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Baseball: Bring out the broomsticks

Michael Bryan, Lorenzo Reyes and Fran Tolan | Monday, April 7, 2008

The weekend got progressively easier for Notre Dame as the Irish swept Rutgers in a three-game series at Frank Eck Stadium. Notre Dame fought hard to win 7-5 Friday before blowing out the Scarlet Knights on Saturday and Sunday by identical 11-2 scores.

Irish 7, Scarlet Knights 5

The Irish got home runs from Ross Brezovsky and A.J. Pollock but small ball proved to be the difference as the picked up the win Friday. Notre Dame’s eighth-inning rally featured two runs on just one hit and propelled the Irish to the victory.

“It was a grinder-type game. I told the team I was more proud [of this win] than any of the wins we’ve had this year,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said.

Schrage said he was especially happy with his team’s resiliency after it surrendered several leads.

Irish junior right-hander Kyle Weiland got the win with a perfect ninth inning after blowing the save in the eighth.

Rutgers tied the game with a run off Weiland but Notre Dame responded that same inning, taking a lead it would not relinquish. Second baseman Jeremy Barnes led off the decisive eighth for the Irish with a walk then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brezovsky. After catcher Sean Gaston was hit by a pitch, right fielder Billy Boockford grounded a hard single through the left side of the infield. Barnes scored from second as the throw from Scarlet Knights leftfielder Donny Callahan sailed over the head of catcher Jon Gossard. Barnes slid home safely to give Notre Dame a 6-5 lead.

“We had to get a run,” Boockford said. “Ross did a great job of getting [Barnes] over when he got on base … I knew I just needed to hit the ball hard in play and try to make it work.”

After Boockford broke the tie, Irish third baseman Greg Sherry was hit by a pitch to load the bases. The next batter, shortstop Brett Lilley, hit a potential double-play grounder to shortstop. But Lilley beat the throw to first from Rutgers second baseman Victor Cegles, allowing Gaston to score and give the Irish an insurance run.

“Lilley’s a hustler. I think he knew what it was going to take running down that line so he gave it everything he got,” Schrage said. “It was a bang-bang play and he beat it out. That helps for Kyle [Weiland] to have a two-run lead going into the ninth.”

Irish 11, Scarlet Knights 2

The Irish rallied around an injured teammate Saturday, outscoring Rutgers 9-0 after senior pitcher Wade Korpi was hurt by a line drive. Lilley and sophomore outfielder David Mills were catalysts for most of the Irish offense, combining to go 4-for-5 and score six runs.

“We played a complete game [Saturday],” Schrage said. “The top of the lineup got on base, we played good defense, and we battled through a little bit of adversity.”

Korpi was cruising through the Scarlet Knights’ lineup until the scary moment in the top of the fifth with the Irish up 2-0 when he was hit with the line drive. With two outs Rutgers shortstop Dan Betteridge lined a fastball right back at Korpi, striking him in the forehead.

“That was the first time I have seen something like that happen in person,” Mills said. “It put a little spark into our team, and we all wanted to pull together and get a win for Wade.”

The senior was down for several minutes while Irish players, coaches and trainers huddled around the mound. Korpi was able to walk off the field under his own power, and “should be okay” Schrage said.

Freshman Cole Johnson came in relief of Korpi, and gave up a game-tying, two-run homerun to the first batter he faced, Rutgers third baseman Tom Edwards. The runner scoring from first, Betteridge, was charged to Korpi.

Notre Dame responded in the bottom of the inning, scoring four runs on three hits to break the game open and take a 6-2 lead. After freshman Greg Sherry walked and Lilley singled, Mills put down a sacrifice bunt trying to advance both runners. Rutgers starter Kyle Bradley’s throw to first sailed into right field, and Lilley and Mills came in to score.

Pollock followed with an RBI double to drive in Mills, and came around to score on a sacrifice fly for the fourth Irish run of the inning.

Notre Dame added two more runs in the sixth. The first came off a Mills sacrifice fly to right that drove in Boockford. Pollock then hit a two-out RBI single to give the Irish an 8-2 lead and bring Lilley home for the third time in the game.

The Irish added three runs in the bottom of the eighth to extend the lead to 11-2, two of the runs scoring on double by junior second baseman Jeremy Barnes.

Johnson pitched 4 and 1/3 innings of relief and picked up the win, giving up five hits and three walks but only one earned run. The freshman reliever was able to work out of trouble several times with the help of the Irish infield, who turned double plays in three straight innings to get Johnson out of jams.

Irish 11, Scarlet Knights 2

Coming off of his season-worst start last week, sophomore Eric Maust delivered yet another solid performance, going eight innings and striking out four without issuing any free passes.

Schrage knew his right-hander would overcome last week’s outing and return to his previous form. “He had pitched well before today,” Schrage said. “He was focused all week in the bullpen and he knew what he was doing. He struck out four and didn’t walk anyone, and when he’s throwing strikes he’s tough to beat. He had all three of his pitches working today. His breaking ball, fastball and changeup all complimented each other. He was just outstanding.”

Maust breezed through the first five frames without a blemish, but eventually allowed the only two runs the Scarlet Knights would score in the game in the sixth inning. If anything, his first inning was an indication of how things would go. The right-hander retired the Scarlet Knights in order, on only 12 pitches.

To close out the game, Weiland tossed a perfect ninth inning and sent Rutgers home with three straight losses.

The Irish bats, however, carried their share of the load. Starting right where it left off after Saturday’s contest, Notre Dame produced 16 hits in the 11-run outburst. Schrage said his squad is becoming more comfortable with the lineup – and not coincidentally, the Irish are winning games.

“I think the guys are just settling into their roles,” he said. “They’re getting used to the batting order, and the older guys are starting to carry us too. Ross [Brezovsky], Jeremy [Barnes] and Brett [Lilley] all had excellent weekends. Sean Gaston is coming off with his bat as well.”

Brezovsky went 4-for-5 with three doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored on the day, while Pollock went 3-for-4 with 2 RBIs, three runs, and three stolen bases. Lilley, Barnes, Gaston and Boockford each added a pair of hits in the game as well.