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Irish face Big East rival Hoyas in key matchup

Chris Federico | Friday, April 16, 2004

With just one game separating the top four spots in the Big East standings, the No. 5 Irish (27-5, 8-2 in the Big East) suddenly find themselves in the middle of a dogfight for the conference title.After splitting a pair of conference doubleheaders last weekend with Boston College and St. John’s, the Irish travel to Bethesda, Md., for a three-game Big East series with Georgetown (20-20, 5-8). Notre Dame currently sits tied with Rutgers atop the Big East standings. Right on their heels are Pittsburgh and St. John’s with conference records of 7-3.The Hoyas have fallen on rough times of late, dropping seven of their last 10 conference matchups, but they won their most recent game Thursday, 5-4 over cross-town rival George Washington.The Hoyas are led offensively by left fielder Ron Cano with a .346 batting average. The heart of the team however is 2003 Big East third-team catcher Michael Lombardi. The fourth-year starter currently is batting .310. He is also second on the team with 23 RBIs. As a team, the Hoyas are batting .249, while opponents have hit .268 off the Georgetown pitchers.On the mound, Georgetown has a pair of four-game winners in junior right-hander Eduardo Pena and freshman righty Erick Chandler, who have posted ERAs of 2.75 and 3.09, respectively, this year. The Hoyas have a staff ERA of 4.42.The Irish, meanwhile, saw substantial mid-week success with a 17-5 victory over Oakland Wednesday, in which the Irish batters cranked out 14 hits.Third baseman Matt Macri paces the Irish at the plate with a .381 batting average. He also ranks first on the team in hits (43), runs (38), RBIs (33) and slugging percentage (.628). Notre Dame has a team batting average of .314, as eight Irish players have posted averages above .300 so far this year. Opponents have hit just .239 off Notre Dame this year.On the hill, the Irish will look to shake things up a little this weekend, as Irish coach Paul Mainieri said he may start lefty Tom Thornton in the seven-inning opener Saturday, followed by junior righty Chris Niesel in the nightcap. Right-hander Grant Johnson will likely start the final game of the series Sunday for Notre Dame. The Irish pitchers have posted a staff ERA of 3.40 this year, good enough for first in the Big EastThe Irish and Hoyas kick off the three-game series with a doubleheaders starting at noon Saturday, followed by the series finale Sunday at 11:30 a.m.