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Baseball: Irish win two, tie third against UConn

Kyle Cassily | Monday, May 1, 2006

Notre Dame went a long way in securing its grip on first place in the Big East with a near-sweep of Connecticut in a three-game series this weekend in Storrs, Conn that reduces the team’s magic number for the conference championship to five.

“You can’t help but think of that,” Irish head coach Paul Mainieri said. “We play for championships, and we’re closing in on winning a regular-season championship.”

After taking both ends of a doubleheader Saturday, 7-6, 7-3, the Irish fought to a 1-1 draw Sunday with the second-place Huskies.

Notre Dame (35-9-1, 16-1-1 Big East) clinched a spot in the eight-team Big East tournament after the weekend series and now has a three-game lead over Connecticut (28-15-1, 13-4-1 Big East).

The tie ended Notre Dame’s 16-game winning streak in Big East play, two shy of the record of 18 straight wins set by the 2001 Irish edition.

Notre Dame 7, Connecticut 6

Second baseman Ross Brezovsky’s RBI single to left field with the bases loaded completed a ninth-inning Irish comeback in the opening game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

“They performed in the clutch,” Mainieri said. “It was one of the most exciting games I have been a part of at Notre Dame.”

The Irish entered the last frame trailing the Huskies 6-5, but the top of the order came to the plate in first baseman Craig Cooper. Cooper led off with a walk and third baseman Brett Lilley advanced Cooper into scoring position with a single to left field.

Right fielder Danny Dressman tied the game at 6-6 with a double to left-center field, and the bases were juiced for Brezovsky when Jeremy Barnes was intentionally walked to secure the inning-ending double play ball.

The left-handed-hitting Brezovsky belted the first pitch from reliever Ted Garry (3-2), who was credited with the loss. Freshman reliever Kyle Weiland picked up his 12th save of the year and closed out the Irish come-from-behind victory with two-thirds of an inning of scoreless work in the bottom of the ninth.

“Even though we were down three runs early, I think the guys on our team just really believe in themselves in their ability to come from behind,” Mainieri said.

Irish starter Jeff Samardzija threw seven and two-thirds innings, allowing five earned runs on nine hits and three walks. The junior right-hander struck out three Huskies batters and threw 70 strikes in his 111 pitches.

The Huskies took the early lead with three runs on four hits and an error in the second inning off Samardzija. Notre Dame responded with two runs each in the fourth and fifth innings.

Dressman scored Lilley on a double in the fourth and then scored on a Connecticut error. In the fifth, Lilley knocked an RBI single to right field, and Barnes scored the fourth Irish run with an RBI sacrifice fly.

Connecticut took a 5-4 lead with two runs in the bottom of the fifth, and the two teams traded a run each to leave the game at 6-5 entering the ninth.

Notre Dame 7, Connecticut 3

Junior right-hander Jeff Manship (6-1) mowed down eight Huskies batters in his seven innings of work to get the win and take the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

Manship allowed three earned runs on six hits and a walk, while throwing 60 of his 101 pitches for strikes. In 10 starts this year the righty has fanned eight or more batters seven times.

Cooper went 5-for-5 on the game with an RBI and three runs off the Huskies. Connecticut starter Rich Sirois (4-2) entered the nightcap with the fifth-best ERA (2.79) in the Big East.

The Huskies took a 2-1 lead after the first, the Irish run coming off a Barnes double. The Irish then tied the game with one run in the third inning on a Dressman single to right field.

The Irish bats broke the deadlock with a run in the sixth before opening up the game with three men plated in the seventh to take the 6-2 lead. Left fielder Matt Bransfield, Barnes and Brezovsky each drove in a run in the seventh inning.

The Huskies picked up one run in the home half of the seventh, before Notre Dame capped off the scoring with a run in the eighth on a Cooper RBI single up the middle.

Irish relievers Jess Stewart and Mike Dury came in for Manship, throwing an inning each – Dury earned the save, his first on the year.

“Jess Stewart and Mike Dury and Kyle Weiland were just absolutely phenomenal this weekend,” Mainieri said.

Notre Dame 1, Connecticut 1 (13 innings)

Sophomore Wade Korpi made his first conference start for Notre Dame and held the Huskies to a draw in seven innings of work Sunday as the game was called after the 13th inning due to a pre-set stoppage time enforced by the Big East.

“Even though it’s a tie, which is not what we’re looking for – there’s never such thing as a good tie – we held them off,” Mainieri said. “We took the field four straight innings knowing that if the other team scores, the game is over, we’re off the field.”

Korpi allowed one run on six hits and two walks, while striking out five batters. The sophomore lowered his season ERA from 1.56 to 1.53 after the contest and was pitching in place of injured senior Tom Thornton.

Huskies starter Nick Tucci worked seven and two-thirds innings, allowing no earned runs on five hits and three walks.

The lone Irish run came on a Barnes groundball to shortstop Dennis Donovan that was misplayed with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. Cody Rizzo and Cooper reached base after getting hit by a pitch on consecutive at-bats. Lilley then loaded the bases on an infield single with Barnes due at the plate.

Connecticut answered in the bottom of the fifth and scored on a play at the plate. With men on first and second, the Huskies’ Austin Wasserman lined a single up the middle to Rizzo. Rizzo threw home but catcher Sean Gaston’s tag was late and the score was tied up at 1-1.

Mainieri said Notre Dame thought it had recorded the third out twice before the score.

Connecticut received a controversial hit-by-pitch call to extend the inning, and the play at the plate was a bang-bang play.

Relievers Dury and Weiland spelled Korpi, Dury threw a scoreless eighth and Weiland pitched five innings – his longest season outing.

“For your pitcher to go out there and compete for your team like that – as a freshman, no less – is unbelievable,” Mainieri said.