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Baseball: How sweep it is

Joe Meixell | Monday, April 3, 2006

Freshman designated hitter Jeremy Barnes delivered a game-winning two-run single off Panthers reliever Justin Cicatello in the bottom of the ninth Sunday, as Notre Dame (17-8, 5-1) edged Pittsburgh (11-15, 2-7) 9-8 to sweep the three-game conference series this weekend.

“He gave me a middle-in fastball, and I put my hands to it and let everything fall as it may,” Barnes said.

With the Irish down 8-7, senior shortstop Greg Lopez dove into first to beat out an infield single to lead off the inning. After center fielder Alex Nettey delivered a sacrifice fly, Panthers coach Joe Jordano called on Cicatello to relieve Mike Bassage.

With first base open, the right-hander intentionally walked fellow righty Craig Cooper, who was 3-for-5 in the game with a homer and a double. Cicatello then struggled against Notre Dame’s No. 2 batter Danny Dressman, walking the junior on five pitches to load the bases.

“[Jordano] had a tough decision to make there,” Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri said of the choice to have Cicatello intentionally walk Cooper. “If I had been faced with the same situation … I probably would have done the same thing.”

Barnes followed Dressman and lined an 0-1 single in the hole between third and short to give the Irish the win.

With Notre Dame ahead 7-6 in the top of the ninth, Pittsburgh shortstop Jimmy Mayer delivered a two-strike, two-run double off Mike Dury to give the Panthers the lead.

Dury had replaced Joey Williamson, who hit two batters in the inning and left with two runners on base and one out.

“I knew Mike Dury would throw strikes,” Mainieri said. “I had a pretty good feeling he wouldn’t strike [a batter] out. I was just hoping [Mayer] would hit it at somebody.”

Right-hander Tom Thornton started the game for Notre Dame and went 7.2 innings, allowing five earned runs on seven hits and two hit batsman. He surrendered three runs in the first before recording an out, but settled down, retiring 14 Panthers in a row in a stretch between the second and seventh innings.

Freshman righty Kyle Landis threw six innings for Pittsburgh, giving up five runs (three earned) on eight hits and six walks.

Notre Dame 4, Pittsburgh 3

Irish starter Jeff Manship (3-1) threw seven innings, struck out nine Panthers and scattered four hits en route to Notre Dame’s win over Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon.

Freshman reliever Kyle Weiland worked out of several bases-loaded jams to collect a hard-won save – his sixth of the season – for his two-inning relief appearance.

Weiland entered the eighth with a 4-1 Irish lead, but loaded the bases with no outs on back-to-back singles by Sean Conley and Mayer and hit batter Jim Negrych with a pitch.

A sacrifice fly by Morgan Kielty scored Conley from third and a fielder’s choice advanced the remaining runners to second and third. A wild pitch to the backstop during the next at-bat scored Mayer to cut the lead to 4-3.

Weiland loaded the bases again with a two-out walk, but worked out of the jam with a groundout by pinch hitter Seth Button. The young reliever surrendered a walk in the ninth to Mayer before a Negrych line out to first base ended the game.

“It’s good for him, he needs to be in those situations,” Manship said of Weiland. “It helps his character for sure. It speaks a lot for him, what he did today.”

In the second inning, a Sean Gaston infield single scored Danny Dressman and was followed by a run on a Pittsburgh error. Ross Brezovsky – who reached base with a single – tripped just off second base and ran home after the throw to catch him at third went wild. Lopez concluded the rally with an RBI single up the middle.

Brian Muldowney plated the first Pittsburgh run in the fourth with a double to the gap in left center. Lopez got his second RBI – and the game-winning run – in the sixth when he pushed a pitch to right field, scoring Matt Bransfield.

“Lopez is an amazing guy, he just seems to come through in the clutch for us so often,” Mainieri said. “You could throw his statistics out the window, we need him most when the game is on the line.”

Notre Dame 6, Pittsburgh 1

Jeff Samardzija struck out eight in his first home start of the season as the Irish won the opener of the three game set against Pittsburgh Friday.

Notre Dame (15-8, 3-1 Big East) won its fifth straight game, while the Panthers (11-13, 2-5 Big East) lost their fifth in a row.

A season high crowd of 2,886 braved windy conditions to watch Samardzija duel with Pittsburgh left-hander Rob Brant. The Notre Dame junior threw eight innings, giving up one run on eight hits, while the Panther sophomore allowed four runs on 11 hits in seven-and-a-third innings.

Samardzija got off to a shaky start, allowing six Panthers to reach base in the first three innings, but settled down later in the game, retiring seven straight batters in the fifth through seventh innings.

“I think it was a combination of coming out with tough weather, especially with my pitches that move a lot, and, top of that, I was just excited,” Samardzija said. “There was a lot of my family and a lot of people in the stands.”

Brant held Notre Dame scoreless through four innings, but the Irish broke through for four runs in his last three-and-a-third innings of work.

“I think he definitely got a little bit tired at the end there,” said Lopez, who went 2-for-3 at the plate. “He was throwing really well, but after you see a pitcher three or four times, you start to learn his tendencies and his release point.”

The Irish played small ball all game, bunting four times, including a successful suicide squeeze by Nettey that scored designated hitter Danny Dressman in the sixth inning.

“The thing on a suicide is you have to bunt whatever pitch comes to the plate,” Nettey said. “I just happened to get a curveball that was pretty much at my feet, but I was able to put it in play.”

Lopez said Mainieri has stressed bunting and base running this season.

“That’s how we have to play this year,” Lopez said. “We know we’re not going to score a lot, so we have to manufacture runs by being unselfish and moving runners over.”

The Irish will stay at home for their next two games, Tuesday against Chicago State and Wednesday against Ball State, before traveling to Tampa, Fla., next weekend for a three-game Big East series against South Florida.