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Irish wake up bats after opening day shutout, win two

Michael Bryan | Monday, February 23, 2009

Notre Dame opened its season by winning two of three games in the inaugural Big East/Big Ten Challenge in Clearwater, Fla. The Irish needed a day to get their bats warmed up, losing in a shutout to Ohio State on Friday before exploding offensively in wins over Illinois and Purdue on Saturday and Sunday.

Ohio State 2, Notre Dame 0

Despite a strong pitching performance from sophomore pitcher Brian Dupra, the Irish fell to the Buckeyes Friday. Notre Dame stranded five runners in scoring position and failed to get on the scoreboard against Ohio State pitchers Alex Wimmers and Drew Rucinski.

Both starters dominated the game until the fourth inning, when the Buckeyes struck first on an RBI single from cleanup hitter Justin Miller. Ohio State then scored a key insurance run in the seventh off Dupra, capitalizing on catcher Dan Burkhart’s leadoff triple.

Dupra finished 6.1 innings, giving up only two earned runs and six hits, but picked up the loss. Dupra struck out two and walked one, and sophomore Todd Miller pitched the final 1.2 scoreless innings in relief.

While the Irish offense struggled, sophomore left fielder Golden Tate and junior right fielder Billy Boockford each went 2-for-4 to lead the Notre Dame offense. Junior center fielder A.J. Pollock and junior designated hitter David Mills each had a hit apiece.

Notre Dame 14, Illinois 7

The Notre Dame offense exploded Saturday after being stymied Friday against Ohio State, scoring 11 runs in the final five innings against the Illini.

The game did not begin well for the Irish, with two first inning errors leading to three unearned runs and an early deficit. Notre Dame quickly responded, answering with three runs of its own in the bottom of the inning. Senior shortstop Jeremy Barnes singled home two runs, and sophomore Mick Doyle added an RBI to tie the score at three.

Irish junior starter Eric Maust retired 11 of the next 12 batters after the first inning before walking three straight Illini in the fifth inning. Illinois took advantage of Maust’s struggle with his command, capitalizing on a three-run triple from third baseman Dominic Altobelli.

The Irish cut the lead to 7-5 heading into the bottom of the seventh. Junior designated hitter Matt Grosso then belted a two-run homer to tie the game. The next five Notre Dame hitters all reached base, with sophomore catcher Cameron McConnell singling home two go-ahead runs.

After Pollock drove home another run with a sacrifice fly, Barnes broke the game open with a three-run shot over the left field fence. The eight-run explosion in the seventh inning gave the Irish a 13-7 lead they would not relinquish.

Sophomore reliever Cole Johnson picked up the win for Notre Dame, allowing one run in three innings. Maust finished with three earned runs given up on five hits in five innings of work.

The Irish offense was highlighted by Barnes’ five and McConnell’s three RBI, both of which were career highs. Tate and Doyle each contributed three hits, with Tate scoring three runs.

Notre Dame 9, Purdue 4 (10 innings)

The Irish rallied from a 4-1 eighth inning deficit to force extra innings on Sunday, then scored five runs in the top of the 10th inning for the win over rival Purdue.

Notre Dame struck first in the top of the third after a Jeremy Barnes one-out triple and a wild pitch. The Boilermakers then answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning off sophomore starter Evan Danieli. Purdue then increased their lead to 4-1 in the sixth inning, touching up Irish reliever Todd Miller.

The Irish then showed off their clutch hitting ability in the eighth inning. After two outs to open the inning, McConnell singled and junior Casey Martin walked. Junior Brayden Ashdown then laced a huge pinch-hit single to score both McConnell and Martin to bring Notre Dame within a run.

Ashdown then advanced to second on a wild pitch, and came around to score the tying run on a Doyle single.

The game remained tied until the 10th frame, when Ashdown gave the Irish another clutch RBI single and a 5-4 lead. Tate followed with a two-run double, and junior Ryan Intelkofer and Pollock each drove in a run to stretch the lead to four runs.

Junior reliever Steven Mazur picked up the win for Notre Dame after pitching two scoreless innings. The Irish bullpen held the Boilermakers scoreless over the last four innings.

Four Irish players – Tate, Doyle, Intelkofer, and Barnes – all led the offense with two hits each.

Notre Dame will head south again next weekend, traveling to the Phoenix Classic to take on Gonzaga, Dayton and Creighton.