Starter Ryan Kalita took the mound in the seven-inning game and dominated most of the game. Kalita (5-0) allowed three hits and three runs while walking one Pirate hitter and striking out six in his six innings of work. Kalita's only mistake was a poorly placed pitch to designated hitter Casey Grimm who homered in the second. Senior J.P. Gagne closed the seventh facing only three batters, striking out two to pick up his eighth save.
Notre Dame got rolling early in the bottom of the first. Steve Sollmann led off with a double down the left field line. First baseman Matt Edwards reached on an error by the shortstop scoring Sollmann giving the Irish the 1-0 lead.
Notre Dame scored three in the bottom of the third as Sollmann led off the third with a bunt single to get on. Freshman Brennan Grogan sacrificed Sollmann to second and then Sollmann stole third and scored on the throwing error by the catcher on the play giving the Irish their second run. Catcher Javi Sanchez reached on an error by the shortstop and Kris Billmaier homered down the left field line scoring two more runs.
Kalita showed his toughness in the sixth as he issued a lead off walk. Kalita then made two mental errors allowing two more runners to get on but fought back forcing Pirate Tim Pahuta to hit into a double play and a Kris Billmaier game-saving play in center field ended the Pirate threat.
Coach Paul Mainieri has been impressed with his starters' mental toughness. "I attribute it to our pitching coach Brian O'Connor. That's something he constantly emphasizes to our pitchers. Nobody is going to be perfect every day and there's going to be critical times in the course of the game where you have to raise your game in the clutch and make the big pitches. It's something we've always emphasized that the difference between winning and losing is performing in the clutch."
The second game featured John Axford (8-0) on the mound. Axford pitched six innings giving up three hits and only two runs to pick up the win. Senior Brandon Viloria pitched a scoreless seventh retiring all three batters he faced and freshman Ryan Doherty closed out the game throwing the final two innings allowing one unearned run on two hits.
The Irish bats were hot plating nine runs on 11 hits. The Irish hitting attack was led by shortstop Matt Marcri (3-for-4, 2 runs), Steve Sollman (2-for-2, 2 runs, RBI), Matt Edwards (1-for-3, 2 RBI, HR) and two freshmen Greg Lopez (2-for-4, 2 runs, 2 RBI) and Cody Rizzo (2-for-3, run, RBI). The Edwards homerun was one of the longest bombs ever hit at Eck stadium. "That ball Edwards hit, that had to longest homerun I've seen here," said Mainieri. It was good to see guys getting up there and having some fun at the plate. They were loose and swinging the bats and getting clutch hits so it makes it fun for everyone."
Shortstop Matt Macri has been on fire as of late at the plate. Macri is 15-for-33 in the last 10 games with a .455 average. Macri is happy to be over the .300 mark for the season. "It feels good," said Macri. "I struggled a little bit early but I feel I'm seeing the ball better. I wasn't driving the ball but I'm starting to drive the ball a lot better now. I feel more comfortable at the plate and I think I'm seeing the ball better."
The Irish have a busy schedule this week playing two home non-conference games against Ball State and Cleveland State on Tuesday and Wednesday. They also play a three-game series at home this weekend against Connecticut with a double-header beginning on Saturday.
Mainieri knows his team has a long way to go to seal up the BIG EAST title. "There's still four weekends to be played. We still have 12 tough games left and only six of them are at home. No matter what happens in these three games against Connecticut, the last three weekends of the seasons are going to tell the story for us. We've got West Virginia, we've got Rutgers and we've got Virginia Tech, three of the contenders so if we're going win this regular season title but first of all get into the BIG EAST tournament we're going to have earn our way in. Connecticut is a team we've had some trouble with. They swept us last year in a three-game series. We feel like we owe them three. Then we've got West Virginia and Rutgers and Virginia Tech on the road. It's important to win the games you should win so when you face the contenders, you don't have to sweep them to accomplish what we want to accomplish."
Notre Dame seemed to step up their game this weekend. The Irish hitters had good at-bats most of the series and the Irish pitchers have shown the mental toughness that will help them against the better teams. The Irish are set up to finish the season strong and could possibly be on the charge for another College World Series bid. Their pitching has been outstanding and they seem to get enough hits at the right time to get the win against the tougher teams in the BIG EAST.