May 15, 2010
PLYMOUTH, MEETING, Pa. - Notre Dame senior first baseman Casey Martin's line-drive solo home run in the top of the 11th inning proved to be the different as the Irish spoiled Villanova's senior day with a 3-2 victory Saturday afternoon at Villanova Ballpark. Notre Dame (21-29, 9-14) snapped its seven-game losing streak and moved back one-game ahead of the Wildcats (28-20, 8-15) for eighth in the BIG EAST. The Irish could move into seventh place with a Cincinnati loss against Pittsburgh later tonight.
Martin's fifth home run of the year, a missile into the teeth of a 25 mph wind, made a winner out of Notre Dame junior Cole Johnson. Johnson, the normal Irish Friday night starter who missed six weeks with a shoulder injury, was dynamite. He tossed 3.2 scoreless innings of relief and improved to 3-3 on the year. Johnson allowed just two hits. He fanned two and walked one (intentional). Since returning from the injury with a start against Toldeo on April 27, Johnson has gone 2-0 with a 2.53 earned run average in 10.2 innings of work. He has fanned nine and walked five.
The Wildcats closer Mike Francisco took the defeat. The hard-throwing lefty surrendered the round tripper to Martin. Francisco allowed one hit, one run; it was earned, in 1.0 inning. He fanned two and walked one.
Senior closer Steven Mazur registered his sixth save of the season. He got a leadoff ground out before working around a one-out walk. Mazur got a foul out and fielder's choice ground ball to end the game.
Junior shortstop Mick Doyle was the lone Irish player with more than one hit. He went 2-for-4 with a double, run scored and RBI sacrifice fly. Freshman second baseman Frank Desico went 1-for-3 with two walks and run scored. Freshman catcher Joe Hudson went 1-for-3 with a RBI sacrifice fly.
Neither Irish southpaw Steve Sabatino nor Villanova sophomore Kyle Helisek would factor into the decision. Sabatino limited the Wildcats to just two earned runs on seven hits in 6.1 innings. He punched out a career-best 11 and walked two. The 11 strikeouts are the most by a Notre Dame pitcher since David Phelps fanned 11 against Louisville on May 12, 2007.
Helisek tossed a career-best 8.0 innings. He allowed just three hits and two earned runs. Helisek fanned four and walked three. The lefty allowed just one base runner after the fourth inning.
Notre Dame appeared to have a golden opportunity to take the lead in the top of the ninth inning off Wildcat sidewinder Julian Diaz. Doyle led off the frame with an infield single; amazingly, the first time the Irish hit the ball on the ground since the fourth inning. With the game tied, 2-2, and the go-ahead run on first base, senior centerfielder Brayden Ashdown was called upon to execute the sacrifice bunt. Ashdown was not able to keep the first two bunt attempts fair and popped up the third attempt for an out. Diaz then induced an inning-ending double play off the bat of senior right fielder Billy Boockford.
The Irish again had the leadoff batter reach in the 10th following Hudson's single to right field, but, as was the case in the ninth, the Irish were unable to execute a sacrifice bunt. Junior Greg Sherry's bunt was too hard and Wager raced in from first base, fielded and gunned down Hudson at second base. After the Wildcats went to Francisco, DeSico walked on four straight pitches, but senior designated hitter David Mills popped out and senior left fielder Ryan Connolly struck out to end the threat.
Villanova had its own serious scoring threat in the bottom of the 10th inning. Justin Bencsko led off the inning with a slicing double down the left field line. Johnson, who entered the game in the seventh, got Dain Hall to pop out. After an intentional walk, the Irish captain got Kevin Wager to foul out and David Koczirka to pop out to work out of the jam.
Notre Dame grabbed the initial lead of the game for the second straight day. DeSico led off the game with an infield single and moved into scoring position when Marlon Calbi's throw from shortstop sailed down the right field line. Mills followed with a ground out to the right side, which advanced DeSico. Connolly and Martin then drew back-to-back walks to load the bases. Doyle followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to give the Irish a 1-0 lead. Helisek struck out Ashdown to limit the damage to one run.
The Wildcats answered with a run in the bottom of the second inning to tie the score, 1-1. David Koczirka blooped a leadoff single in no man's land in between Doyle, Connolly and Ashdown in short left centerfield. Tyler Sciacca then laid down a sacrifice bunt that neither Sabatino nor Martin could field quickly enough to retire the speedy second baseman. Matt Fleishman followed with a seeing eye RBI single back up the middle. With a run already in, two on and nobody out, Sabatino buckled down. He struck out Paul Rambaud looking for the first out and made a nice play on another bunt attempt for the second out of the inning. Sabatino and Bencsko then went to battle on a 12-pitch at-bat, in which the southpaw eventually came out on top with a huge strikeout.
The Irish regained the lead in the top of the fourth. Doyle led off the inning with a sharp single to right. After Ashdown popped out, Boockford followed with a double into right centerfield that nearly reached the outfield wall, but Rambaud made a nice sliding stop to keep Boockford's hit a double and thus not allowing Doyle to score.
Hudson then ripped an offering from Helisek to left field to plate Doyle with a sacrifice fly that made the score, 2-1. Boockford was stranded in scoring position when Sherry grounded out to third base to end the inning.
As was the case in Friday's series opener on three different occasions, the Wildcats immediately answered the Irish tally with runs on their own. Villanova used a leadoff walk and a one-out RBI double from Calbi to tie the score, 2-2. Sabatino did punch out Bencsko (for the third time in as many plate appearances) and Hall to evade further damage.
The dueling southpaws took over from that point.
Sabatino held Villanova off the scoreboard in the fifth and sixth. In fact, he retired nine straight batters, including fanning the side in the bottom of the sixth inning, before leaving the game in the seventh following Bencsko's perfect bunt single.
Johnson replaced Sabatino and worked out of the jam with significant help from Hudson and DeSico. Bencsko, who leads the Wildcats with 24 stolen bases, took off on Johnson's 3-1 offering. Hudson took the strike and fired a strike of his own to DeSico, who made a nice pick, to retire Bencsko. Johnson then punched out Hall to end the inning.
Helisek posted four consecutive scoreless innings of his own. He retired 13 straight batters following Notre Dame's run in the fourth inning. In fact, 10 of the 13 consecutive outs were fly outs for Helisek. He did plunk Connolly with two outs in the top of the eighth inning and Martin followed with a missile to left field, but unfortunately it was directly in the path of Fleishman.
Notre Dame and the Wildcats conclude the series at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday at the Villanova Ballpark. GameTracker and a recap of Saturday's game will be available on UND.com.