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Baseball: Irish slip by Cards in opener

Bill Brink | Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A close game came down to an infield single, but the ball rolled Notre Dame’s way.

Sophomore catcher Cameron McConnell’s dribbler gave Notre Dame a 5-4 win over Ball State Tuesday at Eck Stadium.

Plenty of fans came out for Notre Dame’s (11-5) home opener and enjoyed the 71-degree weather.

“We played on St. Patrick’s Day and the luck of the Irish came through,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “We couldn’t get a sacrifice bunt down so we got a swinging bunt down and it ended up winning the game.”

Senior shortstop Jeremy Barnes’ single jump-started an eighth inning that would allow the Irish to take the lead for good. Junior second baseman Ryne Intlekofer singled, but an error allowed both him and Barnes to advance, giving the Irish runners on second and third with one out. McConnell then beat out a throw to get an infield single, and Barnes scored the winning run on the play.

Freshman Will Hudgins (1-0) got the win for Notre Dame. Hudgins pitched 2 1-3 innings of no-hit ball after replacing freshman starter Dustin Ispas, who gave up four runs on six hits in 5 2-3 innings. Junior Steven Mazur got the save, striking out two in the top of the ninth.

“Will was the key today pitching-wise,” Schrage said. “They scored four runs and he just shut them down.”

Junior reliever Scott Brothers Jr. took the loss for the Cardinals.

The Irish have now won four straight and seven of their last eight after a successful spring break trip to Texas.

“We’re starting to settle in on a lineup and get some consistency,” sophomore third baseman Greg Sherry said. “We’re starting to get hot. We did the same thing last year. We’ve just got to make sure we continue throughout the year.”

Sophomore left fielder Golden Tate got the Irish on the board in the third inning when he led off with a triple. Senior first baseman Evan Sharpley’s groundout scored Tate and the Irish took a 1-0 lead.

Tate went 2-for-2 with a walk and two runs to improve his average to .389.

“St. Patrick’s day, wearing green, weather’s awesome, I felt like it was time,” Tate said. “I struggled a little bit on spring break, and now I’m just kind of relaxing, not thinking so much.”

The Cardinals tied the game in the top of the fourth when sophomore starter Kolbrin Vitek doubled. Freshman first baseman Ian Nielsen blooped a single to center that drove in Vitek.

Notre Dame took advantage of an error in the bottom of the fifth inning. Sherry singled, and Tate laid down a sacrifice bunt to move him to second. Junior right fielder David Mills grounded to second, but Cardinals senior second baseman Nate Fields bobbled the ball while trying to backhand it. Sherry scored instead of stopping at third, and the Irish led 2-1.

“They were throwing me fastballs in so I just took the approach I usually do, just try to hit the ball hard,” said Sherry, who went 2-for-4 with two runs. His average, .388, is second on the team behind Tate’s.

The Cardinals got to Ispas in the sixth inning. After Ispas walked Fields and junior catcher Zach Dygert singled, junior left fielder Kory Benbow hit the first pitch he saw over the left-centerfield fence for a three-run home run. Ball State led 4-2 in the middle of the sixth.

Notre Dame tied the score at four in the bottom of the seventh. Sherry singled and Tate walked, and a throwing error on Dygert allowed the runners to advance to second and third. Mills grounded out to second, driving in Sherry, and junior center fielder A.J. Pollock grounded out to short to score Tate.

The Irish will host Valparaiso today at 5:05 p.m. at Eck Field.