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Irish secure 2-0 start with pitching

Joe Hettler | Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Somebody forgot to tell the baseball team they aren’t supposed to play this well this early in the season.The Irish hit, pitched and fielded well in two wins last weekend over San Diego State and USC. Notre Dame’s third game against Louisville was rained out.”If someone walked into the park and didn’t know we were from the Midwest and it was our first day outside, they would have thought we had played 20 or 30 games already,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “We played that well. I couldn’t imagine that we could have played any better than we did in our first days outside.”The Irish beat San Diego State 7-1 and then ousted USC in a rainy game, 3-1. Starting pitchers Chris Niesel and Tom Thornton and four relief pitchers posted a combined 0.56 ERA over the weekend. Niesel opened the weekend with a win over the Aztecs, going 5 2/3 innings, striking out nine and allowing one earned run.”Niesel was ‘typical Niesel’ and got us off to a good start,” Mainieri said. “He comes in and starts throwing strikes right out of the gate and really allows our team to be energized.”Joe Thaman made his first relief appearance by getting one out in the sixth. Thaman played first base from 2001-03 before moving to pitcher.Grant Johnson worked his first two innings in a regular season game since having shoulder surgery before last season and missing all of ’03. Johnson threw two scoreless innings, striking out two batters.First baseman Matt Edwards homered in his first at-bat and finished the first game batting 3-for-5 with four RBIs. Second baseman and preseason Big East Player of the Year Steve Sollman collected two hits in three at-bats. Sollman walked twice.In Notre Dame’s game against USC, sophomore starting pitcher Tom Thornton gave the Irish an outstanding outing, going six innings and allowing zero earned runs. He struck out four, walked two and allowed just four base hits.”I have always said Tom Thornton has the ability to be an outstanding pitcher against good teams, but he’s never been on that kind of a stage before,” Mainieri said. “He just settled in and made a lot of big pitches when he needed to. I was just so happy for him and proud of him, and [his performance] had a great effect on our team.”The top of the Irish lineup struggled against the Trojan pitching. Sollman, freshman Danny Dressman, Edwards and Javi Sanchez combined to go 0-for-12 in the game. But the middle hitters led the way for the Irish offense as Cody Rizzo, Matt Macri and Matt Bransfield each had two hits. Rizzo also threw out a USC runner at the plate to end the sixth inning and help the Irish cling to a 2-1 advantage at the time.Sophomore pitcher Ryan Doherty later struck out three batters in relief to pick up his first save of the season. The game was called after seven innings because of rain and a soggy field.Mainieri was pleased with the win over USC because of the tradition that Trojan baseball has stood for throughout the years.”It was a great victory for us,” Mainieri said. “Southern Cal is to college baseball what Notre Dame is to college football. That’s the level of tradition there.”Notre Dame travels to Boca Raton, Fla. next weekend for four games in three days. The Irish picked up an extra game to replace the Louisville rainout and will face Florida Memorial Saturday.Although the Irish have played just two games, Mainieri is excited about his team’s play.”It was a tremendous full team effort,” he said. “We have a lot of season to go, but if we play like [last weekend] we’re going to have our share of success.”