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Irish suffer some tough breaks, split 2 double headers

Chris Federico | Wednesday, April 14, 2004

From a near no-hitter turning into a one-run loss to their usually-calm head coach being ejected from the game, the Irish experienced just about everything this weekend in a pair of split double headers in Big East action.No. 4 Notre Dame (26-5, 8-2 in the Big East) saw its proven ace Chris Niesel continue to struggle in the first game of the break Saturday but watched freshman Jeff Samardzija continue to pitch as sharp as anyone on the staff with a near no-hitter Monday, in a weekend of ups-and-downs.In the end, Notre Dame split a pair, 4-7 and 6-4 with Boston College (12-17, 4-3) Saturday and again split with St. John’s (16-13, 8-2) Monday, 7-1 and 1-2.Notre Dame opened the weekend of Big East play as the right-hander Niesel struggled against the Eagles, yielding five runs (four earned) in 4 1/3 innings to fall to 4-2 on the season. Things looked bleak, as the Irish trailed 7-0 before a late-game rally in the bottom of the seventh of the scheduled seven-inning game made for a more respectable 7-4 loss.”In the end, I just feel like time ran out on us,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “Just like the old saying, I didn’t feel like we lost, time just ran out on us. In those seven-inning games, if you fall too far behind, you just run out of innings to rally. “I feel like in a nine-inning game, maybe we would have had enough time to rally.”In the nightcap, the Irish came out early and claimed a 3-1 lead after three with a pair of runs in the first off a two-RBI single from senior Javi Sanchez and an RBI single from left fielder Steve Andres in the third.Notre Dame would not be able to put the Eagles away, however, as Boston College came back to tie the game 4-4 in the seventh inning. The Eagles looked like they could even steal a sweep on the road form the Irish with two on and two out in the eighth inning.But Mainieri brought in closer Ryan Doherty, who walked the first batter Eric Wright to load the bases, but then struck out third baseman Marco Albano to end the inning.In the bottom half of the inning, the Irish took the lead for good on a two-run double from first baseman Matt Edwards. The junior had gone 0-for-6 on the day before knocking the game-winning double down the left field line.”I went up there that last time up with confidence like I had gone 6-for-6 instead of 0-for-6 and got my hit,” Edwards said. “It came at the best time it could have [Saturday]. “The first pitch he threw me was an off-speed pitch, and I was really just sitting on a fastball on the next one. I thought he was going to come back with something hard, and he left it a little bit over the plate, and I got a good swing on it.”Notre Dame’s best effort of the weekend came in its opener Monday with St. John’s. The Irish used a dominating pitching performance from junior Grant Johnson, who worked five scoreless innings and allowed only two hits, to beat the Red Storm 7-1. The Irish committed no errors in the game and shortstop Greg Lopez was a perfect 3-for-3 with a pair of runs scored and an RBI.In the nightcap, the Irish spoiled a gem of a pitching performance from the freshman Samardzija, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning.”We just had tremendous pitching all day [Monday],” Mainieri said. “It was really a shame that we couldn’t finish off the two-game sweep.”It was in that final game Monday that Mainieri was ejected by umpire Bruce Doane for arguing an out call on Sanchez at third base in the third inning.Despite Samardzija’s best efforts, things only got worse for the Irish. With a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning, Sanchez – playing second base for injured senior Steve Sollmann – bobbled a one-out ground ball, allowing third baseman Jim Martin to reach first.The error proved crucial as the next batter, Blake Hershelman hit a diving liner that was misplayed by leftfielder Chris Fournier, which allowed the tying run to score. First baseman Eddie Schultz then hit a bloop single to center field to score the winning run off Samardzija, who suffered the hard-luck loss.Despite the disappointing losses, Mainieri is still optimistic, as his club still sits atop the Big East standings.”We’re still in first place,” Mainieri said. “I think we let a golden opportunity go by, but it’s hard to sweep doubleheaders against good teams. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played. We need to keep getting better.”The Irish return to action today at Frank Eck Stadium with a 5 p.m. game against Oakland.