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Baseball: Losing streak stretches to four

Brendan Bell | Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Notre Dame struggled offensively over the weekend against Seton Hall and Tuesday against Michigan State, as the team’s losing streak extended to four games.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Big East opponent Seton Hall swept the Irish (17-14, 4-5 Big East) in a three-game series over Easter weekend. With continuing offensive struggles, Irish senior captain and infielder Tommy Chase said the team is at a critical junction.

“I think we just need to keep grinding through this little slump that we’ve been in the past games, and really make a decision on how we want the rest of the season to go,” Chase said. “We can continue to play like we have been, or we can make a concerted effort to be more aggressive and try to make plays. It’s really a turning point right now in our season, so hopefully we can get our minds right and turn it around.”

One positive coming from the Notre Dame dugout was the pitching staff. The Irish arms were firing on all cylinders against the Pirates (16-14, 5-4 Big East) during Thursday and Friday’s games, maintaining no-hitters into the eighth and sixth innings, respectively. In the first game, the Irish took a 3-2 lead through 8.2 innings, but the Pirates managed to tie the game late. In the 10th, the Irish held a 4-3 advantage, but again let the lead slip away. In the 11th inning, an error at first base brought a Seton Hall runner home for the 5-4 win. It was more of the same in the second game of the series, as the Pirates slipped by with a 3-2 victory in 11 innings, despite lights-out pitching by the Irish.

Freshman right-hander Pat Connaughton started the series finale Saturday, but was forced to leave after 1.1 innings due to a blister on his hand. Seton Hall sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Gilbert kept all but four Irish batters from earning hits, throwing a complete-game shutout for a 2-0 win, extending the Notre Dame losing streak to three games.

Irish freshman right-handed pitcher Matt Ternowchek lost his first game of the season against the Spartans (20-10, 3-3 Big Ten) on Tuesday, allowing five runs in four innings. Chase said the freshman still gave Notre Dame a chance to win.

“I thought Matt actually threw really well today,” Chase said. “There were just a couple plays that didn’t go his way. We didn’t make the right defensive play behind him, and that set up Michigan State for a big inning. It wasn’t really a matter of him struggling, I thought he really threw the ball well.”

Michigan State started making contact early in the game and jumped out to a 2-0 lead at the end of the first. In the fifth inning, with the bases loaded for the Spartans, Michigan State junior outfielder Torsten Boss hit a three-run triple to extend the lead to 5-0.

By the end of the fifth inning, the Irish were scoreless, courtesy of a strong performance by Spartans freshman right-handed pitcher Mick VanVossen’s 6.1 innings of shutout ball.

However, Irish freshman reliever Scott Kerrigan kept the Spartans’ offense in check late in the game.

“I thought Scotty looked great today,” Chase said. “I was really impressed with him coming in and being able to throw the way he did in his first time out. It was really exciting to see him do that.”

While a rally started in the seventh inning with consecutive Notre Dame singles, the Irish were only able to squeeze out two runs and the score remained at a four-run deficit. The Spartans scored two more runs to expand the lead to six, winning 8-2.

Notre Dame will look to improve offensively and get back on the winning track when they return home Wednesday to

Frank Eck Stadium to face Western Michigan.

“I think that we like playing at home ⎯ we’re comfortable there,” Chase said. “A little bit of it does have to do with the fact that we’re away and out of our comfort zone. But I really think it just comes down to playing better, and being more assertive and more aggressive, and trying to go out and take games on the road.”

Notre Dame will face Western Michigan at home on Wednesday with the first pitch thrown at 5:35 p.m.

Contact Brendan Bell at bbell2@nd.edu