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Baseball: Hitting woes cost Irish yet another close loss

Andrew Gastelum | Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The bug has caught the Irish again — an epidemic that has soured solid Notre Dame pitching performances thus far this season.

A lack of timely hitting once again proved to be the deciding factor in a 5-3 loss to Illinois-Chicago Monday night. Despite out-hitting the Flames (10-10), the Notre Dame offense couldn’t get a hit when it counted for most of the night, squandering opportunities with multiple runners in scoring position.

“I think there were a few situations where we had the opportunity to cash a few things in and if we can figure out how to get two-out RBI’s we would’ve been alright,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “More than anything else I want to see the quality of our at-bats with runners in scoring position improve. I think we have thrown some at-bats away there and that is the tale of the season at this point.”

The Irish (9-12-1) were 3-13 with runners in scoring position — all while leaving eight runners on base.

Notre Dame blew an opportunity to tie the game late in the bottom of the seventh after senior right fielder Herman Petzold started the inning off with a single. Sophomore designated hitter Adam Norton then advanced Petzold to second on a sacrifice bunt. After a wild pitch advanced Petzold to third, senior pinch hitter David Casey walked, putting runners at the corners for the top of the lineup. But sophomore second baseman Frank DeSico softly grounded out to second to end the threat.

The Flames held the lead the entire game, starting in the second inning after freshman starter Anthony McIver (1-2) walked the leadoff batter, who scored on a groundout by Flames freshman left fielder Jon Ryan. Ryan later added a two-run double in the fourth that widened the lead to 3-0.

The Flames added another run in the top of the ninth after a costly fielding error by senior third baseman Greg Sherry allowed the leadoff man to get aboard. After a sacrifice bunt by Flames sophomore first baseman Joe Betcher advanced the runner to second, redshirt senior second baseman Matt Serna lined an RBI single to right field but was thrown out at second trying to advance.

But freshman right-hander Sean Fitzgerald kept the Irish within striking distance after he relieved McIver in the 6th inning. The reliever pitched four strong innings, including a stretch where he retired eight consecutive batters and struck out six, utilizing a commanding fastball.

“I thought [Fitzgerald] pitched really well. He struck a bunch of guys out and commanded the strike zone well. That was the difference between he and [starting pitcher Anthony McIver] was that he had a lot of advantage counts. [McIver] was in a lot of hitters’ counts and the end result was a performance that wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great while [Fitzgerald] had a great outing for us.”

The Flames added an insurance run in the top of the ninth after Sherry committed a costly fielding error, allowing the leadoff man to get on base and eventually score.

The game didn’t end without some drama, though, after DeSico lined a two-out RBI single to center to make the score 5-3 and bring the winning run to the plate. But senior shortstop Mick Doyle struck out with men on second and third to end the game.

The Irish will try to rebound tonight against Central Michigan as they send sophomore right hander Adam Norton (0-1) to the hill at 5:35 at Frank Eck Stadium.