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Baseball: Crushing the crusade

| Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Kyle Weiland became the all-time saves leader at Notre Dame Tuesday after sealing the Irish’s 8-6 comeback win over Valparaiso at Eck Stadium.

Sophomore center fielder A.J. Pollock starred for the Irish in the win, going 3-for-4 at the plate with a crucial solo homer as well as making several spectacular plays in the field.

With the Irish down 5-2 in the fifth inning and the Crusaders threatening with two men on, Pollock chased down a long drive into the left field gap to make an incredible catch. The center fielder then gunned down a Valparaiso base runner retreating back to first base for a crucial double play.

“We’re seeing a lot of his talents on display,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “He’s phenomenal, and his double play might have been the most important play of the game.”

Freshman Brian Dupra made the start for the Irish, and lasted just 1.2 innings against the Crusaders. The right-hander struggled out of the gate, working into a bases loaded jam with none out in the first.

A passed ball and a single by Crusader sophomore Josh Wallace gave Valparaiso an early two run lead. Dupra then settled down somewhat, inducing a double play that allowed a run and a pop out to third to escape the inning down 3-0.

The Crusaders continued to rough up Dupra in the second, getting three hits and two more runs to chase the freshman from the game. Freshman reliever Todd Miller worked out of the inning after replacing Dupra, who gave up four earned runs on six hits.

Despite being down 5-0 early, Schrage said the team was still confident.

“They feel like they can win any game,” Schrage said. “They always believe they can win and never panicked.”

Valparaiso junior John Snelton entered the game against the Irish with a 12.60 ERA but turned in a solid start for the Crusaders. Snelton stayed out of trouble until the bottom of the fourth, when junior first baseman Evan Sharpley belted a two-run homer just over the left-field fence.

Sharpley’s long drive carried just over the fence, aided by a strong wind blowing out towards left. Scoring on the bomb was sophomore designated hitter David Mills, who had reached on a bunt single.

The 5-2 Valparaiso lead evaporated in the sixth, as the Irish offense broke through for four runs on five hits. Pollock and Sharpley each singled to start of the inning, and Pollock made his way home on a fielder’s choice to cut the lead to 5-3.

Senior Sean Gaston pinch-hit for freshman Cameron McConnell, and delivered with a two-run double that knotted the game up at 5. Freshman third baseman Greg Sherry then drove home Gaston with a double of his own to give the Irish a 6-5 lead.

The Notre Dame lead was short-lived, as the Crusaders answered with a run on three hits in the top of the seventh to tie the game.

Pollock took the lead back for the Irish in the bottom of the inning, crushing a 3-2 pitch just inside the foul pole in left for a solo home run. Sharpley followed with a double, his third hit of the day, and was driven home by junior Jeremy Barnes single to give Notre Dame an 8-6 lead.

The junior closer Weiland pitched a perfect ninth to pick up the record-breaking save, the 21st of his career. “It’s a great thing for [Weiland]. He’s such a great guy to have at the end of a game.”

The Irish bullpen combined to pitch 7.1 innings, giving up just one run. Notre Dame used seven pitchers in the game, with senior Tony Langford getting the win.

The Irish next face Manchester today at Eck Stadium, with freshman Ryan Sharpley slated to start. First pitch against the Spartans is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.