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BASEBALL: Unlucky 13

Matt Lozar | Thursday, April 7, 2005

Heading into Wednesday’s game against Ball State, Irish coach Paul Mainieri expected a wide range of possibilities for John Axford’s first start since 2003.Unfortunately for Mainieri and the Irish, Axford’s start came up on the disappointing end of the range.Axford pitched 1/3 of an inning, walked five of the eight batters he faced and allowed six runs, five earned, as the Irish dug themselves too much of a hole in losing to the Cardinals 14-5 at Frank Eck Stadium.”It’s just one of things where the kid needs to find his confidence again,” Mainieri said.”I knew this was a possibility. He’s had some control issues his whole career. Even when he was throwing great he had control issues.”I knew the possibility existed that that could happen, but I just felt like for all he’s done for the program, I just needed to run him out there and give him a chance. Unfortunately, he just struggled like crazy. Once we got off to a bad start against a good ball club, it was an uphill battle.”I just can’t give up on the kid,” Mainieri said.Axford walked the first two he faced before a Brad Miller single scored Mike Sullivan to give Ball State its first run. After two more walks, one of which forced in a run, Axford retired Chris Pestle on a foul pop out to Matt Edwards. Then, Axford allowed another single and walked in another run before being removed for Tyler Jones, who got the last two outs of the inning.During the next two innings, the Cardinals got six more runs off Mike Dury, but only two of those runs were earned as the Irish committed three errors in that inning and five overall on the game.Those lapses in defense – 13 errors in the past three games for the Irish is concerning Mainieri more than his pitching staff’s struggles.”That’s eating at me more than anything else,” Mainieri said. “Infield defense has been a concern and third base has been our Achillies’ Heel all year. I’ve always taken great pride in our infield defense. “I know we have the players. We just haven’t done it.”Ball State built a 14-0 lead with two more runs in the seventh inning before the Irish got on the board in the bottom of the seventh. A single by Eddie Smith scored Greg Lopez to get the Irish their first run. Matt Edwards hit his 11th homerun of the season after Smith’s single to make the score 14-4.The Irish got their fifth and last run of the game in the eighth when Matt Bransfield scored on a fielder’s choice.The Irish travel to Boston College this weekend for a three-game series. Despite the 14 runs and five errors, Mainieri knows not to put too much stock into this game and just to get his team focused for the important conference games remaining on the schedule.”I’ve coached over 1,300 games and with the start to the game that we had, it would have been a daunting task,” Mainieri said. “I don’t want to make more out of it than it is.”