Coach Jim Penders handed the ball to right-hander Carson Cross for the first start of his UConn career and the redshirt freshman provided the lift the Huskies needed. Cross struck out five and gave up only three hits in 5.1 innings as UConn (29-25-1, 16-11 Big East) turned the tables on the Fighting Irish for a 4-0 victory before 272 at J.O. Christian Field Saturday.
Cross (3-1, 1.47 ERA) used a mixture of fastballs away, sliders, and changeups to left-handers while throwing 81 pitches and walking only two. When Cross ran out of gas, UConn's bullpen completed the job. Ryan Moore got the last two outs in the sixth. Dan Freeman got through the seventh with just nine pitches and closer Scott Oberg finished off Notre Dame (29-25, 14-13) by facing just six batters in the last two innings.
"I wanted to do everything I could to finish the regular season with a win and try to get us going before the tournament," Cross said. "It was Senior Day, lots of people here. It's a good day to do well.
"After the fifth, I was pretty tired but went back out for the sixth. It was pretty much up to me. That was the most fatigued I had been all year but it felt good to pitch that long."
It's likely Cross, now with 30.2 innings pitched this season, has worked his way into the rotation for the postseason - behind David Fischer and Anthony Marzi. Cross tossed 3.1 innings in relief of Fischer on May 5 to pick up a 4-3 win against Cincinnati. And on May 13 he pitched five scoreless innings, striking out four, in a UConn loss to South Florida.
Asked if he would hesitate to start Cross in the Big East tournament, Penders said, "Oh no, no, no. He's ready to do it. He could start a game, no question."
Penders said he didn't want Cross stretched out to 100 pitches Saturday. Other than that he had no limitations.
"It wouldn't be crazy to get him to 100 but we wanted to keep him under," Penders said. "He's climbed a little bit and he looked great. I really liked what I saw from Carson today."
UConn has gotten strong pitching in recent weeks. The problem has been scoring runs. Junior right fielder Stanley Paul alleviated some of the offensive pressure Saturday by driving in runs in the first and third without a hit.
The Huskies loaded the bases in the first on singles by Billy Ferriter and Tim Martin, along with a walk to Ryan Fuller. The Huskies took a 1-0 lead when Paul was hit by a pitch from Irish starter Adam Norton (4-5).
Paul drove in Fuller in the third with a ground out to second base. And the Huskies added two insurance runs in the six on RBI singles by Martin and LJ Mazzilli.
"Hopefully it carries over to the Big East tournament," said Mazzill, who was 2-for-5 Saturday to finish the regular season batting .327. "It's more a feeling than results when you know things have turned around. I think today a lot more people started feeling confident and wanted to be up there in key situations."
Mazzilli said the Huskies just let things happen Saturday – and that resulted in a lot of fun. That was important on a day when seniors Joe Pavone, David Fischer, John Sulzicki, Ted Hurvul, Fuller, and Martin were honored before the final home game of their careers.
"Today is a special day, especially for all the seniors," Oberg said. "We played really well today, I thought. It's especially good to get the last win here, and to go down to Florida with that confidence."