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Baseball: Nine is fine

Chris Khorey | Thursday, April 6, 2006

Notre Dame second baseman Ross Brezovsky broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the seventh with a two-run home run that put the Irish ahead for good against Ball State Wednesday at Frank Eck Stadium.

Notre Dame (19-8, 5-1 in the Big East) earned their ninth straight victory with the 6-4 win, while the Cardinals (15-12, 5-1 in the MAC) saw their eight-game winning streak snapped.

Notre Dame junior Mike Dury earned his second win of the season in relief for the Irish, and freshman closer Kyle Weiland got two outs in the ninth for his eighth save.

Notre Dame starter Wade Korpi, whose last start was a complete-game shutout of Western Michigan March 29, threw 5 1-2 innings, allowing one run on three hits and striking out eight while registering a no decision.

“[Korpi] wasn’t quite as sharp as he was last week and he didn’t have as much control of his changeup, so it was more of a struggle for him,” Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri said.

Overall, the Irish used five pitchers, who allowed four runs on a combined eight hits.

“That was by design,” Mainieri said. “I wanted to use some of those guys because they haven’t been on the mound for a while.”

Notre Dame led 3-1 going into the seventh but Ball State stormed back and took a 4-3 lead. Cardinals right fielder Justin Rogers led off the inning with a single and shortstop Eric Earnhardt followed by being hit by a pitch. Designated hitter Matt Gard laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third, and centerfielder Matt Sullivan drove them in to tie the game.

Sullivan stole second and catcher Matt Singleton’s single brought him home. The ball rolled slowly between first and second base, where Brezovsky slipped and was slow getting to the ball.

“I broke on the ball up the middle and then [Irish reliever] Joey [Williamson] blocked the ball with his foot,” Brezovsky said. “I slipped going back the other way, and then [Notre Dame shortstop Greg] Lopez was yelling at me that the guy was going home so I just picked it up and threw it.”

The throw was late getting home and Sullivan was safe with the go-ahead run. Seeing the ball headed home, Singleton took off for second. Irish catcher Sean Gaston stood up to throw, but Sullivan bumped into him and knocked the ball out of his hand.

The umpires initially called both runners safe, but huddled and reconsidered after Mainieri stormed out of the dugout.

“The guy was safe at the plate, then he was celebrating with his teammates and bumped into our catcher,” Mainieri said. “It was a no-brainer. It had to be interference.”

The umpires ruled interference on Sullivan and called Singleton out for the second out of the inning, killing the Cardinal rally.

Notre Dame wasted no time coming back, scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning. Irish rightfielder Danny Dressman walked and was driven in by a game-tying double by leftfielder Matt Bransfield.

Brezovsky then hit a curve ball by Ball State lefthander Kory Bucklow over the right field fence to give the Irish a two-run lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“I think he was trying to throw it away, but he hung it inside and I just turned on it,” Brezovsky said of the pitch.

The win was the second time in three games Notre Dame has come back after falling behind in the previous half-inning. Sunday against Pittsburgh, the Panthers scored three runs in the ninth to take an 8-7 lead, but Irish designated hitter Jeremy Barnes drove in the game winning runs with a single in the bottom of the inning.

“You have to have high character kids to be able to [take the lead right back],” Mainieri said. “Plus, when you do it – it builds confidence that you can come back after giving up a lead.”

Notre Dame struck first Wednesday, scoring twice with two outs in the second inning and then extended their lead to 3-0 in the fifth on an RBI double by Barnes.

The Cardinals cut into the lead in the top of the sixth. Centerfielder Mike Sullivan started the inning with a walk, stole second and scored on a single by third baseman C.J Webb. The run was the first allowed by Korpi in 15 innings, dating back to a start against Iowa March 13.

Notre Dame will travel to Tampa, Fla. this weekend to take on South Florida in a three-game Big East series. The Irish and Bulls have not played since 2001 when South Florida won 6-1 at Frank Eck Stadium.