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Baseball: Fanning the Flames

Fran Tolan | Tuesday, May 1, 2007

After taking two of three from Rutgers this weekend in Piscataway, N.J., Notre Dame returns home today at 6:05 p.m., looking to cool off the red-hot Illinois-Chicago Flames, who have won 17 of their last 20 games.

The Irish are on a winning streak of their own, coming out on top in 10 of their last 13, including taking a majority in their last three conference series.

Notre Dame feels it is playing at its highest level of the season heading into the matchup with UIC, a team the Irish have beaten 25-of-29 times in the all-time series. Irish coach Dave Schrage said his team looks to continue its solid play until the Big East tournament, which will be held in Brooklyn, N.Y., May 22-26.

“This is what we needed to do,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said after the Rutgers series. “You want to be playing your best baseball when it comes close to tournament time.”

Against UIC (23-15), the Irish hope to maintain their momentum before taking on Seton Hall in a three-game series at Frank Eck Stadium beginning Friday.

“We just want to keep playing like we have been the last three weeks,” Schrage said.

The Irish took the rubber match against Rutgers on Sunday after splitting a doubleheader Saturday. Sunday’s win was the 500th of Schrage’s career and put the team in a sixth-place tie with West Virginia in the Big East standings. The top eight teams in the conference earn a bid to the tournament.

In today’s contest, the Irish will send either senior lefthander Wade Korpi or sophomore righty Brett Graffy to the mound. Notre Dame had not announced this week’s starting rotation as of Monday night.

After leading the Irish with a 7-2 record last season, Korpi is just 1-5 in 2007, although he boasts a respectable 4.15 ERA. Graffy, meanwhile, is 2-2 with a 5.13 ERA. He has struck out 22 batters in 33 1-3 innings of work.

Whoever that starter is, he will attempt to cool down a Flames offense that has plated at least six runs in eight of the team’s last nine contests.

UIC also had not announced its probable starter Monday night. But it may not matter who take the hill against the Irish.

The Notre Dame offense, like that of UIC, comes into the contest on a roll. The Irish scored in each of the final two innings against Rutgers to pull out the 6-4 win.

Shortstop Brett Lilley and third baseman A.J. Pollock – the first two hitters in the Irish lineup – have set the tone for the rest of the order. They lead the squad with batting averages of .375 and .364, respectively.

Sophomore second baseman Jeremy Barnes, meanwhile, continued his hot hitting against the Scarlet Knights. He went 4-for-11 and delivered the game-winning triple Sunday.