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BASEBALL: Team wins 3 in first weekend

Tom Dorwart | Monday, February 21, 2005

En route to a 3-1 weekend, the Irish simply were “clutch,” according to their skipper. “It just seemed like all weekend we were getting clutch strikeouts and turning clutch double plays to end the inning,” Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri said. Mainieri’s team was not only clutch on defense. It took all of one inning for the Notre Dame offense to warm up.The No. 20 ranked Irish (3-1) exploded for back-to-back three-run innings starting in the second inning in a season-opening victory against Florida A&M (0-13) Friday. The offense stalled a bit as Notre Dame dropped a 2-1 game to No. 30 Central Florida, but the team bounced back with consecutive victories over FAMU (4-3) and UCF (4-2) to close out the weekend.On Saturday, the Irish faced a tough, No. 30 ranked Central Florida (7-2) squad in the opening game of a doubleheader.Golden Knights junior pitcher Mike Billek and Irish junior hurler Tom Thornton each threw gems. Notre Dame’s rally in the top of the seventh tied the game at one, but UCF answered in the bottom half of the inning to win 2-1. In five innings of work, junior Tom Thornton allowed one run and had no-decision, while sophomore reliever Derik Olvey took the loss. In the second game of the doubleheader in a rematch against Florida A&M, the Irish needed a late rally to avoid the upset. With the game tied at three, junior outfielder Alex Nettey crushed a double deep to center field. Freshman infielder Ross Brezovsky then drove Nettey home for the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as Notre Dame won 4-3. Without three of its veteran starters in the batting order, Notre Dame capped the opening-weekend with a 4-2 victory over UCF Sunday to earn a split with the Knights. The Irish used a solid outing from sophomore pitcher Jess Stewart, clutch hitting from center fielder Craig Cooper, gritty play by junior shortstop Greg Lopez and savvy base-running to hold off the Golden Knights. Cooper, who was 2-for-3 on the day, smacked an RBI single to right field to ignite a three-run sixth. Junior shortstop Greg Lopez, who pulled his hamstring, gutted out the game in the field. “Greg Lopez tweaked his hamstring, so I just felt like I needed to rest it today,” Mainieri said. “When we got the lead and only had three innings to play, he literally couldn’t run, so what we did was just put him in to play defense those last three innings. He made a game-saving double play.”Friday, in its first game of the season, Notre Dame’s bats were on fire the entire game.Using 18 runs on 13 hits and a solid pitching performance from Jeff Samardzija, the Irish blew past the Rattlers, 18-3.With the lead and some injuries, the Irish got major contributions from most of their roster. “We had to use just about everybody on the roster this weekend,” Mainieri said. “Part of it was by design, and part of it was because… of nicks and bruises we had. All those guys that filled in for the injured players, and those guys I gave a chance to like Alex Nettey, really came through in a big way for us.Mainieri said junior infielder Eddie Smith and sophomore outfielder Danny Dressman also contributed to the victories in impressive roles.In the four games this weekend, the Irish turned 10 double plays, a stellar accomplishment for their first baseball played outside – Notre Dame has practiced inside to this point – this season. “It’s really amazing that our first days outside we go down there and pitch and play defense as well as we did.”