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Baseball: Defense struggles, ND falls

Chris Masoud | Thursday, March 25, 2010

Seeking their first winning streak in over a month, the Irish came up short in their final nonconference game before the start of Big East play. Notre Dame fell to the University of Illinois at Chicago 10-5 and committed three errors in the field, as the miscues on defense continue to play a deciding factor in its latest home stretch.

“That’s been an overwhelming theme as far as making our pitchers throw extra pitches,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “I think we threw 15 pitches to the first hitter of the game. It was disappointing as far as how we play defense because I’m hoping that’s part of our game that’s getting better, and right now it’s not.”

Freshman pitcher Patrick Veerkamp (0-2) took the hard-luck loss, yielding five runs — three earned — in two and one-third third innings of work. Veerkamp’s addition to the rotation comes on the heels of a shoulder injury to senior Cole Johnson.

Schrage said the focus in practice has been to speed up the pace of the game to allow the defense to stay on its toes.  However, the Flames (3-13) made it difficult for the freshman hurler to find a rhythm on the mound.

“Well we didn’t throw strikes,” Schrage said. “We were trying to play a lot more up tempo. We do this free-bee thing, and we got to cut down on those.”

The Irish (8-12) had multiple chances to break the game open throughout the game, but their most promising opportunity came in the bottom of the first inning after the Flames took a quick 1-0 lead. Notre Dame plated two runs as the first three batters of the game reached base on hits, but Flames starter Tim Suminski settled down to get out of the jam. Suminski (1-0) held the Irish scoreless for the next five innings.

“We took a couple of called thirds in some big spots, and that’s been another bug-a-boo for us, getting the two-out hit,” Schrage said.

Sophomore hurler Dustin Ispas came in to relieve Veerkamp in his first appearance since off-season surgery.  The lefty threw one and one-third innings, giving up just one hit, but walked three and committed a costly error that led to four Flames runs.

Senior left fielder David Mills paced the Irish at the plate, belting a two-run home run in the seventh inning, his first of the year. Junior Mick Doyle also left the building with a solo home run of his own in the eighth inning.

Despite the lack of intensity in the field, Schrage said he was pleased with the effort put forth by his team, even including a pick-off at first base of freshman Frank Desico that ultimately ended an Irish rally.

“He’s a freshman, he’s trying to be aggressive,” Schrage said.  “We talked yesterday about being aggressive and taking the extra base, so he was just following suit. He’s a freshman just trying to make things happen.”

The Irish travel to Tampa, Fla., to take on South Florida in the Big East opener Friday at 7:00 p.m.