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Pitching looks to rebound tonight

Chris Khorey | Tuesday, April 24, 2007

After seeing its five-game winning streak come to a screeching halt against West Virginia Sunday, Notre Dame will try to regroup tonight at 6:05 against Ball State at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Irish (21-18, 6-8 Big East) were tied with the Mountaineers 7-7 after six innings Sunday but had their pitching collapse in the final third of the game and found themselves on the wrong side of a 16-7 decision.

In the process, Notre Dame gave up 20 hits – by far the most this season. Irish coach Dave Schrage said he expects his pitching staff, which had been strong all year, to bounce back in time for the contest with the Cardinals tonight.

“Our pitching has done well for us all year, so I’m sure we’ll be fine,” he said.

Another problem that surfaced against West Virginia was an inability to fend off breaking pitches in the strike zone. The Irish scored 28 runs through their first 21 innings against the Mountaineers. But once Mountaineers reliever Chris Enourato started throwing his slider for strikes, Notre Dame looked helpless.

“The other two guys weren’t able to locate their breaking stuff for strikes, but he was putting them over the plate,” Schrage said of West Virginia’s pitching.

Even with the loss, however, the Irish have won six of their last eight games. And, if the season ended today, they would qualify for a spot in the Big East tournament – an impressive feat for a squad that was 2-6 in conference play at one point.

But Schrage doesn’t want to make any promises with conference leaders Rutgers and Louisville still left to play.

“We have a tough schedule ahead,” he said.

There are opportunities for improvement, however, like tonight’s match-up with non-conference Ball State. The Cardinals are 15-24 overall and just 4-11 in the Mid-American Conference.

First baseman Matt Stoeklen, who is hitting .319 this season with four home runs and 25 RBIs, leads the Ball State offense.

After the Cardinals, the Irish will wrap up their 12-game home stand against Valparaiso Wednesday before traveling to Piscataway, N.J., to play the Scarlet Knights over the weekend.