"You never want to have a bad performance," pitcher Jeff Manship said. "Everyone wants to outdo each other. It's real competitive. It's nice to see everyone doing so well. It's good for our team."
He certainly did his best on Saturday afternoon to live up to this goal. Manship pitched seven strong innings and Notre Dame got some more timely production from the bottom of their lineup to push them past Pittsburgh 4-3 at Frank Eck Stadium. It was the Irish's sixth straight win and it moved their record to 16-8 on the season and 4-1 in Big East play.
Manship was the man on Saturday. The junior right hander allowed just one run on four hits in improving to 3-1 on the year. More importantly, his curveball was baffling Panther hitters as he struck out nine. In Manship's six starts this season, he has fanned 50 batters. The key today was getting ahead of the hitters.
"When he gets ahead in the count, it makes his curveball so much more effective," head coach Paul Mainieri said. "It was different than last week. He was behind in the count and everyone was laying off the curveball. Today, he was able to get them to swing at a few out of the stroke zone. He settled in nicely, just like Jeff Samardzija did yesterday. He struggled early and then he started to pitch real well."
"I got ahead," Manship said. "That's always helpful. You can throw your pitch whenever you want to versus having to pitch to the hitter every time."
The game had some tense final moments for Notre Dame. Reliever Kyle Weiland came on for Manship in the eighth inning with the Irish up 4-1. But he immediately ran into trouble. Pittsburgh got their first three batters on base and Morgan Kielty's sacrifice fly narrowed the Notre Dame lead to 4-2. A wild pitch by Weiland allowed Pittsburgh's Jimmy Mayer to score and make the game 4-3 heading into the ninth inning.
Weiland settled down, though. The freshman right hander retired the first two Pitt batters before walking Mayer on five pitches. That brought up Jim Negrych, who in addition to being one of the best players in the Big East, is hitting over .400 with four home runs this year. Weiland beared down and got Negrych to weakly line out to first base for the last out of the contest and recorded his sixth save of the season.
"I was sitting there thinking this is the way to indoctrinate a young kid to have him face the conference's best player in the top of the ninth inning with two outs and the tying run on base with the wind blowing out," Mainieri said. "I think Weiland shows why I have such faith in him. He struggled there in the eighth inning but came back in the ninth and did the job. I'm real proud of him."
The bottom of the order once again came through for Notre Dame. Sean Gaston's second inning infield single plated the first run of the day for the Irish to give them a 1-0 advantage. A throwing error later in the inning by Pittsburgh allowed Ross Brezovsky to make it 2-0 Notre Dame. Greg Lopez added one more to the tally in the second inning when he singled to center field to score Gaston. Lopez notched another RBI single in the bottom of the sixth when he lined a pitch from the Panthers' Paul Nardozzi (4-3) to right field that plated Matt Bransfield.
"Lopez is an amazing guy," Mainieri said. "He comes through in the clutch so often. You can throw his statistics out the window. When you need him the most and the game is on the line, he always seems to come through and that's how he's been throughout his career."