Baseball: Irish outplay Villanova in three-game sweep

Michael Zipf

This past weekend the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, currently ranked first in the Big East with a record of 10-2, snapped Villanova’s seven-game winning streak by sweeping a three games series against the ‘Cats. Prior to the series, Villanova, which ranked last in the Big East standings, had catapulted themselves into contention by sweeping Georgetown during its last Big East series. However, Notre Dame’s timely hitting and deft pitching performances stifled the Wildcats attack all series long.

The opening game of the series featured a pitchers’ duel between Villanova senior right-hander Jordan Ellis and Notre Dame’s junior David Phelps. The pair had faced each other in the Big East tournament last season. Both starters went deep into the game with Ellis surrendering just one run in eight innings, and Phelps scattered five hits over 8.2 innings. Villanova captured an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of second on two Notre Dame throwing errors.

After recording two inning-ending double-play balls to escape jams in the first two innings, Ellis sailed the rest of the way, yielding only seven hits and recording six strikeouts. However, during the top of the eighth, the Fighting Irish finally ended Ellis’ shutout, breaking through for their first run on a single by Jeremy Barnes. Junior Josh Eidell, the team’s closer, replaced Ellis in the top of ninth inning, where sophomore Billy Boockford drew a lead-off walk. With two outs and Boockford on second, sophomore David Mills ripped a single to center field to plate Boockford and give the Irish a highly contested 2-1 victory.

“We played with no fear that first game,” junior pitcher Kyle Carver said. “We played right with them. They just came up with a clutch hit.”

The Wildcats jumped on top of Notre Dame by grabbing an early 3-1 lead in the second game. However, the Irish where able to capitalize on timely hitting and a few Villanova miscues to storm back and take a 6-3 lead in the top of the seventh. Barnes and senior Ross Brezovsky provided most of the damage for the Irish recording five hits and six RBIs apiece. Brezovsky’s three-run homer off sophomore Brian Streilein broke open a 3-3 tie and proved to be the turning point of the game.

After the Irish captured a 6-3 lead in top half of the seventh, the Wildcats clawed back in the bottom of the eighth to close the lead to 6-5. Senior shortstop Derek Shunk delivered an RBI single off Notre Dame junior closer Kyle Weiland and eventually scored on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to one. This is as close as the Wildcats would get after Notre Dame padded two more runs in the top of the ninth to capture an 8-5 victory.

“This was the second game in row that we had a lead in the seventh inning that we blew,” Carver said. “However, I think it was more of an attribute to their timely hitting. They made clutch plays all series long.”

Entering the final game, the Wildcats looked to avoid a sweep and avenge their two defeats. However, the Irish came out fighting, jumping on Villanova starter Carver after several Wildcat miscues. In an inning and a third, Carver surrendered six runs; however, only four of them were earned. In total, five of the 13 runs that Notre Dame scored in the game were unearned.

“They took advantage of our mistakes, which is a sign of a very good team,” Carver said.

Notre Dame was able to capitalize on the Wildcats’ errors, seizing a commanding 6-0 lead after the first two innings.

Shunk was the lone Wildcat to reach base on more than one occasion, going 2-4 on the day. The Notre Dame pitching staff, which dominated much of the series, continued to stifle the Wildcats’ bats with sophomore starter Eric Maust and reliever Weiland combining for the shutout.

On the offensive end, Notre Dame collected a barrage of hits with every starter for the Irish recording at least one hit and eight different players having multi-hit games.

The offensive outburst resulted in 13 runs and 20 hits, giving the Irish a total of 23 runs for the series, an average of 7.67 runs per game.

Next up for the Wildcats is a three-game weekend series at Louisiville.