March 3, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Now that the first of three consecutive weekends in the Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle area has concluded, it’s time to take a look back at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic and dig a little deeper into the weekend.
Hearne Looks Steady And Calm In Relief Win Against Youngstown State
The Irish were in a pickle against Youngstown State Saturday night as they trailed 3-1 with the bases loaded and no outs. A call to the bullpen brought in sophomore Michael Hearne. Often times in a bases loaded situation with no outs a coach and reliever usually expect to trade a run or two for outs. Hearne didn’t buy that old philosophy. He struck out YSU’s Phil Lipari on three pitches and then forced the next batter Matt Sullivan to line into a 9-2 double play with junior Robert Youngdahl tossing out Nick DiNello from right field as he tried to to head home.
From that point on Hearne zoned in and looked cool, calm and collected on the mound. Over the next 6.1 innings the Palos Heights, Ill., native froze the Penguin batters as he allowed just one hit and no runs. He also issued no walks and struck out an additional four batters. His lone hit was a pedestrian double in the fifth with two outs. He got out of that minor jam by inducing a fly out from the next batter. In 7.1 innings of work Hearne tossed just 75 pitches.
Hearne set career highs in innings pitched (7.1), strikeouts (5) and batters faced (23) while picking up his first career victory.
His play helped inspire the Irish as they rallied to best Youngstown, 6-3, and claim their first win of the weekend after a pair of tough losses to No. 19 UCLA (2-1) and Michigan (4-2, 10 innings).
“Mike is really good at learning from the sidelines and that’s what he did last year,” said pitching coach Chuck Ristano. “So when he came into that situation I think the whole team felt some stability. I think his performance, at least for the bullpen, stabilized us for the rest of the weekend. Bullpen performance is incredibly contagious so when the first guy comes out and does his job it makes it easier for the next guy to do theirs. Being the first guy in after your starter has struggled is the hardest thing to do because you’re the guy that is asked to stabilize the situation. The fact that he was able to do it was a really big positive for the weekend and for him moving forward.
“Mike’s biggest attribute is that he throws strikes and doesn’t get phased by the situation. You’re going to have to hit his pitch to beat him. So even though he isn’t lighting up the radar gun or throwing anything particularly dynamic, he can pitch to both sides of the plate, throw changeups when he needs to and get a strikeout or groundout to end a threat.”
Richards Swinging Hot Bat
Sophomore shortstop Lane Richards entered the weekend batting .190 with four hits (two doubles), one walk, one sac bunt and a run scored on the year. When he left the National Training Complex Sunday, he had upped his average to .278 after totaling team highs in hits (6), doubles (2), and runs scored (4) in four games. Richards now sits second on the team in average and is tied for first in doubles (4).
The Pendleton, Ore., native recorded hits in all four games and produced big hits in run-scoring innings against both Youngstown State and Appalachian State. In the ninth inning against the Mountaineers, Richards led off the inning with a single and eventually came around to score to make it 3-2. The Irish eventually rallied from a 3-1 hole to win in extra innings, 4-3.
Turning Double Plays
After turning seven more double plays this weekend, the Irish are leading the ACC in double-plays turned by a wide margin. Notre Dame has racked up a remarkable 19 so far this season, which are five more than second-place Wake Forest and eight more than four teams that are tied for third.
Reaching Base Consistently
While hitting streaks are often times the focus of conversation, getting on base through a walk, hit by pitch or error can be just as valuable. Three Notre Dame players have been doing that consistently in recent weeks. Junior Blaise Lezynski (8) and Richards (7) sport multi-week hitting streaks, while freshman Kyle Fiala has reached base safely in seven games in a row. Freshman Cavan Biggio and Youngdahl opened their Irish careers with eight and seven-game on-base streaks, respectively.
The Irish played their first two extra-inning games of the season this weekend, splitting with Michigan (L, 4-2, 10 innings) and Appalachian State (W, 4-3, 11 innings). Notre Dame is now 10-12-1 in extra-inning contests since head coach Mik Aoki took over in 2011.
Irish Presence At Tournament
Helping to make the USA Baseball-Irish Classic run smoothly in Cary is the Director of the 18u National Team Program & Alumni Relations at USA Baseball Brant Ust. Irish fans should remember Brant fondly as the Redmond, Wash., native was a standout on the field for the Irish from 1997-99, earning BIG EAST Player of the Year and third team All-America honors in 1998 before being drafted in the sixth round of the MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers in 1999. Ust finished his Notre Dame career with a .368 average with 51 doubles, 46 homers, 170 RBI, 243 hits and 174 runs scored.
The Irish continue their Tar Heel State tour next weekend as they open Atlantic Coast Conference play at No. 7 NC State. Notre Dame will meet the Wolfpack in a three-game series March 7-9 before remaining in the state for the remainder of the week and weekend during Notre Dame’s spring break. A mid-week trip from Cary, N.C., to Boone, N.C., will match the Irish up against Appalachian State for the second time this season. They will close out spring break with a three-game ACC set against Duke in Durham.
--Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director