BASEBALL: Irish sweep two games from Conn.
Matt Lozar | Monday, April 18, 2005
Win No. 801 was sweeter than No. 800 for Paul Mainieri. Using two complete games on Saturday and a five-run seventh inning rally on Sunday, Notre Dame swept Connecticut at Frank Eck Stadium in an important Big East series.”We won three big games and put ourselves back in the hunt,” Mainieri said. “I always talk about one game at a time, but we needed to get this sweep this weekend.”The three-game sweep improves Notre Dame’s conference record to 8-4. The four losses are tied for the second fewest in the conference, with Boston College sitting at 9-4. St. John’s leads the Big East with a 9-2 record while Rutgers is fourth with a 7-5 mark.The top four teams in the conference qualify for the Big East tournament, where the winner of that gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. With Notre Dame’s record currently at 20-15, that appears to be its only path to qualifying for the seventh consecutive year. The victory in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader gave Mainieri his 800th career win in 23 seasons. This season is Mainieri’s 11th with Notre Dame. “I appreciate that you guys keep bringing it up, but it’s all about the kids,” he said after Sunday’s game. “I haven’t won one game in my career.”Jeff Manship was expected to continue his road to recovering from February 2004 Tommy John surgery in starting game three on the weekend. But Manship had to leave the game in the top of the first after taking a comebacker off the middle finger on his right (throwing) hand.Mainieri said after the game Manship’s finger was really bruised, would get X-rayed and he was hoping for the best.Jeff Samardzija (5-0) came out of the Irish bullpen and continued the weekend trend of solid pitching. The sophomore threw 6 1/3 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) and leaving the game with an 8-4 lead.The Irish tied the game in the fourth on home runs from Matt Edwards and Cody Rizzo. The Huskies came back in the fifth with a single run, to go ahead 4-3.Then in the seventh the Irish rallied for five runs, all came with two outs, a common theme on the weekend as the Irish hit .412 with two outs. The key play in the inning came when Alex Nettey sent a grounder to second, but Huskies second baseman Austin Wasserman couldn’t make the play, giving the Irish an extra out in the inning.The Irish took full advantage, scoring four unearned runs with Craig Cooper’s single past third base scoring two runs and pushing the Irish lead to four runs.Once again, Connecticut came back in the top of eighth, scoring three runs off Derik Olvey. Faced with the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first, Mainieri went to closer Ryan Doherty with two outs. Doherty came in and got Pat Mahoney to ground out before retiring the side in order in the ninth to pick up his fifth save on the season.Dan Kapala (2-1) kept the Irish in the opening game against Connecticut in the 3-2 eight-inning win. In his second career start, the sophomore allowed six hits and walked only one.After Connecticut scored a run in the top of the eighth, the first game of Big East doubleheaders are only scheduled for seven innings, Matt Bransfield led off the bottom of the eighth with a pinch-hit single. Ross Brezovsky sacrificed Bransfield to second. Then Greg Lopez singled to center, scoring Bransfield and Lopez advanced to second on the throw home. Sean Gaston followed with a single, sending Lopez to third. Alex Nettey sent a 3-2 pitch to right field, which brought home Lopez for the winning run.Tom Thornton (4-4) continued his dominating pitching with his second straight nine-inning complete game in the 7-1 win. That’s the first time a Notre Dame pitcher has done that since All-American Aaron Heilman completed the feat in 2001.The Irish took an early 1-0 lead when Rizzo doubled in the second, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Brezovsky and scored on a groundout by Lopez. In the fifth, the Irish gave Thronton more than enough runs, scoring four in the frame all with two outs. Edwards, Cooper and Tony Langford drove home runs for the Irish.Thornton pitched all nine innings, yielding six hits, walking none and striking out four.The complete games by both Notre Dame starting pitchers in a Big East doubleheader happened for the first time since Heilman and Danny Tamayo did it on April 28, 2001.