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Baseball: Weather cooperates, Irish win home opener

Fran Tolan | Wednesday, March 26, 2008

It was worth the wait.

After having its first two home games postponed due to rain last week, Notre Dame scored at least a run in each inning from the third through the sixth as the Irish defeated Ball State 6-4 Tuesday. Evan Sharpley and Billy Boockford both went deep in the team’s first full contest at Frank Eck Stadium.

“That was a good ballgame,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “We’ve been playing well; we’ve won five out of six and continued today.”

Ball State got on the scoreboard first but the Irish offense maintained the momentum it accumulated while scoring 38 runs in three games against Georgetown over the weekend.

Irish starting pitcher Brian Dupra, who worked six innings and gave up just two runs, allowed Ball State to plate the first run of the game in the top of the third.

But Notre Dame responded in its half of the inning. With one out, shortstop Brett Lilley drew a walk and stole second base. It looked like Lilley would be stranded after David Mills lined out to center, but Irish sophomore A.J. Pollock singled up the middle to drive home Lilley and tie the game at 1-1.

“That’s a big lift,” Dupra said. “You’re working your hardest to pretty much keep a lead and keep zeroes on the board, so when the team picks you up like that, it’s a big lift.”

Ball State scratched out another run in the next frame when Cardinals left fielder Nate Fields hit a sacrifice fly to drive in first baseman Matt Stoeklen for a 2-1 edge.

But Dupra kept the Cardinals at bay for the remainder of his outing to pick up the first win of his Irish career.

“I give [Dupra] a lot of credit for battling through it today,” Schrage said. “[Ball State has] a great hitting team and the wind [was] blowing out, and we didn’t give up any home runs… just a great job by him.”

The Irish offense had a big fourth inning to take the lead for good. Senior Tyler Pritchard replaced Cardinals starter Brenden Stines to begin the frame and Irish second baseman Jeremy Barnes greeted him by scorching a single to left field. Irish left fielder Ross Brezovsky and catcher Sean Gaston then reached on consecutive walks. Barnes scored when Boockford dribbled a grounder down the third base line for the first out of the inning. The next hitter, Greg Sherry, hit a long sacrifice fly to center field to push across Brezovsky and give Notre Dame a 3-2 advantage.

Sharpley, the reigning Big East player of the week, hit a solo home run with two outs in the fifth inning. He smacked his sixth homer of the season as his drive just cleared Fields’ outstretched glove and flew over the left field fence.

Boockford clobbered a solo shot of his own to lead off the sixth inning and give the Irish another insurance run. The right fielder hit a mammoth blast off the screen in left-centerfield for a 5-2 lead.

Boockford’s run and the one scored by Irish third baseman Mick Doyle later in the inning proved crucial as Irish right-hander Kyle Weiland ran into trouble in the ninth inning.

Weiland surrendered a pair of runs on three hits before closing out the Cardinals.

Schrage said he is happy with the play of his team’s defense, which did not commit an error.

“That’s the strength of our team right now, just playing good ‘D,'” Schrage said. “We tell our pitchers if we just let [other teams] hit it, we’ll make the plays.”

Barnes had two diving stops that prevented Ball State hits.

“There were a couple of great plays,” Dupra said. “Jeremy Barnes had some highlight-reel type things.”