CLEARWATER, Fla. - No. 7 seed Notre Dame, the BIG EAST's youngest squad by a wide margin, went toe-to-toe with No. 2 seed and regular season co-champion St. John's, but came up just a little short. The Red Storm used a pair of sacrifice flies and the stellar right arm of junior Kyle Hansen to hold off the Irish, 2-1, in the BIG EAST tournament semifinals Saturday morning at Bright House Field. Notre Dame closes the 2012 campaign with a 31-27 record, but did reach the tourney final four for the first time since 2009.
The Irish battled to the last pitch. Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth and two outs, sophomore 3BEric Jagielo drew a walk from Red Storm closer Stephen Rivera to put the tying run on base and winning run at the plate in fellow sophomore 1B Trey Mancini. The 2012 BIG EAST Home Run Derby champion laced Rivera's first offering of the at-bat, but unfortunately directly at the St. John's centerfielder to end the game.
Rivera collected his fourth save of the year.
Kyle Hansen picked up the victory and improved to 4-5 on the season, while Irish senior LHP Steve Sabatino was charged with the loss and dropped to 0-1 on the year.
Freshman DH Ryan Bull went 2-for-3 for the Irish and Jagielo collected his BIG EAST-leading 13th home run of the year, second of the tournament.
Hansen, who entered today's matchup with a 3-0 record and 0.75 ERA over 24.0 innings (three career starts) against the Irish, was almost untouchable once again. He limited Notre Dame to five hits and one earned run over 7.1 innings. Hansen struck out seven and did not issue a walk, but was matched pitch-for-pitch early by Irish rookie RHP Pat Connaughton.
Just three days removed from an outing in which Connaughton failed to register an out against the Red Storm, allowed seven earned runs on six hits and all eight batters he faced reached base, the Arlington, Mass., native registered his best start in an Irish uniform.
Connaughton scattered eight hits over a career-best 6.2 innings. He limited the Red Storm to just one earned run and fanned four, while walking one. Connaughton induced nine groundouts, including a pair of critical double plays.
The game remained scoreless until the top of the fifth inning.
Sean O'Hare opened the fifth with a single and Danny Bethea followed two batters later with another single. After Connaughton plunked Bret Dennis on a two-strike offering to load the bases, Kyle Richardson gave the Red Storm a 1-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Hansen retired the first six Irish batters before Bull singled to right field. With Bull on the move, freshman LF Mac Hudgins ripped a liner right at the St. John's first baseman, which promptly doubled off Bull.
Hansen retired the next five until junior C Joe Hudson singled with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Bull followed with a single to put runners on the corners with two outs, but Hansen got Hudgins to foul out to end the threat.
Connaughton, on the other hand, made big pitch after big pitch in a variety of challenging situations. After retiring the Red Storm 1-2-3 in the top of the first, he found himself in trouble in the second. Frank Schwindel and Jeremy Baltz opened the frame with back-to-back singles. After a sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position, Connaughton got a strikeout and fly out to end the threat.
Connaughton kept the Irish deficit just 1-0 thanks in part to a pair of double plays in the St. John's sixth and seventh innings.
Jagielo tied the game, 1-1, in the bottom of the seventh with a massive solo home run that cleared everything in right field and sailed out of the entire stadium.
St. John's took advantage of some fortune in its half of the eighth inning. Sabatino, who got the last out of the seventh, got a fast ball in on the hands of Jimmy Brennan, but Brennan managed to fist it out into shallow right field for a single.
Matt Wessinger followed with a perfect bunt single to put two on and no outs. Sophomore RHP Sean Fitzgerald came into the game and got a ground ball, but it was unfortunately chopped so hard into the ground that Irish senior SS Tommy Chase's attempt to force Wessinger at second base was unsuccessful.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Baltz followed with a sacrifice fly to give St. John's 2-1 advantage. Fitzgerald got a pair of punch-outs to end the inning.
Hudgins singled with one out in the eighth to end the day for Hansen, but Rivera got Notre Dame freshman PH Blaize Lezynski to pop out and then Hudgins was gunned down trying to steal to end the inning.