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Baseball: Irish welcome Bearcats for three-game series

Michael Bryan | Friday, April 23, 2010

Back in the Big East conversation after a three-game sweep of Seton Hall last weekend, the Irish are looking to continue their climb up the conference standings, hosting Cincinnati this weekend.

Notre Dame (15-21, 5-7 Big East) finally put the pieces together in New Jersey, winning their first conference series in sweeping the Pirates and moving up to seventh in the Big East. Despite losing two games to rival Michigan this week, the Irish are focused on conference competition heading into the three-game set.

“We have been focusing on the conference race to be honest with you,” Irish coach Dave Schrage said following a 13-1 loss to the Wolverines on Wednesday. “Last weekend we were totally focused on getting back in the race.”

The Bearcats (18-17, 4-8) should give Notre Dame another opportunity to climb back into the Big East race after a 2-7 start. Cincinnati comes to South Bend on a three-game losing streak, and is giving up over six runs per game on the season.

The Bearcat rotation has struggled throughout the year, with all three main starters posting ERAs over 7.05.

The Cincinnati offense has fared much better, with senior Mike Spina leading the way. Spina is batting .342 this year with 23 home runs and 69 RBIs. The Bearcats as a team have hit 72 homers, compared to just 22 for Notre Dame.

One focus for the Irish staff will be finishing innings, as all 13 runs in Wednesday’s loss to Michigan came with two outs. The offense failed to plate a run until the ninth inning, and grounded into inning-ending double plays in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

A significant streak was also broken in the loss, as senior outfielder Ryan Connolly went 0-for-3 on the night and snapped 47-game streak of reaching base. The run was the second-longest streak in the NCAA before Wednesday.

Despite the losses to Michigan this week, the Irish are regrouping quickly and preparing for the Big East tournament.

“That is all we have to play for right now,” Schrage said. “It definitely can happen.”

First pitch today from Frank Eck Stadium will be at 6:05 p.m., with the final two games of the series at 6:05 p.m. Saturday and 1:05 p.m. Sunday.