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BASEBALL:Irish take on Boilers at Cove

Joe Hettler | Wednesday, April 20, 2005

As usual, Notre Dame faces an opponent at home for a mid-week game tonight – sort of.

The Irish (20-15) will travel a couple miles down U.S. 31 to face Purdue (11-21) at Coveleski Stadium, home of the South Bend Silver Hawks Single A baseball team. The game’s first pitch is at 6:05 p.m.

“I’ve been reluctant to play down there because I enjoy playing our home games at Frank Eck Stadium so much,” Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri said. “A lot of people in the community have asked me to take the team downtown, so I just thought it was a natural thing to do with Purdue.

“There are a lot of Purdue graduates in this town, as well as Notre Dame, so maybe they’d come out and see the game if it was at more of a neutral site.”

Notre Dame is fresh off a three-game sweep of Big East foe Connecticut last weekend. The wins put the Irish in third place in the conference with an 8-4 mark, one-half game behind Boston College and 1.5 games behind St. John’s.

Mainieri said the team is gaining confidence as they pile up more victories.

“I think the guys are feeling much more optimistic about things,” Mainieri said. “We shored up our defense in the infield, which was a major issue and moving [Dan] Kapala into the starting rotation has really solidified our starting rotation on the weekends.

All of a sudden there’s a lot of sense of optimism that maybe we’re catching some fire here.”

The Irish, who have won three straight and six of their last seven, send freshman lefthander Wade Korpi to the hill. Korpi has 12 appearances and four starts with a 3-1 record and an ERA of 5.66 for his rookie campaign. He has struck out 24 and walked 23 in 35 innings of work.

Korpi took the loss in his last start, a 10-4 defeat to Central Michigan on April 13. In that game, he worked five innings and allowed three runs (two earned) in five innings. He struck out eight and walked four while facing 24 batters. Korpi faced one batter and yielded a hit Sunday against Connecticut.

Purdue enters tonight’s game on a slide, losing six of its last eight games. Middle infielder Mitch Hilligoss leads the team with a .380 average, while outfielder Neal Gorka paces the Boilermakers with four home runs and 18 RBI. As a team, Purdue is hitting just .267 and have been outscored 181-121 by its opponents.

The Boilermak-ers pitching staff has been up and down this season, logging a team ERA of 5.11. Teams are hitting .312 against the staff, including 19 round-trippers.

Despite playing a weaker opponent in a non-conference, mid-week game, Mainieri said his team should be focused.

“It is a little bit different [playing a mid-week game],” Mainieri said. “The kids are in school during the week and they have papers and projects and tests and everything else to prepare for, so it really takes a lot of mental toughness for them to separate themselves and concentrate on baseball for a few hours.

But when you play Purdue, I don’t care what sport you play, if you wear a Notre Dame uniform you should be fired up.”