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Baseball: Five game winning streak ends

Brendan Bell | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In the sole meeting between Notre Dame and the University of Illinois-Chicago this season, the Flames outlasted the Irish by a score of 8-5, snapping Notre Dame’s five-game winning streak.

UIC (10-12, 4-2 Horizon) got off to a hot start, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. The Irish infield committed two errors and Irish junior pitcher Patrick Veerkamp allowed two hits in the inning.

“We went down in the blink of an eye,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “We didn’t do a great job of handling the early part of the game, but we battled back and responded well later.”

The Flames tallied one more run to gain a 4-0 advantage before the Irish (15-8, 3-0 Big East) answered with a rally of their own when Irish junior catcher and Big East honor roll member Joe Hudson’s RBI triple provided a spark. With the score at 4-1, Irish sophomore outfielder and Chicago product

Eric Jagielo started off the sixth inning with a double, eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly that brought the game within two runs. Then a critical UIC error allowed two more runs to come in for the Irish, and sophomore first-baseman Trey Mancini hit a solo shot in seventh to give the Irish a 5-4 lead.

Throughout the season, Notre Dame has continued to show its toughness when behind in games.

“I think that we have a good group of guys that do a good job of competing,” Aoki said. “There is definitely a sense of resiliency. We went down against Pitt over the weekend and came back, too.”

The difference on this particular night, though, was Notre Dame’s inability to seal the victory. In the bottom of the seventh inning, UIC executed small-ball effectively, forcing the Irish into mistakes. The Flames laid down a sacrifice bunt that led to an Irish error, tying the game at 5-5. UIC junior outfielder Nick Addison then put down another bunt that put runners on the corners, which extended the inning and allowed for two RBI singles to push the UIC advantage to 7-5. In the eighth inning, the Flames continued their trend by threatening to squeeze bunt, which forced a wild pitch and allowed another run to score, making it 8-5.

“We were kicking the ball around in those innings a little bit,” Aoki said. “Our defense has let us down, but hopefully that is a phase.”

The Notre Dame bats quieted in the eighth and ninth innings, as UIC retired the side in both innings to earn the victory. Aoki said there has been a common thread in the team’s losses.

“We just need to understand that this is the third game that we haven’t taken care of,” Aoki said. “We aided in a lot of Michigan’s rallies, and against Purdue in the same way. We threw the ball around against a really quality team tonight, too, that we otherwise had under control. Fielding is a point of emphasis for us, but unfortunately we seem to make our errors in bunches, while in between we do a pretty good job of taking care of the ball.”

With this focus in mind, Notre Dame will look to get back on the right track against Big East foe South Florida Friday night.

“It’s a good, young group and maybe these are things you need to learn as a youthful team,” Aoki said. “Hopefully we can get back on the right track.”

Notre Dame and USF will meet in Tampa, Fla., on Friday with the first pitch at 7 p.m.

Contact Brendan Bell at bbell2@nd.edu