Baseball Takes South Bend Regional Title With 7-6 Win Over Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - The five-week long fight for a playoff berth paid off for the Arizona baseball team as it upset top-seeded host school Notre Dame 7-6 at Eck Stadium in Indiana for the South Bend Regional title and a trip to its first-ever Super Regional on Sunday.
The Wildcats (33-24-1, 3-0 postseason) will move on to play Long Beach State in a best-of-three series at Blair Field in California next weekend with a trip to Omaha, Neb., and a spot in the College World Series on the line.
The Wildcats got outstanding performances on the mound against the Fighting Irish from John Meloan and Koley Kolberg and key hits from Moises Duran, Richard Mercado, Nick Hundley and Jason Donald to win their first regional title since 1986.
Tied 6-6 in the bottom of the seventh after Notre Dame's Cody Rizzo hit a three-run homer in the top of the inning, Duran singled home Jeff Van Houten from second with the winning run to extend Arizona's season at least another weekend.
Van Houten led off the inning with a walk from reliever Dan Kapala and advanced into scoring position at second base on a sacrifice bunt by Jordan Brown. Duran quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 before grounding Kapala's third pitch in the at bat back up the middle to plate Van Houten and give Arizona a one-run lead.
The Fighting Irish, who had jumped out to a 2-0 advantage after three and half innings and rallied to tie the game on Rizzo's fourth home run of the year in the seventh, went quietly in the eighth inning, but had the tying run reach base in the ninth when Meloan walked pinch hitter Danny Dressman to leadoff the frame.
Arizona coach Andy Lopez, who also doubles as the pitching coach for the Wildcats, pulled the spent Meloan from the game in a favor of Friday's starter Kolberg. The junior right-hander, who picked up his first career save against USC last Sunday, struck out UND's Matt Macri for the first out in the inning and benefited from a base running blunder when Dressman tripped himself up on a pitch in the dirt to Steve Sollmann in the next at bat.
Arizona's catcher Hundley fired Kolberg's wayward pitch down to Brown at first to pick off the stumbling Dressman for the second out. Kolberg proceeded to strike out Sollman swinging to end the game and send the Wildcats dugout onto the field in celebration.
Trailing 2-0 after a pair of solo home runs in the first three and half innings, the Wildcats, who went hitless off of Notre Dame starter Jeff Samardzija the first time through the batting order, finally broke through with four runs in the bottom of the fourth to take their first lead in the game.
Leadoff hitter Trevor Crowe ended the hitless streak for Arizona with a single up the middle to start off the inning. Junior Jeff Van Houten followed with a triple to right center to plate Crowe and cut ND's lead to 2-1.
After Jordan Brown struck out for the first out in the inning, senior third baseman Duran rewarded Van Houten with a trip home with a single left to tie the game.
Freshman shortstop Jason Donald wasted little time in snapping the tie, hitting Samardzija's first pitch in the next at bat over the left field fence for his eight home run of the year for two runs and a 4-2 lead. The blast was Donald's first home run since April 3 at Oregon State
Notre Dame cut the UA lead to 4-3 on a solo home run by first baseman Matt Edwards, his second of the game, but back-to-back home runs by Mercado and Hundley in the sixth pushed the UA lead to 6-3.
Meloan (9-0), who remained perfect on the year, earned his team-high tying ninth win of the season despite not having his best stuff. In fact, the right-hander almost missed the start after tweaking his throwing arm during the pre-game stretch. The Houston, Texas, native gave up all six Notre Dame runs on seven hits over eight inning. Notre Dame hit four home runs off him, but he minimized the damage as three of the homers were hit while the bases were empty. He finished the game with nine strikeouts, one away from his career high, and five walks.
Kolberg, who was named the MVP of the regional, picked up his second career with the perfect ninth inning.
UND's Kapala (2-1) was charged with his first loss of the year after giving up the game-winning hit to Duran in the seventh.
Along with Kolberg's MVP performance, Donald, Mercado, Van Houten and Derek Decater were named to the all-regional team after the game.
The dates and times of the Super Regional against the 49ers will be announced on Monday.
RELATED NEWS & VIDEOS
TOMORROW | 11:00am PTLive