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Solid pitching Chippewas’ forte in upset of Irish

Chris Federico | Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Central Michigan beat the Irish at their own game Tuesday night.The Chippewas (7-10) built an early 4-0 lead and used solid starting pitching and errorless defense to upset sixth-ranked Notre Dame (13-3) 4-1.”This Central Michigan team has a rich tradition in their baseball program, and they’ve got good players,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said after the loss. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t beat these guys when we play them. I’m saying they didn’t win by a fluke tonight. “Their pitcher was outstanding, they made the plays and their hitters did what they had to do,” he said.Chippewa lefty T.J. Johnson kept the Irish hitters off balance all night with a steady diet of off-speed pitches. The senior worked all nine innings and allowed only one run, scattering eight hits and striking out six to get the win.”You have to tip your hat to [Johnson]. We just couldn’t solve him tonight,” Mainieri said. “You don’t usually run into a pitcher of that caliber in a mid-week game.”Central Michigan took advantage of a rare Irish defensive miscue in the top of the first when shortstop Greg Lopez mishandled Matt Edwards’ throw at second base on an attempted double play turn. With two on and nobody out, designated hitter Bryan Mitzel scorched a two-run triple to the gap in right center to put his team up 2-0.The Irish would later force right fielder J.T. Jones to ground into a double play, but Mitzel scored on the play to give the Chippewas the early 3-0 lead.The Irish had a chance to strike back in the bottom of the inning. With two outs and runners on first and second, third baseman Matt Macri hit a hot shot through the right side, but Chippewa shortstop Ryan Peel made a diving play to keep the ball in the infield and prevent a run from scoring.Designated hitter Matt Bransfield then grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.”We just couldn’t get a big hit,” Mainieri said. “We didn’t have that many scoring opportunities tonight, but when we did, we couldn’t get a big hit.”Central Michigan added another run in the second when left fielder Eric Cannon got a two-out single and then stole second. Third baseman Jim Geldhof then doubled to the wall in right center to bring in the run.The Irish, on the other hand, would not muster another serious scoring threat until the seventh inning. Bransfield led off with a solo home run to put the Irish on the board, but then some hard luck fell on the team.With one out and a runner on first, left fielder Craig Cooper ripped a ball down the third base line that appeared to sneak inside the bag, but the home plate umpire ruled the ball foul. Cooper later hit an easy fly out to left, and after second baseman Steve Sollmann’s single, Danny Dressman struck out to end the inning.”Initially I thought [the ball] was fair, but I was standing on the side, and I really couldn’t tell,” Mainieri said of Cooper’s foul ball. “The umpire was looking right down the line. Obviously if he calls that ball fair, it’s a pretty big play … But, I would never blame the loss on a call like that. You have to overcome things.”The Irish made one last run at the comeback with two outs in the bottom of the ninth as Lopez and Cooper strung together consecutive singles. But with Sollmann representing the tying run at the plate, the senior hit a hard come-backer to the pitcher for the final out of the game.Stellar relief pitching by freshman right-handers Derik Olvey and Jeff Samardzija was a bright spot for the Irish. The two combined to allow no runs, and Samardzija allowed only one hit in two innings.The Irish will not have any time to dwell on the loss, however, as they will send right hander Jess Stewart to the mound today at 5 p.m. to host Detroit (1-9), who dropped a 12-9 game to Eastern Michigan Tuesday.