April 7, 2013
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Sophomore left-hander Josh Harris (Streamwood, Ill.) pitched into the ninth inning in front of a large hometown cheering section and a suddenly rejuvenated offense batted around in two different innings as Villanova (9-21, 1-5 BIG EAST) won its first-ever game at Frank Eck Stadium, defeating No. 20 Notre Dame (19-10, 4-5 BIG EAST) by a 10-6 count on Sunday afternoon.
In addition to their eight hits in the game the Wildcats also drew eight walks and were hit by a pitch once. Villanova opened the scoring with a four-run second inning and led the rest of the way but did not break the game open for good until scoring five runs with two outs in the top of the seventh inning.
Junior right fielder Connor Jones (Chandler, Ariz.) had the biggest hit of the game when he smacked a three-run triple with the bases loaded in that seventh inning. He led the Wildcats with four runs batted in and the five through nine spots in the Villanova lineup combined for eight runs scored and eight RBI on six hits. Freshman shortstop Eric Lowe (Arlington Heights, Ill.) had two hits and two runs batted in and junior catcher John Cialone (Houston, Texas) had an RBI double, three walks and two runs scored.
"We had five games this week and we played well in all of them but the most important thing was for us to get a win today," Villanova head coach Joe Godri said. "We are at a point in the season where we need results but we are getting better as a team every day. Over the course of this week I saw a lot of young guys grow and get better and that was reflected in the numbers we put up against an excellent pitching staff."
Harris (3-4, 2.70 ERA) was the biggest story of the day though, as he took the four-run lead given to him in the second inning and protected it until the offense put the game out of reach. He walked just two of the 37 batters he faced and struck out two while scattering eight hits and five runs. After yielding three runs in the bottom of the third inning which cut the Wildcats lead to 4-3, Harris was never in trouble again. Villanova added a single run in the fifth inning before opening the floodgates in the seventh.
"Josh Harris did an incredible job today," Godri said. "He pitched a big game for us and it is important to note that we have a lot of Midwestern guys on the team and a large number of players from Illinois and the Chicago area that were playing relatively close to home this weekend. We are continuing to play well and get better and that is at least partly a result of our efforts in recruiting paying dividends on the field."
"After watching our offense for the past two days I knew that they were going to support me today," Harris said. "Once we got the lead I knew I could just throw the ball over the plate and let the batters get themselves out. No matter the score I pitch with the mindset that it is a 0-0 game but it is always nice to know that the defense and offense have my back."
With each passing inning the large contingent of fans cheering on the Wildcats got a little bit louder. Harris' hometown of Streamwood, Ill. is just two hours from South Bend and by his own estimation Harris had upwards of 30 friends and family members in attendance. They gave Harris a standing ovation as he left the field and was mobbed by the entire Villanova team in front of the dugout.
"It felt great to have the support of all of our fans for the entire weekend," Harris said. "I can always hear my dad when I am on the mound. He keeps me going. My family and friends are the most important part of my life and the whole team just really appreciates their support all season."
Villanova led 5-3 after six innings but put a stamp on the game in the top of the seventh. Senior shortstop Tyler Sciacca (Staten Island, N.Y.) was hit by a pitch leading off the inning, senior left fielder Steve Schrenk (Brigantine, N.J.) sacrificed him to second and sophomore designated hitter Brandon Carr (Danville, Calif.) grounded out to move Sciacca to third. Then things got interesting.
Freshman first baseman Max Beermann (Tampa, Fla.) extended the inning with a walk and Cialone walked to load the bases against new pitcher Sean Fitzgerald. Freshman third baseman Kevin Jewitt (West Chester, Pa.) hit a hard grounder up the middle and the ball was knocked down but everyone was safe as Jewitt beat out the infield hit. That made the score 6-3 and left the bases loaded for Jones, who lifted a 2-2 fastball over the defense for a three-run triple that bounced off the base of the right field fence.
And the Wildcats still weren't quite done. Lowe lined a single to center field to drive in Jones and senior center fielder Paul Rambaud (Chicago, Ill.) singled to right to chase Fitzgerald, who allowed four hits and a walk to the five batters he faced. Connor Hale came in and struck out Sciacca to finally end the inning.
Earlier in the game Villanova sent nine men to the plate in a four-run second inning. Carr and Beermann each singled to start the inning and Cialone walked to load the bases with nobody out against Fighting Irish starter Matt Turnowchek (4-1, 3.33 ERA). Jewitt grounded into a fielder's choice in which Notre Dame got a force-out at the plate but the next four Wildcats plate appearances all resulted in a run scoring.
Jones walked to force in a run, Lowe had an RBI single on a grounder that took a bad hop over the shortstop, Rambaud walked to force home another run and Sciacca hit a sacrifice fly which knocked Turnowchek out of the game.
In the bottom of the third inning Fighting Irish leadoff hitter Frank DeSico bunted for an RBI single with runners at the corners and nobody out and Ryan Bull hit a two-run single with the bases loaded and two outs before Harris struck out designated hitter Phil Mosey to end the inning.
Bull singled home the fourth Notre Dame run in the bottom of the seventh inning but by that time Villanova was well on its way to owning a piece of history that meant a great deal to the team. The Fighting Irish didn't go down quietly in the bottom of the ninth inning, as Bull drove in two more runs to finish the day with three hits and five RBI. When all was said and done though, the Wildcats lead was never truly threatened in the late innings and junior reliever Chris Haggarty (Valley Cottage, N.Y.) registered the final three outs to close out the game.
"It was something the pitching staff talked about all weekend," Harris said. "We knew that Villanova had never won a game here and we felt like if we could get that first win it would make some history for our team."
In their previous trips to South Bend and Frank Eck Stadium the Wildcats had a record of 0-18-1, including very narrow losses this weekend in the first two games of a three-game series. The outcome of today's series finale came as no surprise to a Villanova team which has been playing particularly well of late and has seemed on the verge of breaking through in every game.
"We tied the game late on Friday night and lost a tough game yesterday but all along we just made it about Villanova and not about Notre Dame or any other factors in the series," Godri said. "After the two losses I saw a lot of our guys with a look that they were angry about losing. Sometimes with results it has to hurt before we can move forward and I just thought there was a determination on the part of each and every one of our players that they were going to do something about it."
"Hopefully this game will be something of a turning point for us this season," Harris said. "We have been playing well for the last couple of weeks and when you have a game like this it just makes us that much more excited to get back out on the field and keep it going."
This week the Wildcats will host LIU-Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. and then prepare to host Connecticut in a BIG EAST series next weekend.