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Baseball: Irish swing for another W

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It’s back under the lights for Notre Dame.

The red-hot Irish (32-8, 15-1 Big East) put their program-record 22-game winning streak on the line tonight at 7:05 p.m. against Purdue (21-14, 8-8 Big Ten) at Frank Eck Stadium. ESPNU will broadcast the contest, marking the Boilermakers’ first-ever nationally televised game.

“I’m hoping that it’s going to be a great crowd just like we had this weekend,” Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri said. “Obviously, playing on national TV is a great opportunity, and I think everybody’s excited.”

The contest comes a day after Notre Dame jumped eight spots to No. 8 in College Baseball Newspaper’s top-30 and six spots to No. 12 in Baseball America’s poll. The team benefited as 22 of the top-25 teams lost at least one game last week, with 18 losing to lower-ranked squads.

“You’d much rather be recognized by the pollsters and the people in the community than not,” Mainieri said. “The thing we have to guard against is living in the past.”

Notre Dame first baseman Craig Cooper earned Louisville Slugger national player of the week honors Monday after batting over .500 in the team’s previous five games. Cooper furthered his now-22-game hit streak, batting .526 (10-for-19) with 13 RBIs, four homers and nine runs. He was 8-for-11 with three homers and nine RBIs in Notre Dame’s weekend sweep of Rutgers (17-18-1, 7-8 Big East).

Mainieri will send sophomore left-hander Wade Korpi to the mound against Purdue.

Korpi is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA – No. 2 in the Big East – in seven starts. He has held opponents to a .208 batting average while striking out 58 and allowing 33 hits in 45 innings.

Purdue did not name its starting pitcher Monday. Boilermakers sophomore Allan Donato started the team’s last mid-week contest, a 9-8 victory over Illinois State April 12. Donato did not earn a decision in the game. He allowed four runs and six hits in four innings.

“Whoever it is, we’ll get a little preparation for them and we’ll get ready to go,” Mainieri said. “My guess is that they’re probably going to split up the game with a number of pitchers, but I don’t know that for a fact.”

Boilermakers infielder Mitch Hilligoss leads the Purdue offense from the top of the lineup. A third-team All-American in 2005, Hilligoss enters the contest with a .407 batting average, five homers and 28 RBI.

“Purdue has a really good team,” Mainieri said. “We’re expecting a real dog fight. … We’re going to have to be at the top of our game to be able to beat them.”

Purdue first baseman Eric Wolfe hits third and enters batting .386 with four homers and 33 RBI.

Notre Dame has won the previous two matchups in the series, including last year’s 9-7 extra-inning victory at Coveleski Stadium in downtown South Bend.

The Boilermakers dropped two of three games from Michigan in West Lafayette, Ind., this weekend but rebounded with a 10-5 victory Sunday.

Notre Dame leads the all-time series 75-38-3.

Despite the team’s 22-game winning streak, Mainieri is not fully satisfied with what the Irish have done.

“We still have a long way to go, and we still haven’t accomplished any of our goals yet,” he said. “We haven’t won a regular-season title – we haven’t achieved an NCAA tournament bid.”

Notre Dame takes on Bowling Green Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium and then flies to Storrs, Conn., for a three-game weekend series with the Connecticut Huskies, who currently own second place in the Big East with a 13-3 conference record.