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Irish sweep Big East series

Chris Federico | Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Irish got off to a torrid start in Big East play with a three-game sweep of West Virginia on the road in Morgantown, W.V.Notre Dame (17-3, 3-0), now ranked as high as No. 5 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, topped the home-standing Mountaineers (8-13, 0-3) 5-3 and 4-0 in a doubleheader Saturday and closed out the sweep with a 6-2 victory Sunday.The opener of the series Saturday – originally scheduled for seven innings – would take 10 innings to be settled. Irish right-hander Chris Niesel led the way on the mound for Notre Dame and worked seven innings, holding the Mountaineers to three runs on seven hits.The Irish pulled ahead 2-1 in the top of the fifth when second baseman Steve Sollmann – who broke out of an offensive slump with a 5-for-11 weekend against West Virginia – got the scoring started with a triple to the centerfield wall. Designated hitter Matt Bransfield and first baseman Matt Edwards followed with a pair of RBI doubles.In the bottom half of the inning, West Virginia reclaimed the lead with a pair of runs of its own. The Irish came right back in the top of the sixth to tie the game at 3-3.Notre Dame had a chance to put the game away in the eighth, as shortstop Greg Lopez and outfielder Craig Cooper put together consecutive one-out singles. Centerfielder Danny Dressman then walked to load the bases. But with just one out, Sollmann grounded into an inning-ending double play to end the threat.In the bottom half of the inning, the Irish evaded a scare themselves as the Mountaineers put runners on second and third with one out. Needing only one run for the win, West Virginia then attempted a squeeze play to bring the runner home, but Edwards fielded the ball cleanly and got the runner out at home. The next batter lined out to Matt Macri at third base to end the inning.The Irish took the lead for good in the 10th as Lopez doubled in Cody Rizzo from second. They added an insurance run as Sollmann hit a sacrifice fly to score Lopez, who had moved to third on a Mountaineer fielding error.Irish pitcher Jeff Samardzija got the win in relief for the Irish, his first of the season, and Ryan Doherty recorded his fourth save of the season.In the nightcap of the double header, the story was all Tom Thornton. The big Irish left-hander notched a complete game shutout of the Mountaineers, allowing just six hits. With the win, the sophomore improved to 4-1 on the year.With a 2-0 Irish lead in the seventh, Notre Dame designated hitter Steve Andres doubled his team’s lead with a two-run triple to secure the Irish victory.Irish right-hander Grant Johnson – still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery – got the start for Notre Dame Sunday but was on a planned pitch count and worked only two innings. Senior Joe Thaman came on in the third and held the Mountaineers to one run on one hit in five innings to pick up the win.Lopez continued his hot hitting with a 3-for-4 performance to improve his average to .411 on the season. Sollmann also had an important two-run blast to give the Irish a 3-1 lead in the fifth.The Irish return to action Wednesday when they host Western Michigan at Frank Eck Stadium at 5 p.m.