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Irish take on Salukis

Chris Federico | Friday, March 19, 2004

In the first game of its spring break road trip to Texas, No. 8 Notre Dame (12-1) and Southern Illinois (2-12) met in an epic back-and-forth slugfest. In the end, the Irish prevailed 12-11 in 11 innings.This weekend, the Salukis will get a shot at revenge as they host the Irish for a pair of games Saturday and Sunday.The Irish have been one of the hottest teams in the nation to start the season this year. Last week, they got their first taste of defeat in a 17-9 loss to Texas-San Antonio, but bounced back to rattle off five straight wins in the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic and the Round Rock Collegiate Classic.”The trip [last week] was outstanding for our team,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “I think we found out a lot about ourselves this week. I think we showed some signs that great teams have. That is to be able to win a game either way – a low-run, well-pitched game or a slugfest. We found ways to win both types of games.”For their tough play during the week, the Irish were ranked as high as eighth by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and as low as 12th by Baseball America. The Sports Weekly/ESPN Top 25 Poll has the Irish slated ninth.Much of a reason for Notre Dame’s hot start has been the play of left-handed pitcher Tom Thornton. Last week, the sophomore was named Big East Pitcher of the Week for his eight innings of shutout work in a 6-1 Irish victory over Texas Tech. Thornton allowed the Red Raiders only one hit in his time on the mound.”So sooner or later I think people have to admit that [Thornton’s play] is not a fluke,” Mainieri said. “He’s the real deal, and he’s pitching great. It’s been the biggest shot in the arm for our team.”Offensively, the Irish bats have been alive through the first 13 games of the season. As a team, Notre Dame is hitting .324 and averaging over nine runs a game.Third baseman Matt Edwards leads the way at the plate for the Irish with a .435 average. The junior also has set the pace for the squad in RBIs (17), home runs (four), slugging percentage (.783) and walks (10).While the Salukis struggled at the beginning of the season, they have begun to improve of late. In addition to their strong effort against the Irish, the Salukis have won their last two games – a 12-9 victory over Penn State and 22-6 drubbing of Murray State Thursday.On the season, Southern Illinois has posted only a .234 average as a team with 4.4 runs per game. Things aren’t much better for the Salukis on the hill either, as they have posted a 6.27 ERA on the year, with opponents batting .325 against them.Saturday’s game is scheduled for 2 p.m., and Sunday’s will be at noon.