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Baseball: ND loses 2 of 3 to Seton Hall

Bill Brink and Michael Bryan | Monday, March 23, 2009

The Irish dropped two of three games this weekend in their conference opening series against Seton Hall, with the Pirates capitalizing on the Notre Dame’s inability to close out innings. Seton Hall batted .458 from the plate and scored 19 runs over the three games with two outs.

The Irish (13-7, 1-2 Big East) offense battered Seton Hall (10-7, 2-1 Big East) ace Sean Black in the conference opener, defeating the Pirates for their sixth straight win on Friday. The Notre Dame lineup tallied 16 hits, and four different Irish players had multiple hits in the game.

After Black held the Irish offense in check through the first two innings, Notre Dame finally reached the Pirates ace in the bottom of the third. Senior shortstop Jeremy Barnes blistered a two-out pitch into the right-center gap, scoring juniors David Mills and A.J. Pollock, who hustled home from first base on the hit.

“I was looking curveball after what I had seen my first at bat, and got one and hit it well,” Barnes said.

The Irish held the 2-0 lead until the fourth inning, when Seton Hall put together a two-out rally against Notre Dame starter Cole Johnson. After Notre Dame retired the first two batters, the Pirates put together a hit batsman and three consecutive hits to score three runs.

The Notre Dame offense quickly responded, picking up four runs in the bottom of the inning. Second baseman Mick Doyle led off the inning with a double, and third baseman Greg Sherry was hit by a pitch with one out. A Golden Tate double tied the game at three, and Mills blasted a single through the infield to score Tate and Sherry.

A Seton Hall error on a hard hit ball by Pollock allowed one more Irish run and pushed the lead to 6-3.

The top of the Irish offense continued their hot hitting in the sixth inning, with the heart of the order crushing the ball. After a Mills walk, Pollock doubled for his third hit of the game, and senior Evan Sharpley drove Pollock home with a triple. Barnes then singled to drive home Sharpley and put the Irish up six.

Barnes said the speed and balance in the Notre Dame lineup made life difficult for Pirate pitchers.

“When you have guys at the top of the lineup with speed getting on base, and big boppers in the middle picking up RBI, we’re very tough,” Barnes said. “Even at the bottom of the lineup, we’ve got Greg [Sherry] turning it over batting almost .400.”

Johnson was impressive over seven innings for Notre Dame, allowing just five hits and four earned runs. The sophomore struck out six and walked two to pick up his second win of the year.

Barnes led the Irish offense, going 4-for-5 at the plate with four RBI. Mills and Pollock each added three hits of their own, and Evan Sharpley had two hits including his first career triple.

The Irish winning streak came to an end on Saturday, as Notre Dame allowed five unearned runs in the seventh inning during their 9-4 loss to Seton Hall Saturday.

Senior Keith Cantwell got the win for the Pirates, going eight innings and giving up four runs on six hits.

“Our focus of what our guys need to swing at wasn’t good,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “He was getting ahead of his fastball, he was moving in and out on us and he was throwing his change-up for a strike. When he’d get ahead, he’d throw balls in the dirt and he chased.”

Sophomore Brian Dupra got the loss, giving up nine hits and seven runs but only three of them earned.

“Honestly I thought mechanically that was the best he’s pitched since he’s been here,” Schrage said. “His slider today was as good as it’s been.”

Senior designated hitter Chris Affinito had the most productive day for the Pirates. He went 4-for-5 with a run and an RBI. Pollock had two hits and a run to lead the Irish.

Seton Hall broke open the game with a two-out, five-run rally in the seventh inning. Singles from senior center fielder Matt Smedberg and Affinito put men on first and second, and a throwing error from senior shortstop Jeremy Barnes allowed Smedberg to score when junior outfielder Chris Spagnuolo grounded to short. Espozito doubled and Rogers walked to load the bases. It looked like the inning would end when Fontenelli grounded to short, but Barnes bobbled the ball and everyone was safe.

“He’s made those plays all year and he didn’t make them today,” Schrage said. “He’ll win you more games than he’ll lose you.”

Two bases-loaded walks scored two more runs, and the Pirates led 8-3.

The Pirates touched up Dupra early. Sophomore shortstop A.J. Rusbarsky singled to center and Affinito doubled to the warning track in right-center, driving in Rubarsky.

In the second inning Dupra struggled with his control, and the Seton Hall bats didn’t help his cause. Junior right fielder Michael Rogers reached on a fielder’s choice and junior third baseman Chris Fontenelli singled. Sophomore second baseman Sean Gusrang walked to load the bases. Sophomore left fielder Bobby Abreu then walked, scoring Rogers, and Rusbarsky grounded out to third base to score Fontenelli.

The Irish tied the score in the bottom of the sixth. Junior right fielder David Mills singled to left to start the inning and junior center fielder A.J. Pollock hit a high fly ball to left that Abreu lost in the sun, causing the ball to drop. Senior first baseman Evan Sharpley grounded out but advanced the runners to second and third, and a wild pitch allowed Mills to score. On the next pitch Barnes blasted a two-run home run over the left-field fence to tie the score.

The Pirates scored another run in the top of the ninth when freshman pitcher Hudgins hit Fontenelli and Gusrang doubled to left to drive him in. Sharpley hit a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth.

Seton Hall dominated the rubber match on Sunday, bashing 20 hits off Notre Dame pitchers in a 11-4 win.

Sophomore pitcher Joe DiRocco stymied the Notre Dame offense, scattering four hits over seven shutout innings. DiRocco kept the ball low in the strike zone and while only striking out two, held the Irish to mostly ground balls.

The Pirates scratched out a run in the top of the third to start the scoring, putting together a walk, an infield single, and a blooper into left-center field for the first run off junior Notre Dame pitcher Eric Maust. The Irish continued their weekend long theme of giving up two-out hits, but Maust was able to induce a grounder to short to escape a bases loaded jam.

Seton Hall again loaded the bases in the fourth, putting together three straight singles with one out. After third baseman Greg Sherry made a terrific catch on a foul ball behind third, left fielder Bobby Abreu drove home two Pirates with his third hit off Maust.

For the third straight inning Seton Hall loaded the bases against Maust in the fifth, this time with no outs. A sacrifice fly by the catcher Esposito gave the Pirates a 4-0 lead and chased Maust from the game.

Seton Hall added another run off of Mills, who came on in to pitch in relief, but the Irish were able to strand two runners and exit the inning down 5-0.

The Pirates plated four more runs in the eighth off Notre Dame reliever Todd Miller, highlighted by a solo home run by Rusbarsky.

Pollock finally broke the Seton Hall shutout in the bottom of the eighth, hitting a laser over the left field fence to score Mills, who had walked.

Catcher Matt Scioscia and Golden Tate each had RBI singles for the Irish in the ninth.

The designated hitter and pitcher Mills led the Irish offense and was also their most effective pitcher Sunday. Mills had two hits to lead Notre Dame along with Pollock on the game and gave up one run in two and two third innings of relief.

Notre Dame hosts non-conference opponents Central Michigan and Oakland on Tuesday and Wednesday before returning to conference play next weekend at Pittsburgh.