CLEARWATER, Fla. - Connecticut 3B Ryan Fuller's two-run home run on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the eighth inning broke a 2-2 tie and pushed the top-seeded Huskies to a 4-2 win against No. 8-seeded Notre Dame Wednesday night in the first round of the BIG EAST Baseball Championship at Bright House Field. The Irish dropped to 22-28-1 and will face West Virginia Thursday at 5:00 p.m. in an elimination game.
Fuller's blast highlighted a three-run eighth inning to help the Huskies overcome a 2-1 deficit. Notre Dame had taken the lead on a two-run bomb by freshman LF Eric Jagielo in the top of the eighth.
The round tripper made a winner out of UConn reliever Dan Feehan, who improved to 2-2 on the year. He allowed one hit in 0.2 scoreless innings.
Connecticut closer Kevin Vance worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to register his 13th save and his 12th consecutive appearance without allowing a run.
Notre Dame senior RHP Brian Dupra was saddled with the loss despite going pitch for pitch with the Huskies' Matt Barnes, the 2011 BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year. He dropped to 3-7 on the year, but still collected his team-best 11th quality start of the year.
Dupra was masterful over his 7.2 innings of work. He limited the potent Connecticut lineup to just five base hits and three earned runs. Dupra struck out five, walked three and induced 12 ground ball outs.
The game began as a pitching battle between arguably the league's top two hurlers - Dupra and Barnes. Barnes allowed just one hit in the first four innings, while Dupra scattered three singles through seven innings. He retired the first seven Huskies off the game and allowed just one base runner past first base over the first 5.1 innings.
Notre Dame did advance at least one runner into scoring position in the second, third and fifth inning. After sophomore 2B Frank DeSico walked and junior CF Alex Robinson singled to put runners on the corners with one out, Jagielo struck out swinging, but Robinson took off on the pitch in hopes of a drawing the throw from UConn catcher Doug Elliott.
Elliott quickly fired toward second base, but Huskies' SS Nick Ahmed cut off the throw in front of the bag. DeSico, who should have taken off on the throw, hesitated and was ultimately gunned down by Ahmed at the plate.
Notre Dame loaded the bases in the fifth inning with two outs, but Jagielo struck out to end the threat.
Connecticut broke the scoring stalemate in the bottom of the sixth without the benefit of a hit. LJ Mazzilli drew a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and took third on a wild pitch. 2011 BIG EAST Player of the Year George Springer drew a walk to put runners on the corners with one out.
Dupra got a tailor made double play ball to senior SS Mick Doyle, who fielded cleanly and flipped to DeSico for the first out, but the sophomore's throw pulled freshman 1B Trey Mancini just enough off the bag, which allowed a run to score.
Connecticut threatened to get more in the inning, but Irish sophomore CF Charlie Markson made the defensive play of the first day of competition when he caught Fuller's line drive to left-center in a dead sprint and held on despite diving into the outfield fence to get the third out.
Barnes had thrown 112 pitches through seven innings, but came out to start the eighth against a Notre Dame lineup that had managed just three hits to that point. But, DeSico reached on an error to start the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt to set the table for Jagielo, who drilled a 1-0 pitch to the right-field power alley to give the Irish a 2-1 lead. The home run off Barnes was just the third allowed by the right-hander all season (now 112.1 innings of work) and ended his night.
Unfortunately for the Irish, the lead did not last very long.
Mazzilli led off the bottom of the eighth with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and came home on Springer's sacrifice fly to centerfield, tying the game at 2-2. Mike Nemeth followed with a ground-rule double to right-center and the Irish turned to Fitzgerald.
The Irish rookie left a breaking ball over the plate and Fuller drilled it onto the berm in left centerfield to give the Huskies the lead for good.
Barnes went 7.1 innings and allowed four hits and two runs (one earned) with eight strikeouts in the no-decision.
Notre Dame and West Virginia can be heard in South Bend on WHME / Harvest 103.1 FM and around the world at UND.com. Senior RHP Cole Johnson will start for the Irish.
As always, please visit UND.com regularly for full coverage of all Notre Dame athletics news and events.
-- ND --