Notre Dame sophomore RHP Dan Slania struck out Seton Hall's Zack Granite with the tying run in scoring position in the ninth inning to give the Irish a heart-stopping 4-3 victory Friday afternoon at Bright House Field. With its second season-saving triumph in as many days, Notre Dame advances to the BIG EAST tournament semifinals for the first time since 2009. The Irish improved to 31-26, while the defending tournament champion Pirates ended their season at 34-24.
Notre Dame, the youngest squad in the BIG EAST, will play No. 2 seed St. John’s at 10 a.m. Saturday in yet another elimination contest. Freshman RHP Pat Connaughton will take the mound for the Irish.
In a series that has now featured eight one-run games in the last 10 meetings, including three of the four matchups this season, Notre Dame not only rode the arms of junior RHP Adam Norton, senior LHP Steve Sabatino, sophomore RHP Sean Fitzgerald and Slania, but also the sticks, both big and small, of sophomore 3B Eric Jagielo, junior C Joe Hudson and freshman LF Mac Hudgins.
Fitzgerald did surrender a leadoff single in the ninth inning, but got a strikeout and ground out to set the stage for Slania.
Norton picked up the victory and evened his record at 5-5. He tossed 7.0 solid innings and allowed just a pair of earned runs on seven hits. Norton struck out two and once again did not issue a walk. He has now tossed 98.0 innings in 2012 and issued just seven free passes, two of which were intentional walks.
Slania picked up his BIG EAST-leading 13th save of the campaign, which ties J.P Gagne (2003) for the second most in single-season school history.
Sabatino, who entered the game with a 0.73 ERA in league games over 12.1 innings this year, relieved Norton and worked out of a jam in the eighth inning following a bit of misfortune. The southpaw allowed a leadoff single to Granite to open the inning. After a stolen base moved Granite into scoring position, Sabatino sawed off Mike Genovese and got a ground out, but Granite moved to third.
Sabatino then issued a walk, after a pair of two-strike offering barely missed the strike zone. With runners now on the corners and one out, Giuseppe Papaccio managed to squeeze a two-strike offering through the left side of the infield to cut the Irish lead to 4-3, but Sabatino battled back. He got back-to-back ground ball to end the inning.
No Notre Dame player had more than one hit, but seven different starters collected a hit.
Jagielo absolutely crushed a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to push the Irish lead to 3-1. The round tripper was his 12th of the season.
After Seton Hall cut the Notre Dame lead to one run, 3-2, Jagielo was also instrumental in Notre Dame’s insurance run in the seventh. Junior 2B Frank DeSico and junior CF Charlie Markson led off the frame with back-to-back hits. Jagielo then laid down his first sacrifice bunt of the season. It was executed to perfection and both runners advanced. Sophomore 1B Trey Mancini followed with an intentional walk that loaded the bases and Hudson delivered with an RBI fielder’s choice.
The Irish manufactured a pair of runs in the bottom of the second to grab a 2-0 lead. Mancini reached on catcher’s interference to open the inning and moved into scoring position following a walk. Senior RF Alex Robinson followed with a beautiful sacrifice bunt. Seton Hall starter Jose Lopez threw wildly down the line and Mancini came around to score from second base. Two batters later, Hudgins slapped a Texas League single over the head of the Pirates third baseman to score Robinson.
Seton Hall again answered with a run in its half of the third inning, but it could have been more. Granite tripled with one out and trotted home on Genovese’s RBI single. Norton induced a ground ball from Will Walsh that was hit too slowly to turn two. Walsh promptly swiped second base, but was stranded when Norton got Papaccio to fly out.
The Pirates collected 10 base hits, seven of which came with two strikes.
Norton has now collected seven quality starts and worked into the seventh inning nine different times this season. He has failed to issue a single walk in nine of his 15 starts in 2012.