May 25, 2013
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Stop if you have heard this before: University of Notre Dame sophomore Ryan Bull with a walk-off hit to beat the University of Pittsburgh. As a rookie in 2012, Bull stroked a game-winning home run to best the Panthers, 6-5, but he picked an even greater stage in 2013. The right fielder drove home the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th with a single to lift the Fighting Irish past Pittsburgh, 3-2, and send Notre Dame to the BIG EAST title game for the first time since 2006.
The Irish improve to 34-23 on the season, while the Panthers drop to 42-17. Notre Dame will face either No. 8 seed Connecticut or No. 5 seed Rutgers at Noon Sunday on ESPNU.
The 10th inning rally came on the heels of a magic trick turned by Irish freshman RHP Nick McCarty in the top half of the inning. With runners at first and second, McCarty thought a pickoff play was on at first base, but unfortunately one was not and Notre Dame junior 1B Trey Mancini was playing behind the runner. McCarty's throw sailed into the stands and both runners moved into scoring position on the error, but the rookie was unfazed.
McCarty got Evan Oswald to pop out and then struck out Boo Vazquez with a called third strike to end the inning. McCarty has now tossed 4.2 scoreless innings of relief in the BIG EAST tournament.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
(Clearwater, Fla.) - Notre Dame is playing for a BIG EAST baseball championship for the first time since 2006. Let me put that in perspective for you. When that happened, most of this team was in the sixth and seventh grade.
In fact, it hasn't been that long since most of these players boarded yellow buses instead of charters...for some, as recently as last year. Sixteen of the 27 players on the Irish tournament roster are freshmen and sophomores. They're just not playing like it.
As "The Who" would tell you...in fact in the year, I was born...well before any of these players..."the kids are alright".
It showed again Saturday, as a couple of youngsters made big contributions for the Irish. Freshman Nick McCarty came in from the Irish bullpen after a strong effort by junior Sean Fitzgerald with a simple mission...don't let Pittsburgh score. McCarty handled that almost effortlessly in the seventh, eighth and ninth. His breaking ball had Panther catcher Elvin Soto so baffled that the .320 hitter looked like a kid waving a sparkler instead of swinging a bat.
Then came a test in the 10th.
Back-to-back singles by Dylan Wolsonovich and Stephen Vranka put men on first and second. McCarty thought a pickoff play was on at first. It wasn't, and his throw to no one bounced on one hop into the stands. The runners moved up to second and third, and all eyes were on the freshman from Westfield, Indiana.
If you were waiting for McCarty to fall apart, you don't know him very well. This is a kid who went 26-2 at Cathedral High School in Indiana. He's used to winning, and that's really all he has known until this year. So the freshman from Westfield, Indiana, went back to his winning ways. With his next pitch, he induced a weak pop up from Evan Oswald, and threw that curve on a 2-2 pitch to Boo Vazquez. Vazquez was so mesmerized by it that McCarty was in the dugout cooling off by the time the Pitt right fielder left the box.
In the bottom of the frame, the old guys did what they needed to do...lead. Co-captains Charlie Markson and Frank Desico hustled down the line to force errors, putting runners at first and second. Two outs and a walk later, the bases were loaded for sophomore Ryan Bull.
A year ago, Bull found curve balls as befuddling as calculus. A native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, he was lucky to play 20 games a season. But after a full year of college baseball and summer baseball, he returned to South Bend a seasoned player. He was tied for the team lead in two -out RBI entering this at bat. He now tops the category.
No one is better at shrugging off bad at bats than Bull. The sophomore drilled Jon Danielczyk's 1-1 offering past a diving Oswald through the hole at short, picking up the third walk-off winner of his Irish career.
Suddenly, the business-like demeanor the Irish had employed for 10 innings went away. The dogpile around Bull started behind first base and hopped its way to the wall by the stands, propelled by more and more players joining the fray.
Well, who could blame them? They're only kids, you know.
The Irish rode that momentum and a pair of Pittsburgh errors to open the home half of the 10th. Senior CF and co-captain Charlie Markson pulled a ground ball deep into the hole at shortstop, but Oswald's throw one-hopped the first baseman. Markson reached on the apparent miscue. Senior 2B and co-captain Frank Desico followed with a sacrifice bunt. Sam Parente fielded the ball cleanly and his ensuing underhanded toss to Pittsburgh 2B Dylan Wolsonovich was on time to retire DeSico, but Wolsonovich could not locate the bag with his foot and DeSico was safe.
Sophomore LF Mac Hudgins followed with another perfectly executed sacrifice bunt to move DeSico and Markson to second and third, respectively, for junior 3B and BIG EAST player of the year Eric Jagielo. The Panthers smartly walked Jagielo intentionally to load the bases for Mancini, but Danielczyk induced a shallow fly ball that prevented the potential winning run from scoring.
With the bases still loaded and now two outs, up stepped Bull, who was 1-for-12 in the tournament entering the at bat. He took a 1-1 fastball and rifled it past Oswald and into left field.
McCarty picked up the victory and improved to 5-4 on the season. He tossed 3.1 scoreless innings of relief with a pair of strikeouts and no walks.
Danielczyk was tagged with the loss and dropped to 2-1 on the campaign. The sidewinder limited the Irish to an unearned run on three hits in 4.2 innings. He did not strikeout a batter and walked one. Danielczyk had retired nine straight Notre Dame batters entering the ill-fated 10th inning.
Jagielo was the lone Irish player with a multi-hit game. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI single and RBI double.
Junior RHP Sean Fitzgerald did not factor in the decision but pitched admirably. He battled through a Pittsburgh lineup that led the conference in hitting and runs scored. Fitzgerald scattered seven hits over 6.2 innings of work. He allowed just one earned run and struck out four.
The one earned run allowed by Fitzgerald is the only earned run Notre Dame has allowed in three tournament games over 28.0 innings of work.
Fitzgerald made big pitches all day. He limited the Panthers to one run in the second inning despite runners on first and second with no outs, and the run already scored. Fitzgerald got double plays to end the third and sixth, and another in the seventh inning.
McCarty retired the first six Panthers he faced before a two-out base hit in the Pittsburgh ninth.
Notre Dame is the first No. 7 seed to reach the BIG EAST tournament final.