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Baseball: Non-conference foes loom for Irish

Chris Khorey | Tuesday, April 4, 2006

The Irish will try to extend their seven-game winning streak this week with non-conference games against Chicago State today and Ball State Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium.

Notre Dame (17-8, 5-1 Big East) is coming off a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh at home last weekend and hasn’t lost since March 25 at Georgetown.

“It sure is a lot more fun to win than lose,” Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri said. “I’m sure the players are aware that we’ve won several games in a row and I’m all for thinking about it, but you can’t rest on your laurels. Just because you won the last game doesn’t mean you’ll win the next one.”

Mainieri said he will make some lineup changes for the midweek games, especially against the Cougars Tuesday.

“We might make a couple of changes and give some guys a chance to play, not because we’re taking an opponent likely, but more because some of our guys have some nicks and bruises and we want to rest them up,” he said.

One of those changes will be to start freshman Jeremy Barnes at shortstop instead of senior Greg Lopez. Barnes started at designated hitter Sunday against the Panthers and drove in the winning run in the ninth inning.

Mainieri said that Lopez’s starting spot is not in jeopardy, but he wants to get Barnes’ bat into the lineup any way possible.

“Lopez is a little sore and we want to rest him a little bit,” Mainieri said. “I always felt that [Barnes] was a starting player and had the capability to be one of our best hitters and all-around players. The problem is that we had a full starting infield coming back and they’re all good players.”

The Irish pitching staff has been a catalyst in Notre Dame’s winning streak, throwing two shutouts and allowing a little over two runs per game over the seven contests.

“When you look at our three weekend starters, Samardzija, Manship, and Thornton, I’d put them up against anyone in the country,” Mainieri said. “Then Wade Korpi has really emerged as a solid fourth starter.

“I also like what I’ve seen out of our bullpen.”

The Cougars have struggled this season, going just 3-17, but almost upset Kansas State on the road March 28, falling 8-7.

“Kansas State is one of the best teams in the country,” Mainieri said. “[Chicago State] could be a very tough game.”

Ball State is 14-11 this year and 5-1 in the MAC. The Cardinals beat the Irish last year, 14-5, at Frank Eck Stadium.

After the midweek games, Notre Dame will travel to Tampa, Fla., for a three-game Big East series against South Florida. The Bulls are new to the conference this season, and the Irish have only faced them once before, in South Bend in 2001. South Florida won that game, 6-1.

“We know they’re going to be tough, especially at home,” Mainieri said of the Bulls. “They’re a Florida school and they’ve got good players and a good coach.”

Both the Chicago State and Ball State games will begin at 5:05 p.m. at Frank Eck Stadium.