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Baseball: ND tops Central Michigan

Matt Gamber | Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A three-run seventh inning, capped by junior center fielder A.J. Pollock’s two-run blast to left, turned a one-run deficit into an Irish lead as the hosts piled on late to beat Central Michigan, 14-8, on Tuesday afternoon.

Notre Dame (14-7, 1-2 Big East) snapped its first two-game skid of the year by scoring at least two runs in each of its last three at-bats. Pollock’s four hits, two stolen bases, three runs and three RBIs paced an Irish attack that ripped 20 hits against the Chippewas (9-13).

“A.J.’s such a versatile player,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said. “He’s just such a talented player, and what can you say – he showed all his tools today at the plate.”

He did it in a big situation, with the Notre Dame offense struggling to overcome a 7-6 deficit. But Pollock’s blast turned the tide for the Irish, who would score one more in the seventh and five in the eighth to turn a tight game into a rout.

Freshman lefthander Ryan Richter (2-0) tossed three shutout innings in relief for the victory, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out four.

“Our whole focus tonight was to play nine innings hard,” Schrage said. “This team needs to establish an identity, and we want the identity of playing all 27 [outs] hard and laying it all out on the field, and we didn’t do that on Sunday. That was disappointing, but tonight it was not disappointing.”

After a rough start, Central Michigan starter Trent Howard kept the Irish offense at bay through the middle innings, and Notre Dame trailed 7-4 until chasing Howard in the bottom of the sixth.

Sophomore third baseman Greg Sherry made it 7-5 with an RBI single that plated senior shortstop Jeremy Barnes, who had reached on an error. After sophomore catcher Cameron McConnell’s single, freshman second baseman Tommy Chase ripped his first career hit past first base to score Sherry and make it 7-6. But sophomore left fielder Golden Tate would ground into an inning-ending twin killing to end the threat.

After Richter got out of trouble in the top of the seventh, Notre Dame took advantage of a leadoff error in its half that put junior right fielder David Mills on second base. Pollock wasted no time in turning the score around, blasting a no-doubter over the left-field fence off reliever Jesse Hernandez, who took the loss.

Notre Dame continued with four straight singles, and though one runner was gunned down at the plate, the Irish scored once more on a McConnell groundout to grab a 9-7 lead.

Pollock drove in another run in the eighth with a single, and after Barnes’ sacrifice fly, Sherry cleared the bases with a single up the middle that went under the glove of the Chippewas’ center fielder. That gave the Irish a 14-7 lead, and Central Michigan would add just one on a solo home run by Scott Phillion in the ninth.

“We had to come back from the Seton Hall series,” Pollock said. “Just picking up wins – every win is a win, so it helps. Hopefully we’ll win tomorrow and get some momentum going for Pittsburgh [this weekend].”

The Irish started quickly, scoring three runs in their half of the first without hitting the ball particularly hard.

Tate led off with an infield single, and after a four-pitch walk to Mills, Pollock blooped a single to right to load the bases. Freshman designated hitter Mike Scioscia guided a bouncer right through the middle of the infield, scoring two before a double-play groundout scored Pollock.

Notre Dame allowed Seton Hall to score 19 two-out runs in a three-game series over the weekend, and Central Michigan struck right back in the second with six two-out runs, all after a throwing error by Sherry extended the inning.

Freshman starter Dustin Ipsas, who lasted just two innings, allowed three straight hits before retiring the side.

“It was a repeat of Sunday,” Schrage said. “In the dugout we were like, boy, this is just a repeat. We need pitchers to either close the door and make a pitch, or we’ve got to make a play behind them.”

Notre Dame cut the deficit to 6-4 in the bottom of the second, when back-to-back singles from Tate and Mills plated Chase, who reached after being hit by a pitch.

Senior lefthander Sam Elam came on for Ipsas in the third and threw three innings of one-run ball to keep the Irish in it.

Elam, who didn’t appear in a game last year, allowed just two infield hits while striking out five and showcasing a low-90s fastball and an impressive curve.

“We’ve been waiting for a day like this for him,” Pollock said. “He’s got great stuff, he’s worked hard every day, and it’s great to see him come out here and actually see some results. He’s got a lot of confidence now after today, so if we get him going, it’s going to be pretty scary I think.”

Elam, who was once projected by Baseball America as the Big East’s top Major League draft prospect for his live arm, could work his way back into the mix if he can continue to improve his command.

“Mentally, to be able to fight through that and come back like he did is a real credit to him,” Schrage said. “I couldn’t be happier for him and hopefully he keeps building from there.”