The Notre Dame baseball team rose to the occasion on Monday night while the host Signal Mountain Eagles did not.
Playing a key District 7-AA game at Signal Mountain, the Fighting Irish used three unearned runs in the top of the sixth inning as a springboard and it was more than enough as the Irish overcame a 2-1 Eagle lead for the 4-2 win.
Seniors Matt Rouche and Braxton Reese pitched really well for their respective teams, but when push came to shove, a couple of critical errors by the Signal Mountain shortstop proved to be the difference as Notre Dame headed home with the victory.
Both Rouche and Reese went the distance with Rouche earning his first win after three losses and Reese getting stuck with his first loss after four wins.
"I feel like I pitched pretty well. Getting ahead in the count early really helped and those three runs made me a lot more comfortable. I just wanted to shut them down in the seventh inning and get out of here," Rouche said, wanting to get home to watch the Louisville-Michigan national championship game.
Notre Dame coach Greg Elie was especially pleased after his team improved to 8-6 overall with their third straight win.
"What a great game," Elie said while his players cleaned up the dugout and prepared to head for the parking lot.
"Matt has pitched like that all year, but he's been a hard-luck loser three times. The key for us is the fact that we executed and did the little stuff well. And we didn't give up.
"Signal Mountain has a great team and we had to start somewhere, but it was a total team effort tonight. Grayson Hargett is tough as nails. He laid down a perfect bunt in that sixth inning. But we know that we still have a long way to go and that we must play this one game at a time," Elie added.
Signal Mountain coach Bumper Reese wasn't exactly pleased with his team's defense, but he was quick to praise the Irish' defense and pitcher Rouche in particular.
"We just didn't play very well tonight, but tomorrow is a new day and a different game. Their pitcher did a super job as he had the fastball working. He made good pitches when he had to, but Notre Dame also played great defense.
"They did all of the little things well and we didn't. We hit the ball hard a few times, but we didn't have any luck with anything falling," Reese nodded.
Rouche drove in the first run of the game with a single in the first. Gage Miller led off with a walk and Nick Chambers also received a base on balls with one out. Miller was picked off second for the second out before Alex Darras reached on an infield single to put runners on the corners.
Rouche lifted a little blooper into short right field as Chambers raced home with the first run.
It was 1-0 until Signal Mountain tied it with a single run in the fourth. Madison Boyd reached on a one-out walk and scored on a bad throw by the Irish third baseman on a routine grounder.
The Eagles got their only two hits of the game in the fifth when they took a 2-1 lead.
Kaleb Menzel singled to right with one out and went to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Patrick Bruce. Ben Philyaw then plated Menzel with a single to right. Reese walked to put runners on first and second, but Chambers made scooped a hard grounder in the hole at short and made a nice play for the third out.
It didn't take Notre Dame long to regain the lead.
Miller ripped a double into the gap in left-center to lead off before Grayson Hargett reached on a perfect bunt down the line toward third. The tying run came home on the first Signal Mountain error while the go-ahead was also courtesy of an Eagle boot. Conner Simpson got credit for an RBI on the third run of the inning when he received a bases-loaded walk.
Charlie Tregasar walked with one out in the Signal Mountain sixth, but Rouche retired the next two hitters on swinging strikes to end that threat.
Then in the bottom of the seventh, Rouche hit Menzel with the first pitch, but nothing materialized as the hard-throwing righty got a fielders' choice grounder to second in between his last two strikeouts.
Rouche finished with the two-hitter and two runs allowed. He had seven strikeouts and five walks in addition to the one hit batter.
Reese also pitched well and retired a dozen Irish hitters in a row after the first inning. He allowed four hits and four walks while finishing with 10 strikeouts.
Notre Dame left five runners stranded, including three in the sixth while Signal Mountain left six.
Notre Dame is now 8-6 overall and 2-3 in District 7-AA while Signal Mountain is now 10-4 overall and 4-1 in 7-AA. The second game of this series will be played at Notre Dame's Hunter Field Tuesday afternoon with the first pitch scheduled for 5 p.m.
Notre Dame 100 003 0 -- 4 4 1
Signal Mountain 000 110 0 -- 2 2 2
Rouche and Hargett; Reese and Feemster.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)