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Baseball: Broncos hand Irish 5-4 loss

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, April 12, 2012

It is that time of the year again when the Irish can’t seem to catch a break, culminating in a five-game losing streak after a 5-4 home loss to Western Michigan on Wednesday night.

Freshman pitcher Kyle Rubbinaccio got his first collegiate start for the Irish (17-15, 4-5 Big East), but only lasted 3 1/3 innings despite a promising start. Notre Dame’s first four batters reached base to open the game, but the Irish could only score one run from the inning on an RBI-double from Irish sophomore third baseman Eric Jagielo. Notre Dame had the bases loaded with no outs following Jagielo’s double and a walk to junior catcher Joe Hudson, but Broncos freshman pitcher Will Nimke managed to find his way out of the jam, striking out two straight Irish batters.

Nimke threw a seven-strikeout complete game for the Broncos (15-15, 5-3 MAC), but was far from dominant. The Irish had the chance to knock the freshman out of the game early, but couldn’t capitalize on a few key chances in the opening innings. The right-hander soon settled into a groove, limiting the Irish bats to one hit in the last four innings of the game.

“I think we had some really bad at-bats once we loaded the bases there in the bottom of the first,” coach Mik Aoki said. “Those string of at-bats let them off the hook there with one run. As the game went on I think we lost our approach. You have got to give [Nimke] a lot of credit. He battled and they made some plays as the game went on and down the stretch they kind of out-competed us.”

The Irish led 2-0 heading into the third inning, but the Broncos broke through for three runs against Rubbinaccio, who struggled to throw strikes as he trudged through the lineup. Compounding the issue, the Irish bats struggled to support their arms and couldn’t put together a string of timely hits.

“It has been a lot of different things that (have) conspired against us,” Aoki said. “Bottom line is we are dealing with a very young team who lost every shred of confidence from that good start we had and are trying to refind themselves.”

Western Michigan blew two one-run leads in the fourth and fifth innings, mostly due to a solid day at the plate by Irish freshman outfielders Mac Hudgins and Ryan Bull. Hudgins went 2-for-4 with a triple and an RBI single while Bull contributed a single and a leadoff double, later scoring to tie the game at four in the fifth inning.

Broncos freshman catcher Jared Kujawa led the way for Western Michigan and delivered the final blow, a tiebreaking home run in the seventh to give the Broncos the 5-4 lead. The former high-school hockey and football star went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a walk, sparking the team’s three-run rally in the third.

Notre Dame was without two key starters in junior outfielder Charlie Markson (virus) and sophomore first baseman Trey Mancini, who injured his shoulder in the weekend series at Seton Hall.

Despite the missing pieces, Aoki still said the Irish must continue to fight and be aggressive if they want to break through at such a crucial point in the season.

“We have got to be stubborn about competing and playing to the best of our ability,” the second-year coach said. “There is no magic recipe to it, we just have to go out and attack … We are certainly struggling to find our way right now.”

The Irish will look to snap their losing skid Friday in a weekend series at home against Cincinnati.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu