Stop if you have heard this before: University of Notre Dame sophomore Ryan Bull with a walk-off hit to beat the University of Pittsburgh. As a rookie in 2012, Bull stroked a game-winning home run to best the Panthers, 6-5, but he picked an even greater stage in 2013. The right fielder drove home the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th with a single to lift the Fighting Irish past Pittsburgh, 3-2, and send Notre Dame to the BIG EAST title game for the first time since 2006.
The Irish improve to 34-23 on the season, while the Panthers drop to 42-17. Notre Dame will face either No. 8 seed Connecticut or No. 5 seed Rutgers at Noon Sunday on ESPNU.
The 10th inning rally came on the heels of a magic trick turned by Irish freshman RHP Nick McCarty in the top half of the inning. With runners at first and second, McCarty thought a pickoff play was on at first base, but unfortunately one was not and Notre Dame junior 1B Trey Mancini was playing behind the runner. McCarty's throw sailed into the stands and both runners moved into scoring position on the error, but the rookie was unfazed.
McCarty got Evan Oswald to pop out and then struck out Boo Vazquez with a called third strike to end the inning. McCarty has now tossed 4.2 scoreless innings of relief in the BIG EAST tournament.
The Irish rode that momentum and a pair of Pittsburgh errors to open the home half of the 10th. Senior CF and co-captain Charlie Markson pulled a ground ball deep into the hole at shortstop, but Oswald's throw one-hopped the first baseman. Markson reached on the apparent miscue. Senior 2B and co-captain Frank Desico followed with a sacrifice bunt. Sam Parente fielded the ball cleanly and his ensuing underhanded toss to Pittsburgh 2B Dylan Wolsonovich was on time to retire DeSico, but Wolsonovich could not locate the bag with his foot and DeSico was safe.
Sophomore LF Mac Hudgins followed with another perfectly executed sacrifice bunt to move DeSico and Markson to second and third, respectively, for junior 3B and BIG EAST player of the year Eric Jagielo. The Panthers smartly walked Jagielo intentionally to load the bases for Mancini, but Danielczyk induced a shallow fly ball that prevented the potential winning run from scoring.
With the bases still loaded and now two outs, up stepped Bull, who was 1-for-12 in the tournament entering the at bat. He took a 1-1 fastball and rifled it past Oswald and into left field.
McCarty picked up the victory and improved to 5-4 on the season. He tossed 3.1 scoreless innings of relief with a pair of strikeouts and no walks.
Danielczyk was tagged with the loss and dropped to 2-1 on the campaign. The sidewinder limited the Irish to an unearned run on three hits in 4.2 innings. He did not strikeout a batter and walked one. Danielczyk had retired nine straight Notre Dame batters entering the ill-fated 10th inning.
Jagielo was the lone Irish player with a multi-hit game. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI single and RBI double.
Junior RHP Sean Fitzgerald did not factor in the decision but pitched admirably. He battled through a Pittsburgh lineup that led the conference in hitting and runs scored. Fitzgerald scattered seven hits over 6.2 innings of work. He allowed just one earned run and struck out four.
The one earned run allowed by Fitzgerald is the only earned run Notre Dame has allowed in three tournament games over 28.0 innings of work.
Fitzgerald made big pitches all day. He limited the Panthers to one run in the second inning despite runners on first and second with no outs, and the run already scored. Fitzgerald got double plays to end the third and sixth, and another in the seventh inning.
McCarty retired the first six Panthers he faced before a two-out base hit in the Pittsburgh ninth.
Notre Dame is the first No. 7 seed to reach the BIG EAST tournament final.