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ND Baseball: Irish take on Central Michigan, Chicago State

Chris Khorey | Tuesday, March 27, 2007

After a frustrating series against South Florida in which it dropped two out of three games, Notre Dame (11-11, 1-2 Big East) will try to work out the kinks this week against Central Michigan today and Chicago State Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium.

Although Irish coach Dave Schrage said he doesn’t have any particular goals for the mid-week non-conference games, there were two clear deficiencies that led to the losses to the Bulls – clutch-hitting and the bullpen.

In Sunday’s 9-1 loss, Notre Dame stranded 14 runners on base. The Irish pounded out 13 hits and put at least two base runners on for six straight innings between the third and the eighth, but got their only run on a solo home run by shortstop Brett Lilley in the top of the first.

“Guys are getting hits with nobody on base, but when they get guys on base they have bad at-bats,” Schrage said.

The coach, who tried everything from hit-and-runs to double steals to sacrifices in order to manufacture runs Sunday, said the only real cure to the clutch-hitting woes is to have players execute with runners on base.

“You have to get some guys to step up and want to be up in clutch situations,” he said.

Schrage could say the same thing about the bullpen.

On Saturday, Notre Dame relief pitchers Joey Williamson, Jess Stewart and David Mills gave up a combined nine runs as the Irish fell 13-10. Then, on Sunday, relievers Brett Graffy, Kyle Weiland and Eric Maust gave up seven more in just three innings of work.

Schrage said the bullpen struggles surprised him, since relief pitching had been an Irish strength for most of the season.

“It’s been good in the past,” he said. “But we didn’t get it done the past few days.”

Schrage said he hopes his relievers will snap out of their funk, but he wouldn’t guarantee anything.

“If I could see into the future, I’d answer that question,” he said.

The Irish will get an opportunity to cure what ails them beginning tonight against the Chippewas. The MAC squad is just 11-10 on the year, despite boasting an impressive victory over a Stetson team that beat Notre Dame two weeks ago and took two out of three from South Florida earlier this month.

On the other hand, they were also swept in three-game series against Kansas State and Southern Illinois.

Central Michigan is led by catcher Tyler Stovall, who is hitting .455 with 17 runs scored and 21 runs batted in and shortstop Ben Humphrey, who has a .305 batting average with 16 runs scored and 15 batted in.

Chicago State presents slightly less of a challenge. They will arrive in South Bend fresh off a home doubleheader Tuesday against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in which Chicago State will try for its first win after dropping 22 straight to open the season.

In addition to dropping games against major conference foes like Cincinnati, the Cougars have also lost to Lipscomb and Hawaii-Hilo.

Both games will begin at 5:05 at Frank Eck Stadium.