerald, but awoke in its last trip to the plate.
The Wildcats collected four straight singles off Fitzgerald, two on bloop jobs in front of charging Notre Dame outfielders, to not only load the bases with no outs, but also cut the Irish lead to 5-2.
Slania was called upon to try and close the game. The righty picked up a strikeout of Andrew Geenen and got Marlon Calbi to foul out to the catcher, but Kevin Wager followed with a two-run single to bring Villanova within a run, 5-4.
Now with the tying run in scoring position and winning run on base, Slania evaded a complete nightmarish ninth inning when Tyler Sciacca flew out to right field to end the game.
Slania picked up his BIG EAST leading 10th save of the season. He struck out one and allowed one hit in 1.0 scoreless inning of relief.
Connaughton was credited with the victory and improved to 3-3 on the campaign. The freshman allowed just one run on three base hits in 6.0 innings of work. He struck out a career-best seven and walked two. Connaughton surrendered just a single base hit after the first inning.
Sophomore 1B Trey Mancini and junior C Joe Hudson provided all the offense Notre Dame would need. Mancini went 1-for-3 with an RBI ground out and two-run single. Hudson went 1-for-4 with a two-run single. Both Mancini and Hudson's two-run singles came in the four-run sixth inning for the Irish.
Max Almonte was charged with the loss and dropped to 1-4. He yielded five runs, four earned, on five hits in 5.1 innings of work. Almonte fanned six and walked two.
Fitzgerald had no trouble in either the seventh or eight innings, disposing six of the seven Wildcats he faced, but ran into all kind of trouble in the ninth. Fitzgerald was charged with three runs, all earned, on five hits in 2.0+ innings.
Notre Dame finally solved Almonte in the top of the sixth inning. After the Irish got a break to open the inning when senior SS Tommy Chase reached on an error, junior 2B Frank DeSico and freshman DH Ryan Bull followed with consecutive walks to load the bases. Almonte got sophomore 3B Eric Jagielo to fly out to shallow left field, but Mancini and Hudson followed with back-to-back two-run singles to give the Irish a 5-1 advantage, which ended the afternoon for Almonte.
Connaughton struggled in the first inning. The hard-throwing right-handed hurler left his fastball up and out over the plate, and the Wildcats took advantage. Villanova grabbed a 1-0 lead on Matt Fleishman's RBI double off the left field wall. The Wildcats picked up a pair of hits and each of their three outs were line drives hit directly at an Irish fielder.
Connaughton settled down after the first inning difficulty. He struck out the side in the bottom of the second inning and retired 10 of the next 12 Villanova batters. The only two Wildcats to reach base came on a hit batsman and walk. Connaughton collected six strikeouts over the first four innings, which surpassed his previous career-high of five set earlier this season against Eastern Michigan.
Almonte was just as good, maybe even better for Villanova. The righty retired nine of the first 10 Notre Dame hitters until the Irish scratched a run across in the top of the fourth inning to tie the game, 1-1.
DeSico opened the fourth with a single and raced to third base on Jagielo's one-out single to center field. Mancini then grounded into what could have been an inning-ending double play, but Notre Dame started Jagielo on the pitch. Villanova's only play was at first base and DeSico scored on Mancini's RBI ground out.
Connaughton issued leadoff free passes in each of the fourth and fifth inning, but evaded trouble both times.
Almonte cruised through the fifth inning, retiring the side in order, which was the third such time he sent the Irish down 1-2-3 over the first five innings.
Connaughton did allow a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth inning, the first hit for the Wildcats since the first, but the righty picked up a fly out and strikeout to keep the Notre Dame lead four runs, 5-1.
Notre Dame returns to action against Rutgers at 7:05 p.m. Friday at Frank Eck Stadium. In-game updates will be available on Twitter at @NDBaseball and Facebook at NDBaseball, and fans can listen to all the action locally on 103.1 FM and on the Internet at UND.com.