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Baseball: Streak at Stake

Chris Khorey | Friday, April 21, 2006

It’s going to be a busy weekend at Frank Eck Stadium.

Notre Dame heads into a three-game home series against Rutgers Friday, Saturday and Sunday riding a single-season school-record 19-game winning streak and looking to continue that success against a team that that has been its arch-nemesis since both schools joined the Big East in 1996.

“We don’t need any incentive when we play Rutgers,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “They’ve been our big rival since we’ve been in the Big East. We both entered the conference in the same year, and we’ve been pretty consistently the top two teams in the league ever since.”

The Irish (29-8, 11-1 in the Big East) have not lost since March 25 against Georgetown. Mainieri said the team did not acknowledge the streak – the longest ever for Notre Dame in a single season and longest overall for the Irish since 1907 – until a team meeting Monday, and no one in the clubhouse has mentioned it since.

“The winning streak kind of snuck up on us since we’ve had so many big games along the way,” Mainieri said. “We had big series against Pittsburgh and St. John’s and a big game against Ball State. I decided to mention it on Monday, and our goal was to get those two victories and break the [single season] record.”

With the record in hand, Mainieri said the Irish are looking forward to Rutgers, not back at their last 19 contests.

“We accomplished what we wanted to do, which was break the record. Anything else is just gravy on top of that,” he said. “We need to beat Rutgers for the fun of beating Rutgers.”

In their last game, the Irish beat IPFW 4-3 in 10 innings. The close game did not surprise Mainieri.

“There’ve been a lot of close games in this [winning] streak,” Mainieri said. “We’ve had some late game heroics. It gives the guys a greater amount of confidence that they can do what it takes to win.”

The Irish have been bitten by the injury bug this past week, with third baseman Brett Lilley and second baseman Ross Brezovsky both missing time with shoulder injuries. Lilley took batting practice Thursday and is expected to play this weekend. Mainieri said Brezovsky will be a game-time decision for each of the contests with the Scarlet Knights.

Notre Dame junior righthander Jeff Samardzija will start today’s game, which starts at 6:05 p.m. at Frank Eck Stadium. Samardzija is 5-1 this year with a 3.83 ERA, 28 strikeouts and 23 walks.

Junior righthander Jeff Manship will take the hill in Saturday’s game for the Irish, which will begin at 3:05 p.m. Manship is 4-1 on the season with a 2.04 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 14 walks.

Senior lefthander Tom Thornton will cap the weekend on the mound for Notre Dame, starting Sunday’s 12:05 p.m. contest. Thornton has a record of 5-1 this year with a 3.78 ERA, 39 strikeouts and four walks.

Notes:

uNotre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis is scheduled throw out the first pitch Friday. Between Weis’ appearance and the start by the popular Samardzija, Friday’s attendance is expected to be among the largest of the season at Frank Eck Stadium. Mainieri said he will try to keep his team focused despite the hoopla.

“We’re throwing a lot of gasoline on the fire,” the coach said. “It’s going to be a wild weekend.”

u Today’s game sold out by 5 p.m Thursday evening, marking the first-ever advance sellout in the 13-year history of Frank Eck Stadium.