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Baseball: Outburst prevents sweep

Andrew Gastelum | Sunday, April 10, 2011

Heading into possibly their toughest home series of the season, the Irish were looking to make a statement against a team filled with major league prospects. Despite losing the series, Notre Dame still accomplished this goal.

The Irish (13-16-1, 4-5 Big East) continued their offensive struggles by dropping the first two games of the big series with conference rival Connecticut (17-11-1, 7-2), but rebounded Sunday with a 14-run outburst in what is Notre Dame’s biggest win of the year thus far.

The series opener featured an outstanding pitching duel between two right-handers, Connecticut’s junior Matt Barnes and Notre Dame senior Brian Dupra. Both aces matched each other through six scoreless frames, with each giving up their only earned runs in the seventh.

“It was disappointing because we played at a really high level for seven innings, as did Connecticut, but we blinked first,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “Our level of play dropped a little bit in the eighth and faded in the ninth. But I think it is one of those things where we are learning. We have shown flashes of playing at a high level. There are just some matters of consistency.”

Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, Notre Dame wasted a golden opportunity when it put two runners aboard with only one out and the heart of the lineup due up. But the Huskies’ bullpen induced pop-outs from standout freshman first baseman Trey Mancini and fifth-year senior right fielder Herman Petzold to end the threat.

The Irish threw away another chance in the bottom of the ninth when they brought the winning run to the plate with no outs, but couldn’t get the ball out of the infield in the 3-1 loss.

The second game of the series featured more offensive inconsistency as the Irish couldn’t build on an early 1-0 lead after Mancini slapped a two-out RBI single to right field to start off his 3-4 afternoon.

Senior right-hander Cole Johnson lasted only 4.1 innings, giving up five earned runs. The right-hander struggled with his control as the game progressed, walking three batters — all of whom eventually scored.

“He wasn’t as sharp as he been in other outings,” Aoki said. “But in that first inning we kind of took him out of rhythm a little bit in terms of making those two errors behind him. He should’ve been out of the inning but suddenly he had to go and throw 15 more pitches to get out of the inning with some real pressure against him.”

Mancini led the charge in Sunday’s finale, going 2-4 with four RBI including a solo bomb to left field in the top of the third for his fifth home run of the run. Petzold also added four RBI to help the Irish take a 9-0 lead after three innings, giving senior right-hander Todd Miller plenty of breathing room to record the win.

“Plain and simple, in order to beat good teams you have to play at a high level from the first pitch to the very last,” Aoki said.

Notre Dame has the week off until they resume Big East play with a series this weekend against West Virginia.