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Baseball: Blood in the water

Ken Fowler | Friday, March 31, 2006

Notre Dame right-hander Jeff Samardzija will make his 2006 home debut tonight as the Irish (14-10) begin a three-game series against Big East foe Pittsburgh (11-12) at 6:05 p.m. at Frank Eck Stadium.

“It’s going to be exciting – especially being a Big East game – coming home and getting that first start of the year,” Samardzija said after Notre Dame’s 2-0 victory over Western Michigan Wednesday. “We’ll see, hopefully it’ll be a good opener on Friday under the lights.”

Samardzija enters the contest with a 2-1 record and a 3.72 ERA in five starts. He has struck out 10 and allowed 26 hits in 29 innings.

Samardzija said tonight’s start will be important as the team starts to get deeper into its schedule.

“I’m just trying to take advantage of it every time we get out – bring the control around [and] get the off-speed working,” he said. “Hopefully I can get some pitches to go along with my fastball just to make everything a little bit smoother.”

The Irish hurler will face Panthers southpaw Rob Brant. Brant is 2-3 with a 4.42 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 36.7 innings pitched.

Irish coach Paul Mainieri said it will be important for Samardzija to deliver a quality outing to start the weekend set.

“This is obviously a huge series for us,” Mainieri said. “You need to take care of business at home in our conference because the road games are just such tough games to win.”

Pittsburgh enters the weekend on a four game losing streak, highlighted by a three-game sweep at the hands of West Virginia in Morgantown last weekend.

“You have to respect all your opponents, and we know Pittsburgh is a very good team,” Mainieri said. “Pittsburgh’s like a wounded dog right now with [its back] against the wall.”

The Irish enter having won four in a row. Sophomore hurler Wade Korpi threw a complete game shutout and struck out 11 batters against Western Michigan Wednesday.

“You define momentum in baseball as the performance of your starting pitching – and Wade Korpi gave us great momentum,” Mainieri said.

Notre Dame enters the series batting .293 with an on-base percentage of .395. Mainieri said that while the overall numbers are good, the Irish still lack consistency.

“It’s the heart of the order, the middle of the order – where you should be getting your greatest production – that has been so inconsistent for us,” he said. “If we can just figure out a way to score four, five, six runs, we should figure out a way to win the game.”

In the second game of the series, Notre Dame junior right-hander Jeff Manship will take the mound for the Irish for Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. first pitch.

Manship will face Panthers junior righty ace Paul Nardozzi. Nardozzi is 4-2 in six starts with a 3.32 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 43.1 innings pitched.

Mainieri said Pittsburgh’s strikeout ability will minimize the Irish hit-and-run game. In part because of a slew of failed hit-and-runs this year, the Irish are just 28-of-47 on stolen base attempts.

The series finale begins at 1:05 Sunday and will pit Notre Dame senior lefty Tom Thornton against Panthers junior right-hander Kyle Landis.

Landis is 2-1 with a 3.71 ERA in nine appearances but has made just two starts. He has allowed 23 hits in 26.2 innings, holding opposing hitters to a .225 batting average.

Thornton comes in after nearly throwing his second straight shutout against Georgetown March 25. He threw eight-plus innings without allowing an earned run but was relieved in the ninth as two infield errors allowed three Hoyas runners to score.

Despite the late-game lapses in Thornton’s last start, Mainieri remains confident in the Irish defense.

“If we could get a little bit more consistent on offense … we can be a pretty dangerous team,” he said. “And with our pitching and defense, sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of runs to win the game.”

Mainieri said he is confident in his team but knows the dangers of a struggling Pittsburgh squad.

“They know this is a critical weekend for them, too,” he said. “They’re going to come out there and really battle.”