The Notre Dame baseball team headed into to a three-game series with West Virginia on Friday with the ability to control their own destiny. If the Irish can sweep a three-game series with West Virginia this weekend, they'll continue their season and play in the Big East tournament. If they don't, they might end their season and miss post season play for the first time under head coach Paul Mainieri.
Notre Dame took a big step in accomplishing their goal on Friday with a doubleheader sweep over the Mountaineers.
Sophomore Dan Kapala stepped up for Notre Dame in the crucial first game of the series delivering a gem on the mound.
Kapala (5-3) silenced one of the best hitting teams in the Big East conference with seven outstanding innings on the mound. The Mountaineers plated one run in the top of the first, but Kapala dominated the rest of way, finishing the day with seven innings pitched, allowing just the lone run on five hits with no walks.
Freshman Tony Langford delivered the big hit in the bottom of the first as he lined a two-run single to right plating the deciding runs.
The Irish won the first game 3-1 over the Mountaineers.
Then it was junior Tom Thornton's turn to step up and the Irish ace did just that to pick up the win. Thornton (6-5) didn't have his best day on the mound, but he battled for six innings, allowing just one run on seven hits.
Sophomore righthander Jeff Manship came in for the final three innings to pick up the save on the day. Manship confused Mountaineer hitters with a devastating curveball and closed out the game for Notre Dame with three hitless, scoreless innings of relief.
Sophomore catcher Sean Gaston delivered the deciding hit in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run single up the middle. The Irish plated another run in the fifth and two more in the eighth to complete the doubleheader sweep with a 5-1 victory in the second game.
Irish coach Paul Mainieri looked relieved after Friday's games.
"Everybody that pitched today gave it everything they had," said Mainieri after Friday's games. "We were walking the tightrope all day. I think it was some clutch pitching, and I think it was great defense at key times that allowed us to win those games today."
"I'm proud of guys," Mainieri continued. "It's been a rough year. The kids knew what they had to do, and I thought they went out there and played with a lot of poise today. It was two good wins for us."
Mainieri said that the Irish know what they need to do on Saturday to get into the post season, and they've got the right guy on the mound to hopefully get them there.
"We win tomorrow and we're in the tournament," Mainieri explained. "If we don't win, then it's not in your hands so obviously you want to get the job done on your own. I think if I had one game to play, Jeff Samardzija is the guy I'd like to see with the ball in his hands because you know he's going to compete for all that he's worth."
Notre Dame will be back at Frank Eck Stadium on Saturday to try to extend their season with the final game against West Virginia beginning at noon. If the Irish win on Saturday they'll make the final cut and qualify for the Big East tournament next weekend.