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Baseball: Finishing the job

Matt Gamber, Alex Barker and Michael Bryan | Monday, April 6, 2009

Notre Dame needed its bullpen to record just two outs over the weekend, as the Irish beat Villanova three times for their first Big East series sweep since last April’s sweep of the Wildcats.

Notre Dame (19-10, 5-4 Big East) got complete game victories from sophomores Cole Johnson and Brian Dupra in the first two games, and junior Eric Maust threw 8 1/3 innings in the tail end of Saturday’s doubleheader to earn the win.

Johnson (4-0, 2.40 ERA) stymied the Wildcats (14-15, 1-8) from the get-go, as the visitors didn’t manage a hit until the fourth and a run until the ninth in a 3-1 Notre Dame victory that lasted less than two hours.

“He’s been outstanding all season for us,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “Changing speeds, his cutter was probably the best it’s been. Overall, just a great performance to set the tone on a Friday.”

The defense did its part in Friday’s opener, as the Irish turned three inning-ending double plays and made several diving catches despite winds that neared 30 miles per hour and played tricks with every ball that was hit in the air.

Notre Dame scored all three of its runs in the first inning, receiving a two-run double from sophomore David Casey and a run-scoring double from senior Jeremy Barnes to grab an early lead the Irish wouldn’t relinquish.

“The best thing in the world is to go out there, put up a zero and then have your offense put up a crooked number for you,” Johnson said. “That’s exactly what happened today.”

Notre Dame used a spectacular pitching performance from Dupra (3-3, 5.01) and three solo home runs to defeat Villanova 4-0 in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

Dupra dominated the Wildcats throughout the game, allowing just three hits while going the distance. The right-hander struck out six and walked none.

The Irish were first on the scoreboard, getting an early run off Villanova starter Kevin Crimmel in the bottom of the first.

Notre Dame notched another run in the bottom of the second off the bat of sophomore catcher Cameron McConnell. With two out, McConnell connected on a Crimmel fastball, easily clearing the left field fence for a solo homer.

Outfielder David Mills added a solo shot of his own in the fifth inning, taking advantage of a breaking ball that Crimmel left up in the zone. Mills deposited the curve out of the ballpark and gave Notre Dame a 3-0 lead.

The Irish got their third solo home run of the day the next inning, as Barnes got in on the action. Barnes took a fastball to the opposite field and put it just outside the park in right.

Dupra was sensational for the Irish, locating his fastball well and mixing it effectively with breaking balls for strikes. The Wildcats were held hitless until the top of the fifth, when Villanova catcher Wesley Borden singled up the middle.

Outfielders Mills and sophomore Golden Tate led the Irish with two hits each.

In the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Irish used a five-run spurt in the eighth inning to break open the game on their way to a 9-3 victory and a series sweep over the Wildcats. Barnes and McConnell each had triples in the monster inning, as the pair combined to drive in all five runs in the frame.

Casey had a strong game at the plate going 2-for-2 with a run scored and reaching base in all four of his at-bats.

Notre Dame struggled early, allowing Villanova to load the bases in the first inning. But Maust (3-2, 5.93) was able to escape the inning while limiting the Wildcats to just one run. After Villanova tacked on another run in each of the next two innings, Maust found his rhythm giving up just two hits the rest of the way.

Maust picked up the win for Irish behind 8 1/3 solid innings of work allowing just three earned runs on six hits.

Villanova’s offense, which has not had trouble creating runs so far this season, ran into major trouble this weekend managing just four runs in the three-game set.

Notre Dame will play an exhibition game against the South Bend Silverhawks on Tuesday before continuing Big East play with a three-game road series against Cincinnati.