1,962 fans watched the Notre Dame baseball team battle to stay alive with a 6-5 win over Cal-Irvine. Irish pitcher Grant Johnson (6-0) didn't have his best day, but was able to battle out of a couple of jams in the fourth and fifth inning to keep the Irish in the game and pick up the win.
The Irish jumped out to an early lead when senior Steve Sollmann singled up the middle in the bottom of the first. He then advanced to third on a two-base throwing error by Cal-Irvine pitcher Glen Swanson. Sollmann later scored on a wild pitch by Swanson giving the Irish the early 1-0 lead.
The Irish picked up three more runs in the bottom of the third. Matt Macri led off the inning with a single and later advanced to second on a Matt Bransfield walk. Both runners later scored on a towering Craig Cooper homer to left to give the Irish the 4-0 lead.
Johnson struggled with his control most of the game—and an inconsistent strike zone--and found himself in trouble in top of the fourth. Left fielder Jordan Szabo singled sharply to left to get the rally started. Johnson then got designated hitter Cody Cipriano to hit a lazy ground ball to third, but junior Matt Macri could not come up with the play giving the Anteaters runners on first and second with no outs. First baseman Tim Stewart then sacrificed, advancing the runners, and right fielder David Kennedy ripped a line drive to the right-center gap scoring both Szabo and Cipriano. Kennedy was then knocked in on a sharply hit Mark Wagner single through the hole at short narrowing the lead, 4-3 Irish.
Johnson then walked shortstop Kyle Ryckebosch and then hit centerfielder Gary Dudrey with a pitch loading the bases with just one out. Johnson then struck out the next hitter and forced Anteater Matt Anderson to bounce out to second base preserving the 4-3 Irish lead.
Johnson found himself in trouble again in the top of the fifth. After striking out the first hitter, designated hitter Cody Cipriano reached on an infield single. Tim Stewart followed with a single and then Johnson walked right fielder David Kennedy to load the bases again with one out. Johnson then forced catcher Mark Wagner to fly out to first, but later walked in another run when he hit shortstop Kyle Ryckebosch tying the game 4-4.
The Irish fought back in the bottom of the fifth when Matt Macri reached on an infield bunt single. Sollmann then advanced the runner with a liner to center to give Notre Dame runners on first and second with no outs. The Sollmann single was his 300th of his career.
Matt Bransfield then sacrificed moving both runners into scoring position, Javi Sanchez walked, and then Craig Cooper hit a sacrifice fly scoring Macri to give the Irish the 5-4 lead.
The Irish picked up another run in the sixth when Cody Rizzo led off the inning with his third homerun of the season, taking the second pitch he saw over the left field wall.
The Anteaters battled back in the top of the seventh as five-hole hitter Tim Stewart singled, followed by a David Kennedy single. Both runners advanced on a Mark Wagner sacrifice bunt. Stewart would later score on a pass ball narrowing the lead to 6-5 Irish.
Closer Ryan Doherty came in to finish the game in the ninth to pick up his 12th save of the season, and advance the Irish to the evening game.
"This was a great character game for our kids," said Irish coach Paul Mainieri of the victory. "The goal of this game today was to avoid going two and out. In my 10 years as a coach at Notre Dame we've never had where we've gone two and out."
The Irish did advance, but it wasn't the best game the Irish have played this season. "It wasn't the prettiest game that you've ever seen, but our guys found a way to get the job done," said Mainieri. "Grant (Johnson) labored through five innings—kept us in the game. (Craig Cooper) had a couple of big swings—a three-run homer that was a huge lift to our team.
"I think our bullpen was the real heroes today, especially Joe Thaman and Dan Kapala. Those setup guys to get us to the ninth inning really did the job."
The Irish only managed seven hits on the day led by Cooper's blast and the Rizzo homer. Matt Macri (2-for-4, 2R) and Steve Sollmann (2-for-4, R) also had solid days at the plate for the Irish.
"If feel we've got our best games ahead of us," Mainieri said. "Hopefully we'll play a lot better tonight. I think as the weekend goes on, if we can stay alive, we'll swing the bats a lot better."
The Irish will play in the third game this evening at 7:05 PM against the loser of the second game between Arizona and Kent State.