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Baseball: Irish down Indiana State 3-0

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, February 24, 2006

Notre Dame seniors Tom Thornton and Matt Bransfield started their final season with a bang on Thursday afternoon.

Thornton tossed seven shutout innings and Bransfield slugged a two-run home run to lead No. 22 Notre Dame to a 3-0 win over Indiana State in Millington, Tenn., at USA Baseball Stadium, a precursor to the Service Academies Classic beginning today.

“Most of the seniors stepped up today in a big way,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said in an interview with The Observer Thursday. “We’re going to need our senior class to lead the way and they certainly did today.”

The 6-foot-6 lefty scattered seven hits in seven innings and freshman righthander Kyle Weiland picked up the save for the Irish.

“The key to the game for us was Tom Thornton,” Mainieri said. “You’ve got your senior pitcher, the leader of your staff, and then he goes out there and pitches a dominating game like he did.”

Bransfield’s home run came one batter after designated hitter Steve Andres led off with a double in the second inning. After the home run, senior centerfielder Alex Netty doubled and senior Cody Rizzo slapped an RBI single into right field to extend the lead to 3-0.

“It’s always fun to win the opening game of the year,” Mainieri said. “You always preach to your kids that if they do certain things during your preparation they will end up being successful, and when they actually go out there and do them it gives you a lot of credibility with your own players and they get to see the success.”

Notre Dame had a chance to extend its lead in the sixth inning after catcher Sean Gaston walked to lead off and was moved to third on Andres’ one-out single, but the Irish were unable to push any runs across.

Indiana State never seriously threatened. In his first inning of action, Weiland allowed a leadoff single, but the eighth frame ended with a double play and a strikeout.

“[Weiland] came in and did a tremendous job,” Mainieri said. “He showed why I have so much confidence in him – he was really outstanding.”

Mainieri also praised the defensive play of Greg Lopez at shortstop and Rizzo in right field.

Today’s game will feature two-sport standout Jeff Samardzija on the mound as the Irish take on Air Force at 10 a.m. in the first game of the Service Academies Classic. The start is the first for Samardzija since his All-American season as a wide receiver on the Irish football team.

“I enjoy watching him play football, but I enjoy watching him pitch even more,” Mainieri said of the righthander. “If he could do half for us what he did for the football team this year, I’ll be happy.”

Game two will feature sophomore lefty Wade Korpi, who will face Memphis at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Game three is set for noon Sunday and junior righthander Jeff Manship is slated to start for Notre Dame as it faces Oklahoma.

For Manship, the 2006 season marks the first season he will play at full strength after undergoing “Tommy John” elbow surgery in 2004 and throwing just 22 innings last season. Manship is the highest-rated pitching prospect to ever sign with the Irish, and Mainieri is looking forward to the junior’s first start.

“Jeff Manship has the capability to be a No. 1 starter,” Mainieri said. “For me to say that after watching the way Tom Thornton pitched today and knowing what Jeff Samardzija can do is saying a lot. We’re all hoping we can see Manship pitch the way we thought he’d be able to pitch when we recruited him a couple years ago. He’s ready and able and hopefully he’s going to go out and pitch a great game.”

Notes:

u Gaston batted second, Cooper third, Andres fourth and Lopez fifth, a new look for the Irish. Andres and Cooper were expected to bat third and fourth respectively.

u Thornton’s victory was his 21st career win at Notre Dame, tying him for 12th all time with former teammate Chris Niesel.

u Notre Dame sophomore Tony Langford will miss this season after undergoing “Tommy John” elbow surgery on Feb. 22. Langford had figured to be in the mix as a righthanded reliever as well as in the mix as a designated hitter.