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Baseball: Rollin’ home

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, April 11, 2006

No. 21 Notre Dame (22-8, 8-1 Big East) begins a 12-game home stand against Oakland today at 5:05 p.m. and looks to extend its winning streak to 13 in the mid-week non-conference matchup at Frank Eck Stadium.

“We’d like to just keep it going,” Irish head coach Paul Mainieri said Monday. “We’re playing extremely well.”

Oakland senior right-hander Kevin Hale will throw for the Golden Grizzlies (7-20, 4-0 Mid-Continent Conference). Hale is 0-4 in 5 starts (12 appearances) with a 13.10 ERA. He has given up 46 hits and 14 walks in 22.2 innings.

Irish sophomore left-hander Wade Korpi will start for Notre Dame. Korpi is 2-1 on the season in five starts with an ERA of 2.53. He has 44 strikeouts in 32 innings.

Oakland enters on a six game winning streak of its own. After starting the season 2-20, Oakland topped Rochester in the second game of a doubleheader April 1 and won the rubber game of the three-contest set April 2.

Oakland swept Chicago State in consecutive twin bills Saturday and Sunday, beating the Cougars by a total of 33-9.

“Against us, [Chicago State starter Jonathan Kohn] pitched pretty well and [Oakland] knocked him around,” Mainieri said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We respect all our opponents, and we respect Oakland.”

Kohn threw eight innings and allowed six runs on 11 hits in a 6-4 loss to Notre Dame April 4. He surrendered nine runs on 14 hits in 7.2 innings Sunday.

Mainieri said he is confident about Notre Dame’s chances in the game because of the team’s top two hitters in the lineup. First baseman Craig Cooper will lead off for the Irish and third baseman Brett Lilley will bat in the No. 2 hole.

“Cooper has been hot for a long time. Ever since we put him in that leadoff spot, he has sparked our team,” Mainieri said. “He’s playing like a top player in the conference should play – which is what we always thought he was.”

Cooper is batting .429 on the season with a .612 slugging percentage thanks to three homers, seven doubles and a triple.

Lilley had his best series of the season this weekend against South Florida. He was 9-for-13 with four runs and an RBI (7-for-7, three walks in his first 10 plate appearances) in Notre Dame’s three-game sweep of the Bulls. The performance lifted his batting average on the season to .333.

In the series, Cooper and Lilley combined for 18 hits; the Bulls had 25 hits total in the three games. Cooper has an 11-game hit streak, and Lilley enters on a 10-game hit streak of his own.

“You’ve got two guys at the top of the order who are really setting the tone for us,” Mainieri said. “Brett Lilley really fired up [against South Florida]. It just goes to show when Bret Lilley plays the way he’s capable of playing, we’ve got a much better team.

Despite Oakland’s record, Mainieri said Notre Dame must continue that hot hitting against Oakland today if it wants to earn the win.

“Every team that plays us, it’s like the World Series for them,” he said. “Our kids have to realize when you put on that uniform everyone’s gunning for you. So we have to be ready to play against these guys.”

After Oakland, Notre Dame faces Manchester College Wednesday at 5:05 p.m. at Frank Eck Field.