The Irish were down 8-4 in the ninth inning with two outs and one on. Magically, they were able to muster the offense in the clutch to score four runs in the frame to tie the game up at 8-all and then win it in the tenth with three more runs. It left Notre Dame 5-8 after 13 contests and it's a win the team can build upon down in Florida.
"Right now, we're looking for anything to get us going so we can have a winning streak," head coach Dave Schrage said. "We've been inconsistent. You can tell that by the scores. We've been hitting into some hard luck and the guys have been getting frustrated. When we got shutout, we had a whole bunch of guys on base but hit the ball hard right at guys. I told them before the Webber International game that in baseball, it'll even out. And that's what happened. We had three straight guys up at the plate that were one strike away from the game being over."
It was a solid victory for a team who has been unable to piece together any type of consecutive wins. Notre Dame has not won back-to-back contests this year. They have lost three in a row twice. The past five games, its been win, loss, win, loss and win.
A problem for the Irish has been the defense. Notre Dame has committed 24 errors in 13 contests for an average for almost two a game. Sophomore Jeremy Barnes has seven on the season while A.J. Pollock, Brett Lilley and Ryan Smith all have three apiece. Because of the defensive lapses, the Irish have surrendered 25 unearned runs. It's been good for Notre Dame to get down to Florida for an extended period of time and practice on clear fields instead of the snow covered ones in South Bend.
"Before the Webber game, we had a practice infield and we got there early to take some practice and ground balls," Schrage said. "It's a matter of repetition. Ryan Smith has caught three games down here. He's been put into duty as a freshman catcher. I really thought he's done a nice job stepping in but he's made a few mistakes. I think that's the part of our game that'll be fine. In the fall, the one thing I thought we did well was play defense. So I'm not as quite as concerned with that as much as hitting."
Speaking of the hitting, the Irish have three regulars hitting over .300. None have been better than Lilley. The junior shortstop is hitting .353 on the season with 13 runs scored as the leadoff hitter. More importantly, Lilley has an on-base percentage of .458. That's pretty good for any player at the top of the lineup.
"He's done a great job for us in that hole," Schrage said of Lilley in the first spot. "He loves being in the leadoff hole. He's gotten hit at eight times. He'll do anything to get on. He sprays the ball all over the field. On Monday, he had a bunt single and then he had a line drive single down the line. The one thing about him which we've been working on is that he hit a bunch of balls in the air to the opposite field. We've worked on him turning on the ball more and hitting it between first and second. I couldn't be happier for him and he's played well."
Notre Dame got into Clearwater, Florida at 1 AM on Saturday morning and then had to play at 10 AM. The next day, the Irish battled through a double-header. After the Harvard contest on Monday was cancelled because of a scheduling conflict with the Crimson, Notre Dame traveled down to Babson Park to take on Webber International. The team had a much-needed day of rest on Tuesday. The comeback win over WIU gives the team some momentum heading into the FGCU Classic in Fort Myers. The Irish will play four games in four days, starting on Wednesday against Dayton at 6 PM.
"Right now, it's more about us and how we're playing," Schrage said of what he hopes to accomplish in Fort Myers. "I'm looking for us to play a complete game where we move runners, hit the ball well and also play good defense. If you look at our team ERA, it's pretty good. They've done a nice job. We've given up almost as many earned runs as unearned runs. We also look to get better each game. I'm concerned with how we're playing than who we're playing. I got a good feeling about this group right now."