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Baseball: Irish drop two of three vs. Pitt

Matt Gamber | Monday, March 30, 2009

Not again.

For the second straight weekend, Notre Dame used a quality outing from sophomore Cole Johnson to secure a Friday victory before dropping high-scoring decisions on Saturday and Sunday to lose two of three, this time at Pittsburgh.

The Irish (15-10, 2-4 Big East) took the series opener, 5-4, but lost slugfests in the next two contests, which the Panthers (15-7, 4-2) won 15-7 and 14-11, respectively. Irish coach Dave Schrage was unavailable from comment as the team traveled back to campus Sunday.

Johnson (3-0, 2.75 ERA) held the potent Pittsburgh bats – which entered the series averaging 8.5 runs per game and hitting .321 as a team – in check Friday, as the right-hander went the distance, scattering seven hits and allowing just two earned runs. The Panthers cut a 5-2 deficit to one run with two unearned tallies in the bottom of the seventh, but Johnson stranded the tying run at second base and went on to retire the home team in order in the eighth and ninth innings.

Four Irish players – sophomore Golden Tate, juniors Casey Martin and A.J. Pollock and senior Jeremy Barnes – had two hits, and Martin’s first home run of the year, a solo shot in the second, put his team up 2-0. Pittsburgh would tie it with single runs in the second and fifth innings, but Notre Dame took the lead with two in the sixth and one more insurance run in the seventh.

Freshman lefty Dustin Ispas made his first career Big East start Saturday, but it didn’t last as long as he would have liked. Ispas (0-1, 4.86) couldn’t get out of the third inning, allowing five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings in picking up his first collegiate decision. Neither freshman Will Hudgins nor junior Steven Mazur fared much better, as each allowed four earned runs.

Junior Billy Boockford, a reserve outfielder for the Irish, made his first career appearance on the mound and retired the Panthers in order in the eighth inning to send the Irish into their last at-bat down 15-5. Sophomore Matt Scioscia ripped a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth to finish the scoring, and classmate Greg Sherry led the Notre Dame offense with three hits and two runs scored.

Pittsburgh used a seven-run third inning off Irish junior starter Eric Maust to take control of Sunday’s rubber match, and Notre Dame never got within three runs after that despite four home runs in the game. Maust (2-2, 6.61) saw his record fall to .500 on the year, as he needed 104 pitches to finish four innings in which the Pirates racked up 12 runs, 11 earned, on 14 hits.

Notre Dame cut a 14-8 Pittsburgh lead in half in the final frame on a three-run shot from sophomore catcher Cameron McConnell – the first home run of his collegiate career. The Irish then brought the tying run to the plate with one out, but after Pollock popped out to center, Scioscia shelled a liner that Pirates shortstop Danny Lopez leapt for and snagged for the final out.

Pollock and Barnes homered in the loss, and junior Ryne Intlekofer blasted his first career round-tripper as well.

After a day off Monday, the Irish will return to action with a pair of nonconference home games – against Michigan State Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. and Toledo Wednesday at 5:05 p.m. – before hosting Big East rival Villanova for a three-game set over the weekend.