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Baseball: On cloud nine

Lorenzo Reyes | Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chalk up another one in the win column for Notre Dame.

The Irish (22-9-1, 10-2 Big East) made it nine in a row and 15 of their last 17 with a 6-1 win over the Toledo Rockets Tuesday at Frank Eck Stadium.

When asked about the mood in the clubhouse during the winning streak, Irish coach Dave Schrage played with the superstitious stigma embedded within baseball.

“Shhhh,” he joked, mocking the mention of the winning so his players wouldn’t hear him. “We’re just a confident group right now. We really are. We’re playing well. We’re not looking too far ahead. We’re just taking it slow. It’s an old cliché, but we’ve got a game tomorrow to play and we’re going to take that as a battle tomorrow and go from there.”

The reasons behind the win were consistent pitching and manufactured runs once the Irish faced a deficit.

Freshman starting pitcher Cole Johnson didn’t quite get the start he wanted as a pair of dribblers to third produced a pair of baserunners to start the game. After sophomore Aaron Dudley hit a sacrifice fly to center, both runners advanced and things looked bleak for the Irish early on with just one out.

Junior Josh Colliver picked up an RBI with a ground out fielder’s choice to first base.

With a potential run now 90-feet away, junior second baseman Jeremy Barnes made a play off of an errant bounce on a ground ball saving a run, putting the Rockets up 1-0.

The Irish seemed to mount a threat in the bottom of the third with two outs with a little help from Rockets second baseman Tim Krofcheck. After senior shortstop Brett Lilley walked, sophomore David Mills reached first on an error by Krofcheck on an errant throw. With sophomore A.J. Pollock at the plate, Notre Dame was in prime position to tie the game up. The centerfielder grounded up the middle, but Krofcheck made up for his mistake with a nice grab and then dive to second to get Mills out on a force at second.

The Irish did get their tying run, however in the fourth frame with a one-out rally. After Barnes flied out to right, senior outfielder Ross Brezovsky got a free pass, putting an Irish runner at first.

Junior first baseman Casey Martin, in the starting lineup because junior Evan Sharpley doesn’t face lefties, hit a fly ball that bounced just fair, allowing Brezovsky to reach third on the double.

Sophomore right fielder Billy Boockford hit a sacrifice fly to right field. Senior Dan Sherwood caught the fly and then gunned the ball to home. Brezovsky, with some adept base running, beat out the throw at the plate, knotting the game up at one. Junior starting pitcher Ryan France got out of the inning with a ground out from freshman catcher Cameron McConnell.

Just one frame later, Notre Dame got all the insurance it would need with a three-run inning.

Freshman pitcher Matt Kuna entered the contest for the Rockets to start the inning, and got roughed up in his only inning of work. Freshman third baseman Greg Sherry reached second with a double as his fly ball dropped due to a miscommunication between the Rocket center and right fielders.

Lilley then picked up an RBI single to right, but Sherwood committed an error allowing the senior shortstop to advance to second base.

Mills then executed a sacrifice bunt, moving Lilley over to third. Pollock then walked putting runners on the corners.

The sophomore center fielder took off early, allowing him to reach second on Barnes’ RBI fielder’s choice that brought in Lilley,

Brezovsky then stepped to the plate and delivered an RBI single to left that allowed Pollock to score from second base. Kuna then closed out the inning with a Boockford ground out.

Johnson only allowed two more baserunners the entire contest, and was relieved by fellow freshman Brian Dupra in the sixth frame. Johnson finished with five innings pitched, three hits, an unearned run and three strikeouts.

The right-hander took control of the game allowing only a pair of hits in his four innings on the mound.

The Irish added a pair of scores in the seventh, securing the victory. Pollock hit a dribbler to the pitcher but beat it out with his speed. Barnes then doubled off the centerfield wall to bring the sophomore across the plate. After Brezovsky grounded out to second, Barnes advanced to third and Sharpley was intentionally walked, bringing Boockford to the plate.

The right fielder hit a sacrifice fly that brought in the last run of the contest and raised the Irish lead to five.

After the contest, Schrage was impressed with the freshmen pitching duo.

“I thought our pitchers did tremendous today,” he said. “When you look that we only had [five] hits given up…. It’s a good confidence builder hopefully for Dupra. Cole’s been pitching really well. It was a perfect day for him to pitch with the wind blowing out, we wanted a sinkerball guy starting. After the first inning I thought he settled in and he did a great job. That’s what he’s capable of and hopefully that will get him some confidence and get him going.”

The Irish return to action today at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago against Northern Illinois at 8 p.m.