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Irish drop one, still finish strong

Chris Federico | Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Irish saw a little bit of everything over their spring break trip to Texas – high scoring, extra-inning wins, low scoring pitchers’ duels and even their first loss of the season.Notre Dame (12-1), now ranked as high as No. 8 by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll, finished the week 6-1 after competing in the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic in San Antonio and the Round Rock College Classic in Round Rock, Texas.Notre Dame 12, Southern Illinois 11In the opener of the Texas trip, the Irish yielded an early 5-0 lead to the Salukis as Irish right-hander Chris Niesel was chased from the mound after just three innings of work. Southern Illinois built that lead to 9-3 by the fifth inning.The Irish gradually clawed their way back with two runs in the sixth inning and three in the eighth. However, they found themselves railing 9-8 before third baseman Matt Macri singled up the middle to keep the game alive. Steve Andres doubled in Macri to send the game to extra innings.After the Salukis put two across the plate in the top of the 10th, the Irish again found themselves down to their last out with just one runner on first when first baseman Matt Edwards and catcher Javi Sanchez smacked back-to-back singles to load the bases.Right fielder Cody Rizzo then came through with a single through the left side to score two and again tie the game.In the 11th, outfielder Craig Cooper scored the winning run for the Irish on a wild pitch by Southern Illinois’ Tyler Norrick, who was credited with the loss.Texas-San Antonio 17, Notre Dame 9The Irish fell from the ranks of the unbeaten in their second game of the Texas trip. The usually solid Notre Dame defense committed six errors in the game, and starting left-hander Tom Thornton felt the sting, allowing eight runs (six earned) on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings pitched.The Roadrunners jumped out to an early 8-2 lead by the middle of the fifth inning before Edwards narrowed that margin to three with a three-run home run, his fourth of the season.Notre Dame 8, Penn State 2The Irish bounced back the next day as right-hander Grant Johnson got the start on the mound, making his first appearance as a starter since the 2002 College World Series. The junior threw only 23 pitches, allowing one hit in one inning pitched, as part of a planned rotation in working back from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him the entire 2003 season.The story of the day, however, was the performance of lefthander Joe Thaman. The senior, who spent his first three seasons with Notre Dame as the starter at first base, earned his first collegiate victory, throwing seven innings and allowing the Nittany Lions just two runs on five hits.Notre Dame 13, Texas-San Antonio 5The Irish captured the Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic title and got a little payback in the final game of the tournament Tuesday with a win over the Roadrunners.The Irish jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the contest and freshman Jess Stewart used the momentum to help record his second win of the season, working 5 2/3 innings and allowing three earned runs on eight hits.After the final game, Edwards was named tournament MVP, going 7-for-15 with seven RBIs in the four games.Notre Dame 4, Penn State 2The Irish traveled from San Antonio to Round Rock, Texas Thursday to compete in the Round Rock College Classic.Freshman pitcher Derik Olvey worked five innings and allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits to earn his first victory in a Notre Dame uniform. Classmate Jeff Samardzija pitched the remaining four innings in relief and held Penn State hitless over that span to earn his first collegiate save.Macri led the way at the plate for the Irish, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs.Notre Dame 4, Arizona 2In the second game of the tournament, the Irish earned their sixth victory over a ranked opponent this season in holding off No. 19 Arizona in a rematch of last year’s 13-5 Irish victory in the NCAA Regionals.Niesel bounced back from a rocky outing against Southern Illinois with a solid effort, allowing just two runs and scattering 10 hits over seven innings.Notre Dame 6, Texas Tech 1In what would prove their last game of the trip, Thornton atoned for his previous outing – a 17-9 loss to Texas San Antonio – with an eight-inning, one-hit gem in keeping the hot-hitting Red Raiders at bay in the Irish victory.Texas Tech entered the game against Thornton with a .350 team batting average and 13 runs scored a game, but the sophomore held the Red Raiders scoreless through eight innings and struck out a career-high seven batters.Edwards led the way at bat for the Irish, going 3-for-4 with a run scored, while Macri contributed a pair of RBIs.Notes:u Notre Dame’s final game of the spring break trip was cancelled due to stormy weather in Round Rock. u Thornton was named Big East Pitcher of the Week for his eight-inning shutout performance against a good-hitting Texas Tech squad. The lefty allowed just five balls to leave the infield and gave up just one hit against the Red Raiders.u The current 12-1 start is the best for a Notre Dame team since 1910, when the Irish began the season 19-1.