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Baseball: Hitting their stride

Michael Bryan | Thursday, March 19, 2009

Notre Dame won its fifth straight and the ninth game in its last 11 Wednesday, routing Valparaiso 10-4 at Frank Eck Stadium.

Freshman southpaw Steve Sabatino received a no-decision but had a solid start for the Irish (12-5), giving up two runs over 5 1-3 innings. Sabatino struck out four and held the Crusaders (5-10) scoreless until the sixth inning.

Freshman reliever Ryan Richter picked up the first win of his career after pitching two innings and giving up no earned runs.

The Irish struck first in the bottom of the opening frame, scoring two quick runs off of Valparaiso freshman Tyler Deetjen. After consecutive singles by junior outfielders David Mills and A.J. Pollock, junior first baseman Casey Martin opened the scoring with an RBI single.

Senior shortstop Jeremy Barnes then ripped an RBI double into the left-center gap, plating Pollock and giving Notre Dame an early 2-0 lead.

Sophomore third baseman Greg Sherry said Notre Dame’s situational hitting was a big advantage.

“We work on situational hitting all the time in practice,” Sherry said. “That’s the great part about our lineup, everyone top to bottom just wants to get the job done, whether it’s a bunt, sacrifice fly, or getting the big hit.”

Sabatino dominated the Crusaders early, giving up just two hits in the first five innings. He faced brief struggles with his control, walking three, but he stymied the Crusader lineup when finding the strike zone with an effective fastball.

Notre Dame continued their success at the plate against Deetjen after the first inning but was unable to capitalize with any runs until the fifth inning. The Irish stranded two runners on base in both the second and third innings, and sophomore outfielder Golden Tate was thrown out at home to end the fourth.

Pollock manufactured a run on his own in the fifth inning, stealing second and third base after walking to lead off the inning. The junior came around to score on a Martin groundout to extend the Notre Dame lead.

Notre Dame had a field day on the basepaths, notching a season-high five stolen bases in the game.

“We really as a team emphasize being aggressive on the base paths and work on our baserunning all year,” Sherry said.

Valparaiso finally reached Sabatino in the top of the sixth, beginning the inning with a strikeout but advancing to first after the pitch got by sophomore catcher Matt Scioscia. After outfielder Kyle Gaedele followed with a double down the left field line, designated hitter Josh Wallace put Valparaiso on the board with a sacrifice fly.

Freshman reliever Ryan Richter came on in relief of Sabatino, and had a difficult time finding the plate early. Richter walked the first two Valparaiso hitters he faced, and Martin misplayed a groundball down the first base line, allowing two Crusaders to score.

Richter escaped the inning with a 6-4-3 double play, but the damage was done with the score tied at three.

The Irish quickly responded in the bottom half of the inning, loading the bases with none out on three straight singles by Scioscia, Sherry, and Tate. One run came in to score on a passed ball by Crusaders catcher Billy Cribbs, and Pollock plated Sherry on a sacrifice fly to center field.

Two more runs came into score as Jeremy Barnes drove in one with an infield single and senior Ryan Connolly contributed a sacrifice fly, extending the lead to 7-3.

Notre Dame added an insurance run in the seventh on a Mills sacrifice fly, the third for the Irish in the game.

Barnes led the Irish offensively with three hits and two RBIs, and Martin also had two RBIs on one hit. Mills and sophomore Cameron McConnell, who came on in relief of Scioscia, contributed two hits apiece.

The Irish will open Big East play Friday against Seton Hall, with the first pitch scheduled for 5:05 p.m.

“We’re definitely confident going into conference play,” Sherry said. “We started off really hot in conference play last year and are looking to do the same thing this year.”