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Baseball: Notre Dame takes two-series win streak to Piscataway

Chris Khorey | Friday, April 27, 2007

Notre Dame has won its last two conference series, but its quest for a third straight will be a little tougher.

The Irish travel to Piscataway, N.J., this weekend for three games in two days Saturday and Sunday against Big East leader Rutgers.

Notre Dame (22-18, 6-8 Big East) has won five of its last seven conference games and eight of its last 10 overall.

The Scarlet Knights (24-14, 12-3 Big East) are riding a four-game winning streak and swept South Florida (who swept Notre Dame in late March) last weekend. Rutgers is also 11-1 at home this season, with its only loss coming to Seton Hall April 14.

But Irish third baseman A.J. Pollock sees no reason why his team can’t stop the Scarlet juggernaut in its tracks.

“Everybody is very confident,” the freshman said. “We’ve built up a lot of confidence over the last week. If we do the things we need to do, I don’t think anyone in the conference can beat us.”

That confidence in the clubhouse, Pollock said, has recently emerged as the team has started to play better.

“A couple weeks ago, most guys didn’t think [we could turn it around], but if we play our best game, not many teams can match us,” he said.

The Irish, currently tied for seventh in the conference, need to continue to win in order to ensure they make the Big East tournament, which the top eight teams qualify for.

If the season ended today, Notre Dame would be in as the seven-seed, but with 11 conference games remaining and Villanova, Connecticut and Seton Hall all a mere one-and-a-half games behind, the Irish need to keep playing at their current level.

“It’s very important that we win this series,” Pollock said.

That won’t be an easy task against the Scarlet Knights, who feature five starters who are hitting over .300, including outfielder Dave Williams, who is hitting .415.

Notre Dame will counter the Rutgers offense with pitcher Dan Kapala, who is back in the starting rotation after sitting out last weekend’s series against West Virginia with tendonitis.

The other two starters for the Irish in this weekend’s series are unclear. Junior Wade Korpi, sophomore David Phelps, sophomore Kyle Weiland and freshman Eric Maust, all of whom have started conference games this season, will be available for coach Dave Schrage.

Rutgers’ pitching staff has been its weak spot this season. The Scarlet Knights have just a 4.82 team ERA and will be facing an Irish team that is averaging 7.2 runs per game over its last five.

As usual, Pollock and shortstop Brett Lilley will lead Notre Dame from the top of the lineup, but it will be up to sluggers like first baseman Mike Dury – who is looking for his ninth home run this year – to drive them in.

Both Saturday’s doubleheader and Sunday’s single game will begin at noon.