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Win streak snapped in 10-4 defeat

Tom Dorwart | Thursday, April 14, 2005

Central Michigan did something Wednesday night at Frank Eck Stadium that no other non-conference team has ever been able to do in that stadium in consecutive years – win.

The Chippewas (19-12) defeated the Irish 10-4, snapping Notre Dame’s three-game winning streak and starting one their own. The Chippewas also won last year’s contest, 4-1.

If that seems strange, the ninth inning itself was even stranger. The Irish had closed the gap to 7-3 by the top of the ninth. With two CMU base runners taking their leads in scoring position, pinch hitter Derek Schaller singled to right field with two outs. On the ensuing play, centerfielder Alex Nettey stood ready for what would have been the third out of the inning but lost the ball in the lights and wind. It sailed over his head for a bases-clearing triple that dampened any comeback hopes the Irish may have had.

“There’ve been a lot of strange things happen this year,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “I don’t know if it’s us, or if we’re just not playing smart enough baseball, or if it’s just the way things happen sometimes in this sport.”

Unable to capitalize on a solid pitching outing by freshman lefty Wade Korpi, the Irish (17-15) threw four different pitchers who struggled to hold the Chippewas after Korpi exited following the fifth inning. One of those four was 7-1 ace reliever Ryan Doherty.

Doherty walked two batters and plunked two others out of the ten Chippewas he faced.

Korpi left the game with his team trailing 3-1 as the Irish struggled to find any offensive output against Central Michigan starter Jayson Ruhlman. Ruhlman gave up only three hits through four innings. Korpi (3-1) took his first loss of the year.

“Tonight I didn’t think we played with our heads at all,” Mainieri said. “For having a really bright group of kids, I don’t think that we played like bright baseball players tonight.

“It was frustrating tonight. It just didn’t seem like we could get the big hit, and they did. At the end there, they started getting some clutch hits that hurt us.”

Third baseman Brett Lilley recorded three hits and two RBIs, and catcher Matt Bransfield added two hits to pace the Irish offense.

The Irish are now 3-2 on the season against Mid-American Conference opponents. Notre Dame suffered its fourth non-conference midweek loss of the season, a major setback in any hopes of continuing the 16-year streak of 40-win seasons and qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the seventh straight season.

“I’m resolved to the fact that we’re going to have to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA tournament; I’m certain of that,” Mainieri said. “We’ve just had too many midweek losses that are going to hurt us if it comes down to a selection committee decision.”

“It’s our own fault. We just didn’t get the job done in some of these games that we needed to.”

The goal for the rest of the season is simple.

“Our avenue to the NCAA tournament is we’re going to have to qualify for the Big East tournament and win the Big East tournament,” Mainieri said. “That’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Saturday at noon, the Irish take on the Huskies (19-10) in a crucial conference doubleheader at home. The third and final game of the series is Sunday at noon. Notre Dame (5-4, Big East) and Connecticut (4-4, Big East) are currently in the middle of the pack of the Big East standings, both vying for the coveted fourth spot in the conference tournament.

St. John’s is the Big East leader at 7-1 in the conference, while every team behind the Red Storm has at least three losses.

“The focus is totally on Connecticut, now,” Mainieri said. “If we get the job done this weekend, we can put ourselves in a pretty decent position.”

The Saturday starters for Notre Dame will be sophomore Dan Kapala and junior Tom Thornton – the same rotation as last weekend. Manship will again start in the Sunday game with fellow sophomore Jeff Samardzija ready to back him up.