Irish Take Two as Mainieri Picks Up Win No. 800

Heart, soul and guts are what the Notre Dame baseball program is built upon under head coach Paul Mainieri. Mainieri, now in his 11th season as the Irish skipper, passed a milestone on Saturday picking up his 800th-career win, but Mainieri gave credit where credit is due. Two Irish pitchers deserved credit for catapulting the Irish back in the Big East race--Dan Kapala and Tom Thornton--but somehow you see Mainieri willing this team to victories, even if they're just not quite ready yet.

After a lackluster performance on Wednesday that left many scratching their heads as to where this Irish team is headed, two Irish pitchers stepped up to the challenge on Saturday and delivered the two best pitching performances of the season for Notre Dame.

Sophomore Dan Kapala (2-1) took the mound in the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday for Notre Dame in probably the most critical series of the season for the Irish as the Irish battled Connecticut.

Notre Dame (19-15) is fighting to keep their post season hopes alive and every win is important as they try to remain in the top four of the Big East conference.

Kapala's second start was an extended one and a beauty as the sophomore logged eight innings and allowed just two runs while scattering six hits to pick up the complete-game win.

The Irish plated one run in the first, but they struggled to add more runs at the plate until the eighth as they fell behind 2-1 in extra innings. Shortstop Greg Lopez singled in the tying run, and centerfielder Alex Nettey hit the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the eighth to secure the win for the Irish, 3-2.

Junior Tom Thorton also delivered a masterpiece in the second game as the Middleboro, Mass. native pitched a nine-inning complete game for the Irish.

Thornton allowed just one run on six hits and didn't walk a single batter in his nine innings.

The Irish pushed across seven runs on 14 hits to pick up the 7-1 win in the second game of the doubleheader.

Freshman Brett Lilley (4-for-4, R), senior Matt Edwards (2-for-4, R, RBI) and junior Greg Lopez (3-for-4, 2R, 2RBI) did most of the damage for the Irish at the plate.

"It was wonderful to see two great pitching performances and great defense today," said Irish coach Paul Mainieri said of his team's performance on Saturday. "That was Notre Dame baseball of old out there today."

The Irish committed just one error in the field on the day and Mainieri was thrilled with both pitching performances after Saturday's games.

"The kid pitched so courageous for us," said Mainieri of Kapala's performance in the first game. "What an outstanding performance and it set the tone for us all day."

Thornton also received high praise from the Irish skipper.

"I've said this all along that Tom has been the leader of this staff," Mainieri said of Thornton's day on the mound. "He's been a tremendous leader for our staff and you have to give so much credit to him. He delivered for us again today just as he did last weekend when we really needed him to."

800 wins is impressive for anyone, but Mainieri seemed almost embarrassed talking about passing such a big milestone after Saturday's game.

"At the beginning of the year (Notre Dame sports information director) Pete (LaFleur) told me 19 wins until we get to 800. I thought we'd get it a lot earlier than we did," Mainieri said with a laugh. "I really has no meaning to me as I've had 100, 200, whatever. It's just a number.

"I don't need a milestone victory to know how fortunate I've been to be surrounded by such great people—great assistant coaches, great players and great administrators. It makes you think back to all the great players we've had in this program.

"I'm just glad we got a doubleheader sweep because we needed it so badly. I think it puts us back in the hunt. We just need to finish off the weekend with a win in tomorrow's game."

Note: I don't have 800 wins, 800 good stories, or probably even 800 solid sentences under my belt as a journalist, but I'm thankful I was able to witness Paul Mainieri's 800th win.

As most of us know, Paul is the son of legendary coach Demie "Doc" Mainieri. "Doc" is an encyclopedia of baseball knowledge and widely respected in all facets of baseball. National Championships, major-leaguers and the pinnacle of success is what most know "Doc" Mainieri for.

But I've never seen a father as proud as I saw "Doc" congratulating his son Paul today on his 800th win.

Dad might have the rings, but "Doc" is smart enough to know that winning 800 games, when most of your career was spent at Air Force and Notre Dame, might be more impressive than any National Championship ring.

Call me unprofessional, call me biased, call me whatever. I've gotten to know Paul Mainieri and his baseball program pretty well these past two years and this program is what makes sports, baseball, coaching, being a fan, and being a ND fan exciting.

I'm hear to tell a story, and to me, this is the best story going right now, even at 19-15.


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