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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Irish top Northern Illinois in lopsided victory

Notre Dame started its home slate off on the right foot Tuesday, downing Northern Illinois 12-1 at Frank Eck Stadium.

Northern Illinois (4-16, 0-0 MAC) got on the board first in the top of the third, when the Huskies’ No. 9 hitter, senior right fielder Carl Russell, doubled down the left field line to lead off the inning. He moved to third on a grounder to the right side before scoring on junior shortstop Samuel Vega’s sacrifice foul-out to right.

Irish senior southpaw Scott Tully  winds up during Notre Dame’s 12-1 win over Northern Illinois on Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium.
Allison Culver | The Observer
Irish senior southpaw Scott Tully winds up during Notre Dame’s 12-1 win over Northern Illinois on Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish (7-12, 2-3 ACC) had an answer in the bottom of the third, though, taking advantage of some Northern Illinois missteps to take a 5-1 lead.

Junior left fielder Jake Johnson worked an 0-2 count into a walk to start the inning, then he advanced to second on a wild pitch during the next at-bat. Senior third baseman Kyle Fiala followed with a long at-bat of his own, fouling off four offerings before sending a single to left center, scoring Johnson to level the game, 1-1.

It was Notre Dame’s only hit of the inning.

Two batters later, after an error and a walk, Notre Dame had chased Huskies freshman starter Blake Walker (0-1) from the game with the bases loaded and nobody out. Freshman left-hander Eric Hammer, a local product from nearby Tippecanoe Valley High School, entered for Northern Illinois, issuing four walks and retiring just two batters in the inning. He promptly issued a walk of his own to bring Johnson home and put Notre Dame ahead 2-1. The Irish plated three more runs — on a fielder’s choice, a wild pitch and another walk — to make it five in the inning, two of which were unearned.

“Those walks are huge, those walks are massive in putting up those crooked numbers,” sophomore center fielder Matt Vierling said. “Being patient at the plate, and if it reaps the rewards like it did tonight, really puts up big numbers for us.”

With the bases loaded and two outs, Northern Illinois went to redshirt junior Andrew Frankenreider out of the bullpen, who struck Fiala out to end the Irish threat in a half-inning that saw six walks issued.

Irish senior southpaw Scott Tully (2-0) retired a pair of batters in the fourth on pop-ups, but his day ended with two down and two out in the top of the fourth, having notched five strikeouts and walked just one on 75 pitches.

Junior right-hander Charlie Vorsheck entered, inducing a flyout to right to kick off 2 2/3 perfect innings on the rubber.

Irish head coach Mik Aoki said getting to 75 pitches was a successful night for Tully, who made just eight appearances last year before undergoing Tommy John surgery.

“We needed to get Scott Tully’s pitch count up, and he got that thing up a little bit,” Aoki said. “And we wanted to get Charlie in there — we haven’t been able to extend him the way that we’d like to, so we got him some work, but not so much — he should be in play for anything that we’re doing this weekend against Florida State.”

Notre Dame returned to the scoreboard with another crooked number in the fifth, again benefitting from a Huskies error. Freshman designated hitter Patrick McDonald led off the inning with a single to right, before sophomore shortstop Cole Daily laid down a bunt that turned into a run. Huskies junior catcher Mike Roberson’s throw missed his target at first base, allowing McDonald to score from first and Daily to reach third. Irish senior catcher Ryan Lidge singled Daily home for an unearned run the next batter before sophomore second baseman Nick Podkul was hit by a pitch to earn an RBI. A two-RBI single from Vierling stretched Notre Dame’s lead to 10-1, closing the scoring in the fifth.

The Irish tacked on a few more runs in the seventh, as Vierling picked up a third RBI on a single up the middle, before freshman first baseman Daniel Jung drove in the 12th run on a sacrifice fly to right.

Vierling said he, and the rest of his Irish teammates, had a good grasp on what the Huskies pitchers were bringing to the plate Tuesday night.

“The patterns of how the pitchers were throwing, I kind of understood them, and I kind of knew what pitches were coming,” Vierling, who went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks, said. “I just felt good at the plate, calm — cold didn’t really get to me too much — and the whole team hit like that tonight.”

Aoki gave the ball to sophomore right-hander Shane Combs in the top of the ninth, giving the sophomore, who missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, his collegiate debut.

“He came in with an arm injury that he got — I think he ended up getting Tommy John [in] July immediately following his senior year in high school,” Aoki said. “And so, he has been rehabbing it pretty much ever since. He had a couple of other little setbacks here and there, so this is the first time that he’s been able to go out, so it was nice to see him out there. He’s a hard-working kid and pretty high-energy guy.”

Combs struck out two batters before being pulled, with senior Ryan Smoyer coming in to secure the final out.

With Wednesday’s contest against Toledo postponed, Notre Dame will return to action Friday at Frank Eck Stadium, hosting No. 12 Florida State in the opener of a three-game set. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.