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Baseball: Cleveland State hopes for upset

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Notre Dame may be a heavy favorite in tonight’s game against Cleveland State – but don’t tell that to Irish coach Paul Mainieri.

“We have no reason whatsoever to take Cleveland State lightly,” Mainieri said. “They’ve lost a lot of tough games this year, and this will probably be the biggest game of the year for them.”

The Vikings travel to Frank Eck Stadium tonight at 5:05 to face the No. 8 Irish, who won two of three games against Connecticut this weekend and tied the final contest.

But Cleveland State (8-29, 6-14 Horizon) beat Notre Dame (35-9-1, 16-1-1 Big East) at Frank Eck Stadium two years ago, in a season in which the Irish lost just 10 games and the Vikings won only 19. What’s more, the squad topped Big Ten power Ohio State 7-5 April 26 in Columbus, Ohio.

“They have my attention,” Mainieri said.

Vikings coach Jay Murphy is expected to throw freshman right-hander Brian Long tonight. Long is 1-1 with a 9.11 ERA in 12 appearances (one start).

Mainieri will either throw left-hander Tom Thornton or right-hander Brett Graffy. Thornton hasn’t pitched since being hit by a sharp ground ball in his start against Rutgers April 23.

“I haven’t made the decision yet,” Mainieri said late Monday afternoon. “But either way, Graffy is going to play a big role in tomorrow’s game, whether he starts or comes in out of the bullpen.”

Even if Thornton starts, Mainieri said the southpaw might not throw as many pitches as he usually does.

“I have to kind of see how it goes,” Mainieri said. “Depending upon if it’s a struggle or if it’s easy for him determines [how long Thornton will pitch].”

Cleveland State’s top hitter this season is senior infielder Steve Chinn. He enters the contest batting .378 with two homers, 22 RBIs and 18 runs scored. Chinn has a .444 on-base percentage and a .517 slugging percentage.

Notre Dame has seven regulars hitting at least .300, led by first baseman Craig Cooper’s .420 batting average. Cooper has nine home runs, 55 runs scored and 33 RBIs to go along with his .516 on-base percentage.

Mainieri said he likely would go with one of the team’s normal lineups, as tonight’s game is the team’s only mid-week game this week.

With their two wins against Connecticut, the Irish cut their magic number for clinching the Big East regular season title to five. The team is also bidding to host the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“We have got to be ready to play because we have a lot at stake,” Mainieri said. “We have an NCAA bid on the line [and] we have an opportunity to host the first round of the regional tournament on the line, so we can not afford to go out there and play poorly and not get the job done.”

Notre Dame next plays Friday against Louisville at Frank Eck Stadium. The 6:05 p.m. contest is the first of a three-game conference series that could clinch the regular season for the Irish.

Notre Dame has 11 games left in its season.