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Baseball: Johnson’s return boosts Irish

Jared Jedick | Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Irish put up a complete all-around game yesterday evening against Toledo, shutting out the Rockets en route to a 9-0 victory.

The Irish (18-22, 7-8 Big East) jumped on Toledo (23-17) early in the first two innings with four runs to build a lead they would not relinquish all night.

“To jump out on Toledo like we did in the first two innings, I was happy with that,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said.

Returning to the mound after a shoulder injury for the Irish was junior right-hander Cole Johnson, who was held on a strict pitch count of 30 pitches. Johnson excelled in that time, fanning three batters and giving up only two hits and no runs.

“It was exciting to just see him back on the mound,” Schrage said. “A key will be to see how he feels tomorrow. I think he pitched better in the second inning than in the first inning, he got a little bit looser and looked a little more fluid.”

Even more exciting were the signs of pitching depth coming from the Irish, as both junior righty Ryan Sharpley (two hits, one walk, two strikeouts) and sophomore lefty Joe Spano (two hits, five strikeouts) pitched more than three innings without giving up a run.

“The other thing that was really encouraging was Sharpley and Spano,” Schrage said. “If those guys throw like that, that really gives us some pitching depth. That is a good hitting club over there. They came in hitting .324 and they are leading the MAC.”

The Irish were able to take the game right to Toledo in the first inning, opening with a lead-off double from senior left-fielder Ryan Connolly who promptly scored after a single from freshman second baseman Frank Desico and an RBI single from senior first baseman David Mills. Desico was then able to score on a throwing error by Toledo shortstop Jared Hoying.

The Irish kept the pressure on in the second inning, notching two more runs. Toledo pitcher Cody Umbright was able to settle in after that however, not allowing another run in his seven innings pitched.

That lead would be enough, as the Irish pitching was phenomenal. The Irish added five runs in the eighth inning, including a two-run, bases loaded single from Connolly.

“Connolly getting that bases loaded hit in the eighth inning was really big,” Schrage said. “We have been struggling with runners in scoring position, and him stepping up and getting that hit really relaxes the team a little bit and gets us going.”

Senior righty Steven Mazur came in for the ninth and pitched a 1-2-3 inning to close out the game.

Next up for the Irish is a matchup with Valparaiso (17-21) who Schrage believes will be another good test for his pitching, especially probable starter junior right-hander Todd Miller.

“Valparaiso is a lot better team than they have been,” Schrage said. “They have a pretty good offensive lineup.”

Schrage likes the look of his team going into the weekend series against St. John’s (26-12, 10-5 Big East) that is crucial for the Notre Dame’s conference positioning.

“This team is playing a little bit more relaxed right now and a little bit more confident,” Schrage said.

First pitch against Valparaiso is Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Gary, Ind.