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Baseball: Rockets grounded

Michael Bryan | Thursday, April 2, 2009

After losing five of their last seven, the Irish may have started turning things around Wednesday, defeating Toledo 11-7 at Frank Eck Stadium.

The Rockets gave Irish right-hander Todd Miller a rough welcome in his first career start, touching up the sophomore for three runs in the top of the first. Toledo left fielder Joe Corfman led off the game with a long home run over the left field fence, and two batters later cleanup hitter Jared Hoying added a two-run bomb to right field.

“Just in batting practice, you could tell with the wind that the ball would really carry today,” designated hitter David Casey said.

Notre Dame got two back in the bottom of the frame, starting with Casey scoring junior outfielder David Mills on an RBI single. Senior shortstop Jeremy Barnes then drove home junior outfielder A.J. Pollock, who had reached on a single.

Miller’s first career start was a short one, as lefty Sam Elam came on in relief in the third, and struggled initially with his control. The senior gave up one run on two walks and a wild pitch, but calmed down to end the inning on a strikeout and a fly to Pollock in center.

Notre Dame gained the lead in the bottom of the third, tagging Toledo starter Dan Gatins for three runs. The Irish made Gatins pay for two walks to open the inning, scoring left fielder Golden Tate on a Casey grounder. Barnes then blasted a 3-0 pitch out of the park, scoring Casey and giving the home team a 5-4 lead.

Toledo continued the see-saw battle in the fourth, putting together two runs on a hit, a walk, a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly to take a 6-5 lead. The Irish promptly tied the game in the bottom of the inning, with Pollock singling home Tate with one out.

The Irish struck again in the fifth, with two runs scoring on a strange hit off the bat of Mills. With the bases loaded, Mills hit a high chopper that Rockets first baseman Jim Vahalik lost in the sun, and Notre Dame took an 8-6 lead.

Freshman southpaw Ryan Richter held the Rockets scoreless in his first two innings of relief, but Toledo finally reached him in the seventh, scoring one run. Richter notched a key strikeout with a man on third to keep Notre Dame up 8-7.

Three insurance runs were tacked on by the Irish in the seventh, with the Casey’s third hit of the game driving in two.

“I just tried to be patient at the plate, they were throwing me a lot of off-speed stuff,” Casey said.

Casey led the Irish offense in the game with four RBI on three hits. Barnes tallied three RBI, and Mills had two hits and two RBI. Richter (3-0) picked up the win for Notre Dame, striking out four and allowing one run in four innings of relief.

“He’s pitched great all season,” Casey said of Richter. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that out of a freshman.”

The Irish will next take the field at home Friday at 5:05 p.m., taking on conference foe Villanova in the first of a three game set.