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Baseball: Service Academies Classic proves tough test for ND nine

Ken Fowler | Monday, February 27, 2006

Notre Dame lost two of three games in the Service Academies Classic in Millington, Tenn. this weekend.

After beating Indiana State in a non-tournament game Thursday, the Irish (2-2) topped Air Force Friday but fell to Memphis Saturday and Oklahoma Sunday, losing late-inning leads in both games.

“I think we played really good baseball,” Irish coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s a shame we were only able to come away with a 2-2 record. We played well enough to win all four games.”

Oklahoma 4, Notre Dame 3

Junior righthander Jeff Manship took the mound for the Irish and gave up just two runs in five innings, but the Sooners scored two in the seventh after a throwing error by first baseman Mike Dury opened the door for Oklahoma.

Dury hit a three-run homer in the fifth to give Notre Dame a 3-2 lead over the Sooners after Chuckie Caulfield’s two-run blast off Manship in the third put Oklahoma ahead 2-0.

But after Irish southpaw relief pitcher Sam Elam hit fellow Kevin Smith on a 3-2 count in the seventh, Mainieri brought in the right-handed Jess Stewart to face the Sooners’ Joseph Hughes.

“When we had to take Jeff Manship out of the game, we didn’t have many options,” Mainieri said.

Hughes dropped down a routine sacrifice bunt along the first-base line but stopped halfway to the bag. Dury hesitated to tag, and the speedy centerfielder sprinted down the line. Dury then overthrew Aaron Reza, who was covering from second base, and Oklahoma had first and third with nobody out.

Stewart retired the next two batters on a strikeout and flyout, but surrendered a two-out, two-run double to Kevin Williams that put the Sooners on top 4-3.

“When your pitchers only make two mistakes in the game, it’s pretty good,” Mainieri said.

The Irish pitchers struck out 13 Oklahoma batters but made the two big mistakes – the two-out double and the two-run homer.

“When you strike out 13 batters, normally you’re going to win the game, because you’re dominant,” Mainieri said. “The difference was, two of them were extra-base hits.”

Memphis 7, Notre Dame 6 (10 innings)

Pinch hitter Joey Lieberman sent a two-run homer over the fence for the hometown Memphis Tigers in the top of the tenth Saturday, and Notre Dame lost a game in which it had a 5-0 lead through five innings.

Southpaw sophomore Wade Korpi allowed just three hits and no runs in five innings, but the Tigers chipped away at the Irish lead in the final four frames to force extra innings.

“Our starting pitching was out of this world,” Mainieri said. “Because they were all on strict pitch counts, we had to pull them early in the games.”

Will Petersen led the Memphis comeback, getting three hits, including the game-tying two-out double in the top of the ninth off freshman reliever Kyle Weiland.

“It’s tough to lose any game, whether you’re winning or losing it, any loss hurts,” Mainieri said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on winning the close ones.”

Senior Matt Bransfield and third baseman Brett Lilley accounted for five of Notre Dame’s seven hits in the game. Bransfield had three hits and two RBI in a rare start in left field for the 6-foot-1 righty from Englewood, Colo., while Lilley went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and a walk out of the No. 2 hole.

Mainieri said the inconsistent hitting for the Irish could be expected this early in the season.

“The only negative was they didn’t swing the bat well,” he said. “It’s the result of not having a lot of at-bats under our belt.”

Notre Dame 8, Air Force 2

Behind the arm of 6-foot-5 righthander Jeff Samardzija, Notre Dame grounded Air Force 8-2 Friday in the opening game of the Service Academies Classic.

“I thought Jeff pitched exceptionally well,” Mainieri said.

Samardzija allowed just one run on four hits in six innings of work, and the Irish bullpen held on for the victory thanks to a six-run eighth that extended the Irish lead from 2-1 to 8-1.

Eight Irish batters collected hits, including two for second baseman Ross Brezovsky, whose three-run homer in the eighth put the game out of reach.