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BASEBALL: Pitchers prove pivotal in 10-4 win

| Wednesday, March 23, 2005

On a chilly, blustery evening at Frank Eck Stadium, an armada of Notre Dame pitchers shut down Cincinnati in the Irish home opener.

Notre Dame used eight pitchers en route to a 10-4 win Tuesday – giving some of the less experienced hurlers an inning or two of work. The Irish improved to 8-9 on the year.

The Irish jumped on the board early with a run in the bottom of the first. Leadoff batter Alex Nettey alertly sprinted to first base after a dropped third strike. Nettey advanced to third after a single up the middle by second baseman Brett Lilley. Hard-hitting first baseman Matt Edwards then hit a sacrifice fly to dead center field.

Notre Dame pitchers Derik Olvey and Scott Bickford set the tone early when they faced a combined nine Bearcat batters through three innings. The two controlled the game, holding the ‘Cats to one hit and no runs.

Bickford appeared for his sixth time this season. After a successful previous week, including his first win of the season against Northern Illinois, he is gaining poise.

“I feel extremely comfortable out there,” Bickford said. “A big part of it is that my confidence has gone up. I’m a senior and I haven’t thrown much in the past in four years. It’s good to get out there on the mound frequently. That helps a lot with confidence. Once your confidence is up, everything goes well.”

All eight Notre Dame pitchers held Cincinnati’s top two hitters – shortstop Mark Haske and third baseman Jon DeLuca – to one hit apiece.

In the top of the fourth, the Irish gave up the lead. Joey Williamson faced six batters and surrendered two runs, one of them unearned. Williamson started out shaky, hitting the first two Bearcats, and Cincinnati’s first run came on a fielder’s choice ground ball to Lilley. The Bearcats scored off shortstop Greg Lopez’s throwing error for the 2-1 lead.

The lead was brief.

In the bottom half of the inning, the wind died down just enough for right fielder Craig Cooper to pull a home run over the left field fence. Using a two-out rally, the Irish played small-ball the rest of the inning, capitalizing on four singles and several steals to take a commanding 6-2 lead.

Wade Korpi, Jess Stewart, David Gruener, Dan Kapala and Tyler Jones all saw action on the mound the rest of the way for the Irish. Korpi, who entered with the lead in the fifth, nabbed the first win of his college career.

Besides rotating the pitchers nearly every inning, coach Paul Mainieri jumbled the position players and batting order as well.

Appearing in just his seventh game this season, sophomore Mike Dury started at designated hitter. He finished 2-5. Nick Mainieri, Danny Dressman and Eddie Smith also played.

Non-starter Cody Rizzo – who had played in 15 games this season – entered the game at center field in the eighth, and Tony Langford made the start at left field.

Left-handed hitting Lilley had a perfect 5-for-5 day at the plate to become the first freshman in Notre Dame baseball history to record five hits in the home opener.

“I was getting good pitches up there. I just felt good up there; I was relaxed,” Lilley said. “It just worked out. The ball fell in the right place for me.”

Lopez and Edwards each added two hits, and the Irish had 15 total hits on the day. In a game that seemed like nearly everyone contributed, Mainieri used 20 players.

“I think we turned it around tonight,” Lilley said. “We played good baseball all around really. I think it will jump-start us. We played awesome as a team tonight, and everybody contributed.”

Limiting the innings per pitcher and mixing up the lineup a bit, Mainieri saved some arms and bats for conference-opening doubleheaders Thursday and Saturday against Georgetown and Seton Hall, both at “The Eck.”