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May 3, 2011
Perhaps it won’t be known as the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, but for Notre Dame (16-21-1, 7-10), it was the biggest blast of an otherwise rough season.
Freshman Trey Mancini’s two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth Sunday at home against Seton Hall lifted the Irish to a 5-4 victory over the Pirates to claim the series, two games to one. With the victory, the Irish moved a half-game ahead of Seton Hall for the eighth and final spot in the Big East tournament.
It marked Notre Dame’s first winning series since the last weekend of March against Georgetown. Since then, the Irish had lost two out of three to second place Pittsburgh, two out of three to first place Connecticut, two out of three to fourth place West Virginia and both games (a third was canceled due to inclement weather) at sixth place St. John’s.
“That was certainly a really big win for us,” said first-year Irish head coach Mik Aoki. “I was kind of hoping that something would happen after that come from behind win at Pittsburgh (on April 3).”
Trailing 4-0 and 6-2, the Irish notched five runs in the seventh inning of an 8-6 victory over the Panthers after dropping 6-5 and 3-2 decisions at Pittsburgh. But the Irish followed with losses in six out of eight conference games before Seton Hall came to town last weekend.
The Pirates won the first game, 2-1, but the Irish bounced with a 2-1 victory in 12 innings on Saturday, and then claimed the series with Mancini’s seventh home run of the season.
“The thing I’ve been most impressed with about Trey is that he’s taken a good, solid approach in just about every single game,” said Aoki of the freshman, who paces the Irish in hitting (.323), home runs (7) and RBI (26).
“He’s been hitting in the four hole for 90 percent of the season, which means that he’s getting the pitcher’s best effort just about all the time. He’s hit fastballs, he’s hit breaking balls, he’s hit changeups. He’s hit home runs to right centerfield. He’s hit home runs like (Sunday) to left centerfield.
“He’s done a good job of being able to take what we’re trying to teach from a hitting standpoint and executing it in the game. He’s a really talented kid offensively.”
It was Mancini’s three-run home run, followed by RBI singles from senior Greg Sherry and sophomore Adam Norton, that propelled the Irish to that come-from-behind victory over Pittsburgh.
But it’s been a constant struggle offensively for the Irish, who are hitting a startlingly low .236 with a mere 11 home runs. Pitching and defense have kept the Irish competitive with the senior trio of Brian Dupra, Cole Johnson and Todd Miller leading the way. Though a combined 8-14, the trio has given the Irish a chance to win virtually every time out.
Johnson (3-6) has a 2.78 earned run average and has allowed just 59 hits in 74 1/3 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting a mere .214 against Johnson. Dupra has a sparkling 2.42 earned run average, but just a 2-5 record to show for it while Miller has lowered his ERA to 3.98 with a 3-3 record.
The three pitchers have struck out 157 and walked just 46 to lead a staff with a combined 2.92 ERA and an opponents batting average of .254.
“I feel good about our pitching?still,” Aoki said. “Todd Miller, Brian Dupra and Cole Johnson have been everything that you would expect from a Notre Dame senior leader. Same thing with (seldom-used infielder) Ty Adams. He’s been an absolute leader of our bench. He’s been great. A kid that really provides us with energy. He cares.”
There simply are times, however, when the Irish can’t overcome their lack of hitting. Mancini is the only regular above .300. Senior rightfielder Herman Petzold has given the Irish a spark with a .295 batting average. But Petzold is just one of four Irish players with double-digit runs batted in through 38 games, and he ranks second on the squad with only 17. Freshman Eric Jagielo (.284, two home runs, 16 RBI), and Norton (10 RBI) are the other two players with double-digit RBI.
Despite hitting just .174, senior shortstop Mick Doyle has started all 38 games for the Irish as he stabilizes the Irish infield.
“I feel really good about a number of older kids who play for us on a regular basis,” Aoki said. “In spite of what Mick Doyle’s numbers look like, I think the kid is just outstanding.”
The Irish will have to scratch and claw for everything they get the rest of the way. After a couple of mid-week, non-conference games against Michigan, the Irish will travel to 10th place Rutgers this weekend, followed by a three-game home series against fifth place South Florida and a season-ending trip to third place Louisville.
“The thing I’ve talked to them about is that we have an opportunity to control our own destiny,” Aoki said. “We have it in our hands. At the end of the day, it’s not like we’re asking for (11th place) Villanova to beat (first place) UConn to get us into it. If we continue to play well, we won’t ever have to worry about what other people are doing.
“The battle in this game is to just go out and play as close to your talent level as you possibly can on a day-in, day-out basis. When we play to our level of talent, I think we’re a good, solid Division I baseball team. I don’t know that we’re the No. 1 team in the country. But we’re a good team, and we’ve fallen short of that too often.”
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