ND-Fairfield holds off Bunnell 2-0
STRATFORD — Bill Mazzucco decided to play a hunch.
Looking for something clutch to add onto a slim one-run lead in the top of the seventh, the Notre Dame-Fairfield coach sent junior Jacob Rainey to the plate to pinch hit.
It was Rainey’s third at-bat of the season.
But Mazzucco’s hunch paid off as Rainey sent a short fly ball into left-center field where it fell between the left fielder, the center fielder and the shortstop to plate a second run as the Lancers won a pitching-duel matchup 2-0 over Bunnell on an overcast Monday afternoon at the Bulldogs’ field.
“He had been swinging the bat well,” Mazzucco said of using Rainey as a pinch-hitter. “He’s playing behind two senior catchers … he’s a good hitter. He’s going to be huge for us next season.”
Rainey’s hit was huge this season as ND-Fairfield won its second straight and improved to 7-1 on the season (2-1 in the SWC). Bunnell, which had spilt its last four games after starting the season 0-5, fell to 2-8.
“I feel like we’re in a rut. We’re not getting any of the little breaks,” Bunnell coach Sean Mignone said. “We get a hit and try to score the kid from second and the fielder makes a great throw, the catcher makes a great catch and makes a great tag, just beats him. We’re a second late in getting to third on a bunt play, we have a kid picked off second on a play that everyone thought was in the gap. One extra step cost us. We can’t get the breaks that we need.”
In the third, Bunnell had runners on first and second after a single and an error, but the Lancers got the lead runner at third on a bunt try and then, after Tyler Vancho lined a single to center, ND outfielder Brandon White threw a one-hopper to catcher Jose Mercado, who dove across the plate to tag Justin Herrera, keeping the game scoreless.
But that wasn’t all. Notre Dame-Fairfield left fielder Nolan Nemchek slid to catch a sinking liner in the fifth and threw to second to double up Herrera, who had reached via a single.
Bunnell also shined in the field as Herrera made a sliding catch of Nemchek’s liner in the second, second baseman Hathaway Roper made a diving catch of Pete Minore’s liner in the fourth and Emiliano Jasso made a diving catch of Minore’s blast in the sixth.
“You have to tip your hat to both pitchers,” Mignone said. “Their pitcher was phenomenal. We saw him a couple of weeks back and he was good then, but I think he pitched even better today. He threw strikes, kept us off-balance and any time we did hit the ball hard it was usually right at someone.”
Dillon Higgins went the distance for the Lancers, allowing five hits while striking out five. Bunnell’s Tyler Vancho, who had battled a sore shoulder in his last two starts, also went the distance, allowing just five hits, striking out five.
“I thought Tyler pitched great for us, probably his best game he’s pitched in the past two years,” Mignone said. “He pitched very well, low pitch count, he controlled the strike zone. He kept them off-balance.”
In the top of the seventh, Mercado reached with a one-out double and scored when Tierney lined a two-out single to center. Then, Rainey made it 2-0 with the biggest hit of his career.
“I was looking fastball the whole time, he didn’t have that good of a curve ball,” Tierney said. “That last pitch, I put a good swing on it and it found a hole.”
Despite throwing 103 pitches, Higgins ended the game with a ground out to first and a pair of strikeouts.
“Mainly, I just wanted to establish the low part of the zone, going with the fastball and then use by breaking ball to set them up,” Higgins said. “Try to use the knuckleball and throw them off a little bit.”
And let his defense make all the plays.
“Pitching and defense, that’s been it for us all year,” Tierney said. “And we’ve added timely hits all year too. We’re just trying to live by that.”
ND-FAIRFIELD 000 000 2—2 5 3
BUNNELL 000 000 0—0 5 1
Records: ND-Fairfield (7-1, 2-1 SWC); Bunnell (2-8, 1-2 SWC)
Batteries: ND-Fairfield - Dillon Higgins (W) and Jose Mercado; Bunnell - Tyler Vancho (L) and Angelo Giannetti