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Baseball: Ten spot

Michael Bryan | Thursday, April 17, 2008

CHICAGO – After playing a level above their opponents over the past month, it was only fitting that the Irish extended their winning streak at a venue usually reserved for the next level – U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.

Notre Dame won their tenth straight game Wednesday, defeating Northern Illinois 5-4 Wednesday in a special matchup organized by Huskies coach Ed Mathey and Irish coach Dave Schrage, who spent four years coaching at Northern Illinois.

4,600 were in attendance at U.S. Cellular to see the Irish battle the Huskies, with proceeds from the game benefiting the Northern Illinois February 14 Scholarship Fund. The money raised will be used to establish scholarships in memory of the victims of the tragic shooting this year on Northern Illinois’ campus that injured 22 students and killed six.

Schrage said the game was especially emotional for him given his years coaching the Huskies and the events that occurred this February.

“It hit me hardest standing there at home plate with both teams,” Schrage said. “The moment of silence was very special. That’s when it really hit me that I’m glad we’re here doing this.”

The game got off to a rough start for the Irish and freshman starter Ryan Sharpley, who struggled with his control early. After Notre Dame went down its order in the top of the first, the Huskies loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the inning.

Northern Illinois designated hitter Jason Behm then laced a single up the middle to put the Huskies on the board 1-0. Sharpley managed to retire the next three hitters, but not before allowing another run to score on a sacrifice fly.

Northern Illinois lefty Matt Jernstad was effective early, holding the Irish scoreless through three innings and taking the 2-0 lead. Notre Dame broke through in the fourth, however, beginning with a double from junior second baseman Jeremy Barnes. Senior outfielder Ross Brezovsky followed with a deep double to the right field wall, but Barnes could only advance to third on the play. Senior catcher Sean Gaston blasted a single up the middle to drive home both runners and tie the game at two.

The Huskies were able to regain the lead in the bottom of the inning, using smart base-running to capitalize on Irish mistakes. NIU outfielder Danny Reed singled with one out, stole second, and advanced to third on a fielder’s choice. Reed then came home to score on a wild pitch by Sharpley to give the Huskies a one-run edge.

Notre Dame rallied back in the top of the fifth. Sophomore center fielder A.J. Pollock drove in senior shortstop Brett Lilley on a sac fly after Lilley had led off the inning with a double.

Barnes then decimated a two-out pitch over the right field wall, giving the Irish a 4-3 lead on a solo shot estimated at 368-feet.

“I wanted to go out there and stick with a good approach,” Barnes said. “I was lucky enough to hit [a home run] in a big league ballpark, it’s a dream come true.”

Freshman Evan Danieli relieved Sharpley in the bottom of the fifth, and like Sharpley, struggled to maintain his control. Danieli walked the first batter he faced and then hit two more Huskies batsmen to load the bases. Northern Illinois then tied the game at 4 on a sacrifice fly.

The score remained 4-4 until the top of the eighth, when Barnes led off with a deep fly to the warning track in right-center. Huskies center fielder Pat Minogue was able to make a long run under the ball but could not make the catch, allowing Barnes to advance all the way to third on the error. Barnes then came home to score the winning run on a Brezovsky groundout.

Sophomore reliever Stephen Mazur picked up the win, pitching scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh with two strikeouts. Senior pitcher Tony Langford pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and junior Kyle Weiland secured the win in the ninth to pick up his sixth save of the season.

Barnes led the Irish offensively, going 3-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored, including the winning run.

“It seems like a different guy steps up every night, tonight it was Barnes,” Schrage said. “It’s a sign of a good team when many players can lead the team each night.”

Weiland said the team’s winning streak provides motivation heading into every game.

“It’s definitely something we take pride in. Every time you hit the field, you know a target is on your back,” said Weiland.

The Irish will put their winning streak on the line again this weekend with a three-game series against Big East foe West Virginia in Morgantown.