Thornton Delivers a Huge Game For the Irish

The Notre Dame baseball team needed a strong pitching performance from Tom Thornton Saturday night, and Thornton delivered with a masterpiece on the mound. The Irish couldn't afford to use their bullpen on Saturday if they hoped to have a chance to come back from their earlier loss to Kent State in game one of the South Bend regional. Thornton dominated on the mound, and sent his team into the championship round of the South Bend regional.

The Irish jumped on the Golden Flash early as Matt Macri led off the top of the first with a single to right-center. Macri advanced on a balk by Kent State pitcher Evan Smith and moved to third on a Steve Sollmann fly to right. Left fielder Steve Andres then lined a single into right-center scoring Macri, and Andres was later knocked in on a Matt Bransfield single to right-center giving the Irish the early 2-0 lead.

The Irish scored again in the top of the third. With two out, Steve Andres reached out on an outside pitch and dropped the ball into left field. Matt Bransfield then reached on a walk advancing Andres to second. On a 3-0 count, Javi Sanchez was given the green light and drilled a ball up the middle plating Andres to give the Irish the 3-0 lead.

Gut check time for Thornton came in the bottom of the third. Thornton, cruising long, recorded the first two outs of the inning before Adam Crowder drilled a Thornton pitch right back to the mound, hitting Thornton in the chest. Thornton started to fall to the ground, but found the courage to chase down the ball and throw out Crowder before collapsing on the first base line in pain. After a five minute break, Thornton climbed back on the mound and struck out Joe Tucker to end the inning.

The Irish plated another run in the fourth. Matt Macri led off the inning with a walk. He advanced to second on a wild pitch, and advanced to third on a Steve Sollmann sacrifice. Steve Andres then roped the first pitch he saw down the right field line for a double scoring Macri.

Kent State battled back in the bottom of the fifth, plating their only run of the game. Catcher Will Vazquez lined a single to left to lead off the inning. Thornton struck out the next hitter he faced, but centerfielder Chuck Moore drilled a double down the left field line scoring Vasquez. Thornton battled back, and forced Adam Crowder to fly out to right, and struck out nine-hole hitter Erick Holick to end the threat.

Thornton also battled out of a jam in the bottom of the sixth. After walking the leadoff hitter, Thornton gave up a seeing-eye grounder through the hole at short giving Kent State runners on first and second with no outs. Thornton picked off the runner at second, and then struck out the next two batters he faced to end the threat, and preserving the Irish 5-1 lead.

The Irish plated two more runs in the top of the seventh. Steve Sollmann singled up the middle, stole second, and advanced on the poor throw by Kent State catcher, Will Vasquez. Steve Andres then walked, and Matt Bransfield bounced to second scoring Sollmann. Golden Flash second basebman Joe Tucker sailed a throw to the shortstop, allowing Andres to advance to third, and Bransfield to reach safely. Sanchez then bounced out to the first baseman scoring Andres to give the Irish the 7-1 lead.

Thornton came back in the seventh and continued to dominate as he struck out the side, recording his 10th strikeout on the day. He opened the eighth with two more strikeouts before forcing Joe Tucker to bounce out to second, ending his string of seven straight strikeouts. Thornton finished the game with 12 strikeouts on the day.

Thornton walked out to the mound in the ninth to a standing ovation from Irish fans. He threw two pitches in the ninth, recorded an out, and left the game to another standing ovation from Irish fans.

Rico Bertucci finished the game for the Irish, recording the final two outs, and advancing the Irish into the championship round against Arizona.

The Irish needed a big outing from Thornton and for a second, it appeared he might have to come out of the game. "He smoked it, put it like that," said Thornton of the Crowder liner that hit him earlier in the game. "I couldn't quite get my glove up there and it just kind of stung me in the bottom of the rib."

But, Thornton went back in and pitched beautifully until Mainieri went to get his man in the ninth. "I never thought I'd be booed in Eck Stadium," said Mainieri about making the pitching change. "Tom was up to almost 120 pitches and I didn't want to overdo it."

The Irish are halfway home in what seemed like the impossible. They still have to beat Arizona twice on Sunday, but Mainieri believes his team has a chance to do that. "I told the team that they could do something that no other team has done before," said Mainieri. "That's lose the opening game and come back and win the tournament."

The Irish will face Arizona at 1:05 PM on Sunday. Notre Dame will have to beat Arizona twice in order to advance to the super regional. The second game—if needed—would be 45 minutes after the end of the first game. Top Stories