May 17, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - University of Notre Dame junior Ryan Bull did it to Pittsburgh again. After hitting a walk-off homer as a freshman, a walk-off single as a sophomore and the lone RBI in a 1-0 win Friday, the Eden Prairie, Minn., native took the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday and sent it over the right-field fence to give the Irish a 5-4 victory over the Panthers and complete a three-game sweep to end the 2014 campaign.
With the win, the Irish improve to 5-1 on their new artificial surface at Frank Eck Stadium and close the season with impressive series victories over Clemson and Pitt to highlight a four-game, end-of-the-year winning streak.
After getting swept last year at Pitt, the Irish have now won five in a row over their former BIG EAST rivals.
The sweep is Notre Dame's first in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the first overall since taking a three-game set last year versus UConn.
Bull's walk-off homer was the first for the Irish since he did the same thing against Pitt March 23, 2012 that also gave Notre Dame a 5-4 victory.
"It was pretty surreal," said Bull about the walk-off homer. "I was in the on-deck circle looking for a fastball that I could drive. That was kind of my approach and looking at the wind he put a fastball right down the middle on the first pitch and I took a hack at it happened to go over the fence."
Notre Dame led the Panthers 4-3 entering the top of the ninth, but the visitors wouldn't go away as an Eric Hess sacrifice fly tied the game at four and prevented Irish reliever Donnie Hissa (2-4) from going 3-for-3 in save opportunities on the weekend. However, the Iron River, Wis., native did earn the win as Bull hit the first pitch of the half inning over the fence to give the home team the thrilling victory.
After shutting out the Panthers in the first two games of the series, the Irish couldn't pull off the trifecta as Pitt scored three runs in the first three innings. The first run came after Irish starter Scott Kerrigan exited with a knee injury with two outs in the top of the second. Second baseman Matt Johnson singled through the left side off Notre Dame reliever Nick McCarty to give Pitt the early 1-0 lead.
The Panthers extended their lead to 3-0 in the third as Hess and Jordan Frabasilio tallied RBI.
Notre Dame started chipping away at the lead in the bottom half of the third as sophomore Kyle Richardson scored on a passed ball to trim the margin to 3-1.
The Irish claimed their first lead of the game in the fifth as they did all their damage with two outs. Zak Kutsulis got Notre Dame started with a single to left field. Freshmen Kyle Fiala and Cavan Biggio were then plunked by Pitt starter Joseph Harvey to load the bases for Irish DH Blaise Lezynski. The Newtown, Pa., native made Harvey pay for his mistake as he roped a double that scored all three runs and gave Notre Dame a 4-3 lead and paved the way for the ninth-inning drama.
"Blaise absolutely murdered that ball off the fence and that was absolutely huge for us," said head coach Mik Aoki. "I mean they had 14 hits to our seven but today was one of those days where our pitchers made big pitches and we made plays to get ourselves off the field. So overall, it was great offensively and defensively."
Producing solid work out of the bullpen in relief that helped stymie the Panther bats during the middle of the game was freshman Ryan Smoyer. The Bowling Green, Ohio native went four innings and gave up no runs, six hits and no walks before exiting in the seventh.
At the plate, six different Irish student-athletes recorded hits with Bull tallying the only multi-hit day. Kutsulis, Fiala, Biggio, Bull and Richardson scored one run each.
With the win, Notre Dame wraps up its 2014 season with a 22-31 record including a 9-21 mark in the ACC. The Irish said goodbye to seniors Sean Fitzgerald and Hissa, while fellow senior Forrest Johnson will come back for a fifth year after not playing as a sophomore.
"I'm so happy that Forrest is coming back," said Aoki. "Sean and Donnie ... I'm so proud of the way they have developed as people, players and leaders. There's no way two years ago, maybe even a year ago that Donnie could go out there and do what he did this weekend. He got two saves and a win and bounced back after the tough sacrifice fly to get the next guy to give us an opportunity. The attacking mentality, the growth and confidence in himself that I'm most proud of. Fitz has been a big mainstay of what we have done the last four years but it hasn't all been roses for him. For him to go out this year and put up the mind-numbing consistency that he did this year says a lot about who he is ... a battler and competitor. Both of them are going to be phenomenal ambassadors for Notre Dame and our program and I'm just so proud of them."
--Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director