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Baseball: Offense gets hot, pitching struggles

Dorwart, Tom | Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Irish offense found its groove over spring break – scoring 40 runs in six games. But the defense and pitching hit a rut.

“There were an awful lot of things that we struggled with during the week, but there were a lot of things we did well too,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’re still kind of finding our way.”

On the Texas road trip, Notre Dame (6-7) finished 2-4 after surrendering 62 runs. The Irish headed into the spring break swing with a two-game losing streak.

The streak continued.

At the Round Rock College Classic, the Irish fell to the eighth-ranked Aggies 13-5 after holding 1-0 and 4-2 leads. Lefty Tom Thornton (1-2) took the loss after allowing seven earned runs through six innings of work.

The Irish then met the eleventh-ranked Rice Owls and trailed 4-0 in the third when the game was rained out. In the final game of The Classic, Notre Dame faced a solid Texas State squad. Sophomore right-hander Jeff Manship – back from Tommy John surgery – threw his first college pitch. He suffered the loss after allowing four first-inning runs. Texas State held on for the 10-5 win.

Notre Dame squared up against the hometown Texas San-Antonio Roadrunners in the opening game of the Irish Baseball Classic, and for the first time in the Paul Mainieri era, the Irish saw a losing streak extend to five games. Matt Edwards hammered a grand-slam in the bottom of the eighth to cut the UTSA lead in half at 8-4, but the Roadrunners shut down the threatening Irish offense in the ninth for a 9-4 win. Right-hander Jess Stewart (1-1) took the loss.

Despite the opening three losses of spring break, Mainieri remained upbeat.

“I’m not discouraged. We just need to start playing a little bit better,” he said. “It’s early in the year, and I think our best days are ahead of us; there’s no question about that. We’re going to start pitching better.”

After the first round loss, the better days began.

The Irish defeated Southwest Missouri State 6-4, snapping the five-game losing streak. Notre Dame used a sharp performance from right-hander Jeff Samardzija (2-0) and home runs from Edwards and Craig Cooper. Edwards’ eighth-inning shot to left-field was his fourth round-tripper of the season.

Friday the Irish took the field against Oral Roberts for the right to play in the championship game. The Irish wasted an early 4-1 lead. Thornton yielded five runs on eight hits, taking his second loss of the young season. Usual third baseman Ross Brezovsky started in left field and went 3-5 on the day, while centerfielder Alex Nettey finished 3-4. Also in a new spot at DH, Steve Andres smashed his second homer of the year.

“We’re going to have to just see how each day goes; we’ll put the lineup out there that we think has the best chance to be successful,” Mainieri said.

In the consolation rematch between Southwest Missouri State and Notre Dame, the Irish won 12-11. With an 11-1 lead the Irish looked poised to sweep SMS in the tourney, but the Bears fought back with a six-run fifth and four more runs in the final four innings. Andres, back in left field, played an errorless game. He contributed on the offensive side as well with a 2-3 day and his third home run of the season. For the first time this season, Andres’ entire team played error-free baseball. Making his first career start at DH, Tony Langford sparked the Irish with a 3-4 day at the plate.

“I was really proud of Tony Langford. He waited his turn, and we put him in a game to pitch, and he really challenged the hitters. And we put him in another game to pitch he really challenged the hitters again. And we put him in to DH on the final day, and I thought he really sparked our team,” Mainieri said.

Another jumpstart for the Irish, Manship hurled a first-inning shutout as he was once again limited to one inning – easing his way back into the lineup after the elbow surgery.

“The first day he pitched, it was his first time in a college baseball game, and it was like Murphy’s Law – everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It was nice that the second time he pitched he had a good inning, and I thought he threw the ball really well,” Mainieri said.

Catcher Sean Gaston also connected for three hits.

Despite the 6-7 record after a grueling 13 game stretch in Florida, Arizona and Texas, Mainieri takes an optimistic outlook from the first four weeks of the season.

“Nothing good comes out of losing. We wish our record was a lot better than it is right now, but this is not all that atypical of our program. A couple of years in my years here, we’ve gotten off to good starts, but most of the years this is pretty typical of where we’d be,” Mainieri said.

“We play tough teams early in the year because we feel that’s how you make your team better, even though the success early in the year may not be extraordinary.”

There’s plenty of season left, no reason to panic and plenty of work to do.

“I think we did a lot of good things offensively and defensively, but we just need to continue to improve there. I feel good about the future for our team,” Mainieri said.

“It’s funny that every year that I’ve been here we’ve become a much better team in April than we were in March and February, and I expect that the same thing will happen this year. We start making our run in late March and during the month of April.”

The Irish will try to start a winning streak when they head to Evansville, Indiana for games against Northern Illinois, Evansville and South Dakota State later this week.