Top-Seeded Connecticut Rallies Past Notre Dame In BIG EAST Championship

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Third baseman Ryan Fuller's two-run home run on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the eighth inning broke a tie game and pushed top-seeded Connecticut to a 4-2 win against No. 8-seeded Notre Dame Wednesday night in the first round of the BIG EAST Baseball Championship at Bright House Field. The Huskies (40-15-1) move on in the winners' bracket, where they will face Seton Hall at 8 p.m. Thursday. The Irish (22-28-1) will take on West Virginia Thursday at 5 p.m. in an elimination game. Fuller's blast highlighted a three-run eighth inning to help the Huskies overcome a 2-1 deficit. Notre Dame had taken the lead on a two-run shot by leftfielder Eric Jagielo in the top of the eighth. The game began as a pitching battle between the teams' No. 1 starters as Notre Dame's Brian Dupra and Connecticut's Matt Barnes both looked sharp. Barnes allowed just one hit in the first four innings, while Dupra scattered just three singles through seven innings. Connecticut finally broke the scoring stalemate in the bottom of the sixth without the benefit of a hit after LJ Mazzilli drew a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and took third on a wild pitch. George Springer drew a walk to put runners on the corners with one out, and Mike Nemeth was able to beat what would have been an inning-ending double-play as the throw pulled Irish first baseman Trey Mancini just off the bag. Mazzilli came in from third on the play to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead. Connecticut threatened to get more in the inning, but Irish centerfielder Charlie Markson made the defensive play of the first day of competition when he caught Fuller's line drive to left-center in a dead sprint and held on despite diving into the outfield fence to get the third out. Barnes had thrown 112 pitches through seven innings, but came out to start the eighth against a Notre Dame lineup that had managed just three hits to that point. But Frank DeSico reached on an error to start the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt to set the table for Jagielo, who drilled a 1-0 pitch to the rightfield power alley to give the Irish a 2-1 lead. Mazzilli led off the bottom of the eighth with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and came home on George Springer's lineout to center, tying the game at 2-2. First baseman Mike Nemeth followed with a ground-rule double to right-center and the Irish turned to their bullpen. Reliever Sean Fitzgerald's first pitch was drilled by Fuller to the berm in left-center to give the Huskies the lead for good. Connecticut closer Kevin Vance worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to register his 13th save and his 12th consecutive appearance without allowing a run. Barnes - the 2011 BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year - went 7.1 innings and allowed four hits and two runs (one earned) with eight strikeouts in the no-decision. Dan Feehan (2-2) was credited with the win after relieving Barnes in the eighth. Dupra took the loss for Notre Dame, falling to 3-7 after he allowed five hits and three runs with five strkeouts in 7.2 innings.