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Baseball: Packing for Pittsburgh

Chris Khorey | Friday, March 30, 2007

Notre Dame ended its three-game losing streak Wednesday against struggling Chicago State, but the real test of whether the Irish have corrected the problems that led to the skid will come this weekend when they travel to Pittsburgh to play the Panthers in a three-game Big East series.

Over the last four games -which include two losses to South Florida, a defeat to Central Michigan and the win over the Cougars – the Irish have stranded 49 runners per contest, and their bullpen has given up a total of 22 runs.

Irish coach Dave Schrage said he hoped the problems were fixed after the Chicago State victory, but he will not know for sure until the conference series against Pittsburgh.

“With one game its tough to tell,” he said. “But hopefully [the improvement] will continue.”

Schrage said earlier this week that he expects the bullpen issues to correct themselves. Notre Dame’s relief pitchers had been a strength until the South Florida series. Even given the rough stretch over the past week, relief pitchers junior Joey Williamson and freshman Eric Maust have ERAs under 3.2.

As for the lack of clutch hitting, shortstop Brett Lilley said he is optimistic that it will improve.

“Sometimes it’s bad luck,” Lilley said. “A lot of our guys have hit the ball hard with runners on base. We just haven’t gotten that lucky. Hitting is contagious. Once one person gets a clutch hit, they just keep on rolling.”

As Notre Dame’s leadoff hitter, Lilley and his .505 on-base percentage have been the main victim of runner-stranding. But he said that he is guilty of poor clutch hitting as well.

“I get frustrated when I’m up [with runners on base] and I don’t get the hit,” Lilley said. “I also get out when runners are on base.”

Schrage said Trees Field in Pittsburgh, home of an Astroturf infield which doesn’t slow down ground balls as much as grass, may help Notre Dame’s timely hitting.

“Pittsburgh’s ballpark is a hitter’s ball park, so hopefully we can continue to hit well out there,” Schrage said.

Pittsburgh comes into the three-game series 9-12 and 3-3 in the Big East. It took two of three from Cincinnati last weekend but, like the Irish, dropped two out of its three games against South Florida.

The Panthers’ best hitters are Gary Bucuren, who is hitting .333 this year with three home runs and 16 RBIs, and Jordan Herr, who is hitting .327 with three more homers and 11 RBIs.

Tonight’s game will begin at 6, Saturday’s game will begin at 3, and Sunday’s game will begin at noon.