Who: No. 2 Notre Dame (36-21) vs. No. 3 Wright State (41-15)
What: NCAA Tournament
Where: Illinois Field; Champaign, Ill.
When: Friday, May 29, 1:00 p.m. ET
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – For the first time since Kentucky eliminated Notre Dame from the NCAA tournament on June 3, 2006 in Lexington, the Irish (36-21) – third-place finishers in the Atlantic Coast Conference in just their second season in the league – return to the 64-team field today at Illinois Field to begin play in the four-team, double-elimination Champaign Regional.
The No. 2-seeded Irish take on No. 3 seed Wright State (41-15), whose 17-4 victory in the Horizon League championship game over Cleveland propelled the Raiders to their third NCAA tournament trip since 2009.
Host team and No. 1 seed Illinois (47-8-1) – winners of 27 straight at one point this season – take on No. 4 seed Ohio (36-19) at 8:00 p.m. ET. Regional action continues Saturday and Sunday with a Monday championship tilt if necessary.
• How they got here: Notre Dame was the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament in Durham, N.C. last week. The Irish lost to N.C. State in the opening game, 3-0, and then bounced back with an 8-2 victory over Virginia. Notre Dame then lost a 6-5 heartbreaker to Miami in the third game of pool play after taking the lead in the top of the ninth.
Wright State finished second in the six-team Horizon League regular season, behind Illinois-Chicago (UIC). The Raiders opened the conference tournament with a 10-4 victory over No. 3 seed Milwaukee, and then knocked off UIC, 8-5, to advance to the championship of the double-elimination tournament. After falling 5-4 to Milwaukee, forcing a second game, Wright State exploded for six runs in the first and six more in the sixth for a convincing 17-4 victory to claim the Horizon League title.
• Pitching matchup: Senior righthander Scott Kerrigan (3-5, 3.68) takes the hill for the Irish against senior righthander Luke Mamer (4-2, 2.85) for the Raiders.
Kerrigan was tagged with the loss in the 3-0 setback to N.C. State to open ACC tournament play. Kerrigan allowed three runs in the first two innings against the Wolfpack, but then settled down and retired seven hitters in a row. He pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing eight hits and three earned runs with two walks and six strikeouts.
Mamer had a no decision in opening-round action against Milwaukee in the Horizon League tournament. He exited the game trailing, 5-4, after allowing six hits and four earned runs in four innings of the Raiders’ 10-4 victory. Mamer returned to the hill in the championship game, notching the victory in five innings of four-hit, seven-strikeout, one-run relief.
• Common opponents: Notre Dame and Wright State have played four common opponents this year – Belmont, Valparaiso, Toledo and Miami (Fla.). The Raiders were 8-3 versus those four opponents while the Irish were 2-2.
Both teams defeated Belmont in February; Wright State (14-7) in Nashville and Notre Dame (6-4) in Macon, Ga. Valparaiso is a member of the Horizon League with the Raiders winning four out of five from the Crusaders. Notre Dame defeated Valparaiso at Frank Eck Stadium, 6-0, in April.
The Raiders defeated Toledo in Nashville twice in February (8-1, 7-4) while Notre Dame dropped a 5-0 decision to the Rockets in April.
Wright State lost 8-7 and 4-3 to Miami in Coral Gables on Feb. 27-28, but then bounced back with a 12-6 victory on March 1. Notre Dame did not play Miami during the ACC regular season, and lost to the Hurricanes in the ACC championships, 6-5.
• NCAA tournament history: Wright State is making its fifth NCAA tournament appearance, four of which have come since 2006. The Raiders have not won an NCAA tournament game since 1994 when they defeated N.C. State and lost to Arizona State and the Wolfpack.
They made trips to Corvallis, Ore., in 2006, Forth Worth, Texas in 2009 and College Station, Texas in 2011. The Raiders lost all six of those games to Oregon State (5-3) and Oregon (5-3) in 2006, TCU (6-3) and Texas A&M (6-4 in 11 inn.) in 2009, and Texas A&M (11-0) and Arizona (13-0) in 2011.
Notre Dame is making its 22nd trip to the NCAA tournament, but its first since 2006. From 1989, Pat Murphy’s third at the helm, through 2006, Paul Mainieri’s 12th and final season at Notre Dame, the Irish went to the NCAA tournament 13 times, including a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., under Mainieri in 2002.
Notre Dame’s all-time NCAA tournament record is 41-44.
• Notre Dame personnel: Led by fifth-year Irish head coach Mik Aoki – who took Boston College to the 2009 NCAA tournament – the projected No. 11 finisher in the ACC leaped up to No. 3 with 17 conference victories in 30 games, which included three-game sweeps of nationally-ranked Florida State and North Carolina.
Notre Dame finished last (14th) in the ACC in hitting with a .249 mark. But their Division 1-leading 74 double plays and 3.05 team earned run average helped the Irish win 14 of their last 18 ACC games.
Offensively, the Irish are led by sophomore third baseman Kyle Fiala (.301, 4 HRs, 28 RBI), who enters Friday’s game having reached base in 46 consecutive games. Senior rightfielder Robert Youngdahl (.294) is second on the team in home runs with six and paces the offense with 42 RBI.
Sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge (.278, 2 HRs, 35 RBI) has hit from the cleanup spot a majority of the season. Bolstering the middle-to-back-end of the lineup are junior first baseman Zak Kutsulis (.265, 5 HRs, 32 RBI) and junior shortstop Lane Richards (.264, 5 HRs, 33 RBI).
Sophomore second baseman Cavan Biggio (.254) exploded out of the gate down south, and then struggled throughout much of the ACC season. But he remains a catalyst at the top of the order with a team-leading eight home runs and 14 stolen bases. His 49 walks and six hit by pitches propelled him to the top of Notre Dame’s on-base chart (.408).
• Wright State personnel: Former Miami catcher and two-time national title winner Greg Lovelady is in his second year as head coach of the Raiders after serving on Rob Cooper’s Raider staff for nine seasons, including the last seven as associate head coach. Lovelady led Wright State to the Horizon League regular-season title in 2014 with a 35-22 overall record and a 25-4 mark in conference play.
The Raiders are hitting .294 as a team with a 3.38 earned run average. Top run producers include designated hitter Mark Fowler (.341, 5 HRs, 38 RBI), catcher Sean Murphy (.325, 4 HRs, 31 RBI), centerfielder Ryan Fucci (.289, 13 HRs, 45 RBI), second baseman Michael Timm (.307, 36 RBI), shortstop Mitch Roman (.336, 38 RBI), and first baseman Gabe Snyder (.272, 6 HRs, 48 RBI), the Horizon League Freshman of the Year.
Wright State has stolen 75 bases, led by Fowler’s 16. The Irish will face senior righthander Luke Mamer (4-2, 2.85). The Raiders’ closer is red-shirt senior righthanders Andrew Elliott (5-4, 2.44, 11 saves).