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Salukis split a pair with Irish

Chris Federico | Monday, March 22, 2004

The Irish must be Southern Illinois’ lucky charm.No. 8 Notre Dame (13-2) split a weekend series with the Salukis (3-13) in Carbondale, Ill., as the home team upset the Irish 8-4 Saturday before Notre Dame prevailed 5-3 in a tight contest Sunday.”[Southern Illinois is] playing good ball, and we had to play like heck to get a split down there, and I figured that we would,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “I expected to have two tough ball games down there, and Southern Illinois, unfortunately, didn’t disappoint me.”In their first meeting of the season, the Irish squeaked out a 12-11, 11-inning victory over the Salukis in the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic March 6.The Salukis, who only batted .234 before a 22-6 explosion over Murray State Thursday, have had little trouble solving the Irish this year. They hit .275 and averaged 7.3 runs in their three games with the Irish.”I think I’ve told everybody that will listen that Southern Illinois has a good team,” Mainieri said. “Their record is extremely misleading. They had a murderous schedule at the beginning of the year that got them off to a winless start.”In the first game of the weekend, the Salukis continued to show they have an answer for Irish ace Chris Niesel. The same team that put up five runs on six hits in three innings against the right-hander in San Antonio again chased Niesel from Saturday’s contest early, scoring six earned runs in five innings against the junior.”Chris [Niesel] throws a lot of strikes, and when you throw the ball over the plate, the other team has a time to hit them.” Mainieri said. “Once in a while, he makes some mistakes, and he gets hurt. But I’m not worried about Chris Niesel – not at all.”The Salukis jumped out to a 4-1 lead Saturday with a four-run fourth inning, highlighted by Eric Alvarez’s two-run single and RBI singles from designated hitter Nick Baughman and third baseman Nathan Boldt.Southern Illinois put two more across in the sixth on Alvarez’s two-run homer, which chased Niesel from the mound in favor of freshman Derik Olvey. Alvarez finished the day 3-for-5 with five RBIs and three runs scored.The Irish would fight back in the top of the seventh with back-to-back solo home runs from third baseman Matt Macri and designated hitter Matt Bransfield to narrow the Saluki lead to 6-3.But Southern Illinois would put the game out of reach in the bottom of the eighth with leadoff back-to-back home runs off freshman Dan Kapala from Greg Andrews and Alvarez – his second dinger of the day.A solo home run from shortstop Greg Lopez in the top of the ninth would be all the offense the Irish had left, falling 8-4.Eric Haberer, who contributed a solid five-inning effort in Southern Illinois’ first contest with the Irish, held Notre Dame to three runs in 6 2/3 innings pitched Saturday to earn his first win of the season.”[Haberer] pitched well against us down in San Antonio, and they were winning down there 9-3 when he left the game,” Mainieri said. “He pitched well again against us again today. We hit a lot of balls hard, but with the bad luck we had, we were hitting them right at people. “We couldn’t really cash in on our opportunities, and we couldn’t quite get over the hump again.”In the concluding game of the series Sunday, the Irish took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first as Macri was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to score center fielder Danny Dressman.The Salukis came back strong, however, matching the Irish run in their half of the first and then adding another pair in the third on a two-run home run from Andrews off Irish lefty Tom Thornton, who had just entered the game that inning in relief of Grant Johnson.The sophomore Thornton would bear down after that, however, retiring the next seven consecutive batters and holding the Salukis scoreless over the next five innings.The Irish cut the Saluki lead to one run in the fifth with a lead-off home run from second baseman Steve Sollmann.Notre Dame later tied the game in the seventh on an RBI single from senior Javi Sanchez and then took the 4-3 lead on a sacrifice fly from pinch hitter Chris Fournier.The Irish added an insurance run in the ninth with a bases loaded walk from Bransfield that scored first baseman Matt Edwards.Ryan Doherty came on in the bottom of the inning to close out the game for the Irish and yielded three walks, but avoided giving up a run as he earned his third save of the year. Thornton got the win for the Irish to improve to 3-1 on the season.