BASEBALL: Fighting Irish Level Series In Win

For Boston College sports fans, the name Pat Connaughton quickly conjures images of defeats on the hardwood. The association with the name and these incidents, the Connaughton effect, came with Notre Dame’s move to the ACC in 2013 and developed after the basketball team’s games against BC this past season. Connaughton, who served as the Irish’s sure-shooting swingman from November to March, scored 34 total points and snagged 14 rebounds in his squad’s two conference wins over the Eagles.

While both ND’s and BC’s basketball seasons concluded nearly a month ago, the Connaughton effect is still growing-expanding to another sport. The ND letterman, known for his hustle on the court, took the mound against the BC baseball team in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. He would pitch the full nine innings, striking out six opposing batters and leading the Irish to a 4-2 victory over the Eagles.

Connaughton was given substantial support from the ND lineup: the Irish scored early and then increased their team’s lead with a hitting streak later in the game. The first ND run came in the first inning, which started with a double from leadoff hitter Conor Biggio: Third baseman Blaise Lezynski, the team’s RBI leader, hit a single into center field, driving Biggio home from second base and giving ND a 1-0 lead over BC.

Additional ND scores were staved off until the fifth inning, much to the credit of BC starting pitcher Andrew Chin, who retired 11 of 12 batters after Lezynski’s RBI in the first inning. When the quality of Chin’s pitching declined, the scoring began, and the ND attack was machine-like: The Irish had five consecutive hits and plated three runs.

“Andrew threw the ball well,” said BC head coach Mike Gambino. “But he made a couple mistakes, and they hammered him.”

The first runner to score in the fifth inning was catcher Forrest Johnson, who hit a single after teammate Zak Kutsulis grounded out. Johnson would be driven home by outfielder Robert Youngdahl, who hit a triple. In turn, Youngdahl scored after shortstop Lane Richards hit a double down the left field line. An infield single off the bat of outfielder Mac Hudgins, paired with a throwing error, enabled Richards to score the final run of the inning and gave ND a 4-0 lead. In spite of these scores, Chin was able to regain his composure and close the inning, getting Lezynski to ground into a double play.

After this scoring spree, the BC pitchers were able to prevent ND from plating more runs. Chin pitched into the seventh inning-yielding no runs after Richards’ score-and reliever Bobby Skogsbergh pitched the final 1.1 innings, closing the game. While these BC ballplayers kept ND scoreless through the last four innings, the Eagles’ lineup rallied: Michael Strem was able to score in the eighth inning, plated by teammate Nick Sciortino, and first baseman John Hennessey scored in the ninth, plated by Tom Bourdon. A resurgent Connaughton quashed the rally, getting Strem to ground out to close the last frame. BC could only muster two runs, and the Irish, heavily relying on their fifth inning scoring spree, won 4-2 over the Eagles.

For the ND and its fans, the victory proved the first clear demonstration of Connaughton’s pitching potential this season. Though ranked the No. 46 prospect among players eligible for the 2014 MLB Draft by, the ND right-hander struggled to exhibit this talent in the majority of his recent outings. Going into the contest against BC, Connaughton was winless and had a 6.89 ERA.

Conversely, for the Eagles, the ND victory and Connaughton’s pitching performance evidenced a negative trend that continues to impact the BC baseball team: a hitting and scoring struggle, an inability to consistently challenge the man on the mound. Connaughton was the third ACC player to pitch a complete game against BC in this year’s contests, and Michael Hearne became the fourth in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. The other two pitchers were Florida State’s Luke Weaver and North Carolina’s Trent Thornton.