Ryan Bull had driven a stake in Pittsburgh’s heart before, but this time it was sudden death for the Panthers. After hitting a walk-off home run in a regular-season game for the Irish last year against Pitt, Bull laced a game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th inning Saturday for a 3-2 victory in the semifinals of the Big East Championship, sending the Fighting Irish to the league final for the first time since 2006.
The Irish earned their first trip to the Big East Championship final since 2006.
Notre Dame (34-23) entered the eight-team conference tournament in Clearwater, Fla., as the seventh seed, but blanked No. 2 seed Seton Hall 5-0 Wednesday, topped No. 3 seed Pitt 5-3 on Thursday and escaped with the extra-inning win in the rematch to set up a title bout with either No. 8 Connecticut or No. 5 Rutgers Sunday at Noon on ESPNU. It’s the first time in the history of the league championship a No. 7 seed has advanced to the final.
In the bottom of the 10th inning, Irish senior center fielder Charlie Markson reached first base on an infield error and senior second baseman Frank DiSico successfully bunted to put two men on. Sophomore left fielder Mac Hudgins laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both base runners into scoring position. The Panthers opted to walk Big East Player of the Year Eric Jagielo (junior) to load the bases. Junior first baseman Trey Mancini’s shallow pop fly for the second out.
Bull, a sophomore right fielder, came to the plate just 1 for 12 for the tournament but drilled a Jonathan Danielczyk 1-1 fastball into left field to score the winning run.
“He had showed me fastballs throughout the whole game,” Bull, who was 0 for 4 at the plate prior to his final at-bat, told BigEast.com after the win. “Usually the rule of thumb when you see [a pitcher] three times is you kind of get to know his stuff. I think I finally got a read on his fastball and was able to poke one through. I’m just really happy that everything worked out.”
Bull was mobbed by his elated teammates after the biggest hit of his young career.
“I can’t really describe it,” he said. “Everybody is really excited; it’s awesome. I love the way these guys fought and I just couldn’t let them down.”
Junior right-handed pitcher Sean Fitzgerald started the game and allowed seven hits and one earned run over six and two-thirds innings. The Irish had a 2-1 lead after five innings before the Panthers tied things up in the top of the sixth.
Pittsburgh (42-17) had a chance to do some damage in the top of the 10th with Notre Dame reliever Nick McCarty on the mound. With runners at first and second, McCarty believed a pickoff play was on, but Mancini was playing behind the bag at first. The quick throw went into the bleachers and both Pitt runners moved into scoring position with one out on the error. McCarty stayed focused, getting a pop out and a strikeout to end the inning.
Jagielo was the only Irish player to finish with two hits, and he added two RBI and a base on balls. McCarty registered the victory to improve to 5-4 this season.