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Niesel commands Irish to victory

Chris Federico | Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Tuesday night’s matchup between No. 8 Notre Dame (33-8) and Ball State (20-17) was brought to you by Chris Niesel and the letter “K.”The Irish right-hander pitched eight and one-third scoreless innings in relief and recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts as the Irish topped the Cardinals 7-6 in 15 innings.”Niesel pitched the way that we’ve grown to love Chris Niesel,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “He went out there and competed for all he’s worth. He was such a bulldog. He hadn’t pitched to his capabilities all year, but this was the best he has pitched all year.”Niesel came into the game in the sixth inning with the Irish trailing 6-3, but he retired 10 straight batters to keep the Irish within striking distance as Notre Dame mounted a comeback.”[Niesel] competed so hard. He just wanted it bad, you could see it in his eyes,” Mainieri said. “He wouldn’t let me take him out of the game. He just wanted to win and compete, and that’s what champions do. They have guys that want the ball in their hands at crunch time.”Niesel finally yielded the mound to closer Ryan Doherty with one out in the 14th inning, but not after retiring 25 of 29 batters in pitching nearly a whole game in relief.”Pretty much all of my pitches I hit my spots with,” Niesel said. “I used my curve ball to get some strikes early in the count and get ahead of batters. I did a great job of getting ahead of guys, which helped me use my fastball with two strikes to strike guys out.”Doherty actually got the win for the Irish, pitching one and two-thirds innings of perfect baseball and striking out four Cardinal batters for his fifth win on the season. Doherty earned some redemption for blowing a save against Pittsburgh Sunday as the Irish blew a three-run lead in the ninth.”Ryan Doherty – after the tough outing the other day at Pittsburgh – showed a lot of fortitude by coming back the way he did [Tuesday],” Mainieri said. “…The thing is you want to get them right back on the horse as quickly as possible. He showed what a competitor he is. He did the job for us, and he got some big outs.”After falling behind 6-3, Notre Dame used single runs in the seventh and eighth innings to narrow the lead to a run.Shortstop Greg Lopez led off the ninth inning with a walk for the Irish, but third baseman Matt Macri hit into a fielder’s choice for the first out. Second baseman Zach Sisko then smacked a single, and both Macri and Sisko advanced a base on a passed ball.With first base open, Ball State elected to walk designated hitter Matt Bransfield to load the bases for catcher Javi Sanchez. The senior captain delivered for the Irish with his second sacrifice fly of the night to tie the game at six.Left fielder Steve Andres then hit a hot shot to first baseman Brad Miller, who misplayed the ball, but second baseman Kyle Dygert was there to gather in the ball and make the play at first to end the inning.The game would remain scoreless until the bottom of the 15th inning, when Andres made good on his chance at redemption and smacked a leadoff triple to the gap in right center. Right fielder Craig Cooper followed with a single to right, and Andres scored easily to win the game.Miller provided most of the offense for Ball State Tuesday. The 6-foot-5 sophomore smacked a pair of home runs in his first two plate appearances against the Irish. Miller added a double in the 13th inning to finish the night 3-for-6 with 4 RBIs and 2 runs scored.Following a difficult pair of losses at the hands of Pittsburgh Sunday, Mainieri feels that Tuesday night’s win is the type of game that could really spur the Irish to great things.”I told the guys after the game, in every year that I have been here, there’s always been a game that we can point at and say, ‘That game made our season. It was the turning point in our season,'” he said. “And I really believe that that’s what that game was today for us.”The Irish will have little time to savor the big win, however, as they return to the diamond today to host Cleveland State (9-20) at 6 p.m. at Frank Eck Stadium.Notes:u Tuesday’s 15-inning marathon tied the record for the longest game played at Eck Stadium. The previous mark was a 5-3 win over West Virginia in 1998, which also lasted 15 innings.u Ball State set a new school record for strikeouts in a game Tuesday night by fanning 20 times against Irish pitchers. The previous mark of 18 was set in 1950 in a game against Taylor University.u The Irish tied the school record for batters hit by a pitch Tuesday night in the 11th inning when reserve infielder Tim Murray was plunked. It marked the 75th time this season an Irish batter had been hit by a pitch.