Notre Dame (24-3) started off slow at the plate managing just three hits in the first five innings. Craig Cooper started the scoring for the Irish, hitting his fourth homerun of the season in the third inning. Cooper drove a Matt Gillikin pitch deep over the left field wall giving the Irish the 1-0 lead.
Cooper's blast was the only highlight in the first five innings offensively for the Irish. But, freshman pitcher Jess Stewart provided many highlights on the mound for the Irish. Stewart pitched five impressive innings, allowing just one hit, zero walks and recorded six strikeouts and left with the 1-0 Irish lead.
The Crusaders would tie the game in the sixth when catcher Tyler Lowell led off the inning with his first homerun of the season tying the game, 1-1 and ruining any chance for Stewart to pick up a well-deserved win.
The Irish came storming back in the bottom of the sixth scoring six runs. Steve Andres led off the inning with a walk and was later knocked in by a Matt Bransfield double down the left-field line. Greg Lopez also added an RBI single and Matt Macri added a 2 RBI double down the left field line to give the Irish the 7-1 lead.
The Irish picked up two more runs in the in the seventh when Matt Bransfield scored on a throwing error after reaching with his second double of the day. Lopez picked up his second RBI of the day knocking in Sanchez with a double of his own.
The Crusaders started to make the game interesting in the ninth scoring two runs, but Irish Coach Paul Mainieri called on closer Ryan Doherty to finish the game.
Doherty has become the "get out of jail free card" for the Irish and found himself in familiar territory in the ninth—runner on second, no outs. Doherty forced the first Crusader hitter to ground out to Javi Sanchez on a brilliant play by Sanchez and then struck out the remaining two hitters to secure the 9-3 win for the Irish and their 11th straight victory.
The Irish were led by Cooper (2-for-4, HR, RBI, R), Macri (1-for-2, 2 RBI), Bransfield (2-for-4, RBI, 2R) and Lopez (2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI, R) at the plate.
Jeff Samardzija, Joe Thaman and Ryan Doherty each threw an inning of scoreless relief for the Irish. Freshman Mike Dury gave up one run, but then retired the next three batters he faced, striking out two.
Irish Coach Paul Mainieri seemed pleased with his team's performance after the game. "I thought Jess Stewart really threw well. It's a shame he didn't get a win tonight. I thought everybody threw well. I thought Mike Dury threw well. He gave up that homerun, but then he got those next three guys. I thought they all threw well."
Mainieri gave credit to Crusader Matt Gillikin for keeping his hitters off balance most of the night. "That kid was sneaky on us. He was pitching us inside. He was tying up a lot of hitters. I didn't think it was so much us as much as it was that kid making some really good pitches."
Three Irish players who have earned the right to play are Bransfield, Cooper and Andres according to Mainieri. With all three in the lineup, the Irish are potent on offense. "When you have competition, what you want as a coach is for somebody to step forward and show that they deserve to play on a regular basis and I think Matt Bransfield and Craig Cooper have done that, and I think Steve Andres has done it."
We asked Mainieri what the keys to victory were this weekend for the Irish as they will play a double header against Boston College on Saturday. "Pitch well, make the plays, give yourself a chance to win and then take advantage of the scoring opportunities. I feel confident. I feel really confident going into this weekend. I think our guys are ready and primed to play. You don't have to talk too hard to them about who were playing. There's a natural little adrenalin rush when the other team says Boston College across their chest so we'll be ready to play Saturday."
The prognosis for Steve Sollmann also looks positive according to Mainieri. "He saw the doctor today and the doctor said everything looked good. He's going back on Friday for another follow up. If the doctor says everything looks good then they're going to stay with the procedure they're doing now which is he doesn't have his mouth wired totally shut which is great so he's able to eat. He'll be back here this weekend for the Boston College games which he's really excited about."
The Irish will be back at Eck Stadium on Saturday for a double header against Boston College with the first game beginning at 12:05 PM CST.