May 13, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Sophomore RHP Dan Slania collected a pair of strikeouts with the potential tying run in scoring position to register his BIG EAST-leading 11th save of the season as Notre Dame held off Rutgers, 2-1, in the rubber game of a crucial conference series Sunday at Frank Eck Stadium.
The Irish improved to 27-23 overall and 13-11 in the BIG EAST. The Scarlet Knights dropped to 28-22 and 13-11. Notre Dame stands sixth in the BIG EAST standings with one weekend left in the regular season. The Irish trail fifth-place Connecticut (14-10), who just happens to host Notre Dame in next weekend's regular season series finale, by one game.
Rutgers did not go quietly in the ninth inning trailing 2-1. Steve Zavala led off the inning with a single and moved into scoring position following Charlie Law's sacrifice bunt (his first of the year). Slania then fell behind Scarlet Knights pinch-hitter Vinny Zarrillo 2-1, but battled back and blew a fastball past the right-handed hitter.
With the tying run still in scoring position, Slania plunked Michael Zavala on a 2-0 offering to put the go-ahead runner on the base paths, but the Irish closer got Dan Perrine to strikeout looking on a 1-2 breaking ball to end the game.
Slania made a winner out of freshman RHP Pat Connaughton. The hard-throwing right-hander limited a proficient Rutgers lineup to one unearned run on just five hits, all of which were singles and two never left the infield, over 5.0 innings of work. Connaughton struck out six and walked only one. He improved to 4-3 on the year.
The Irish managed just four hits against Scarlet Knights starter Ryan Fasano, but Notre Dame took advantage of his only shaky inning of work.
After cruising through the first three innings, retiring all nine batters he faced, the Irish finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth (the second time through the Irish order).
Junior 2B Frank DeSico drew a leadoff walk to open the inning and freshman DF Ryan Bull followed with a double. Sophomore 3B Eric Jagielo then gave Notre Dame a 1-0 advantage with sacrifice fly to right field. Sophomore 1B Trey Mancini pushed the lead to 2-0 with an RBI double to the left centerfield gap.
Rutgers cut the Irish lead in half with an unearned run in the top of the fifth inning. After Connaughton retired the first two Scarlet Knights of the frame with ease, Brian O'Grady dropped a perfectly placed, bloop single just a step in front of a charging junior Notre Dame CF Charlie Markson in shallow centerfield. Nick Favatella pulled a changeup through the left side of the infield and Connaughton then issued a walk to load the bases.
Up stepped Rutgers and the BIG EAST's leading hitter Patrick Kivlehan. Connaughton fired a fastball past a swinging Kivlehan that evaded Hudson. O'Grady raced home on the passed ball and the Scarlet Knights now had the tying run just 90 feet away and go-ahead run in scoring position, but Connaughton got out of the jam after firing a fast ball past the Rutgers cleanup hitter.
The pitch was the last of the afternoon for Connaughton. Sophomore RHP Sean Fitzgerald came in and retired all eight Scarlet Knights he faced, including two on punch-outs.
Slania took it the rest of the way.
Fasano went the distance, but was charged with the loss and dropped to 5-5 on the year. He allowed just two earned runs and struck out five with one free pass.
Favatella was the lone player in the game to collect more than one hit.
Fasano and Connaughton were matched up in a head-to-head duel over the first three innings.
Connaughton allowed just a pair of infield singles and collected four strikeouts, while Fasano retired the first nine Irish batters of the contest. Seven of the first nine in the Notre Dame lineup either popped or flew out.
Notre Dame returns to the diamond with Northwestern at 3:00 p.m. Tuesday at Rocky Miller Park in Evanston. Junior RHP Patrick Veerkamp will take the mound for the Irish. 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.