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Baseball: Irish offense struggles again

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, April 27, 2011

After showing signs of life earlier this month in a pair of one-run losses to Pittsburgh and a 14-4 win over Connecticut, Notre Dame’s offense appeared to be headed in the right direction. A 15-strikeout performance against St. John’s last Thursday brought the offense back to square one.

Red Storm right-hander Kyle Hansen tossed a complete game shutout in a 6-0 victory in the first game of the doubleheader, retiring 16 of the last 17 Notre Dame hitters.

“He certainly dominated us,” Irish coach Mik Aoki said. “I’ve seen some good pitching performances throughout my years of coaching and playing, but certainly that was really, really good. I don’t think that we did a very good job of adjusting to what he was doing and I don’t think that we handled things very well.”

Hansen, the younger brother of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Craig Hansen, improved to 6-3 on the year. Aoki said the sophomore hurler featured an excellent fastball, but dominated the Irish with the use of his slider, a devastating pitch on the right-handed heavy Irish lineup.

Nevertheless, the Irish skipper said Notre Dame (14-20-1, 5-9 Big East) helped Hansen by producing noncompetitive at-bats. Notre Dame’s .235 team batting average is the lowest in the conference, as a number of senior hitters have struggled to find their rhythm.

Aoki remains confident hitters such as senior infielders Greg Sherry and Mick Doyle will find their stride before the season ends.

“With regard to Greg, I think he went through a stretch where I thought he was swinging the bat really well, and just wasn’t getting rewarded with hits,” Aoki said. “He was hitting some balls hard and they were just right at people. [Mick] has swung the bat a little bit better recently.”

St. John’s (21-13, 10-4) picked up a 4-1 victory in the nightcap of the doubleheader, despite an Irish rally in the top of the ninth inning. After the Irish loaded the bases with two outs, freshman pinch hitter Chris Reinhart struck out looking to end the game.

Senior right-hander Cole Johnson picked up the loss after tossing five innings and allowing four earned runs on eight hits. Notre Dame has averaged just two runs of offense per game in Johnson’s last nine starts.

“Cole has done a really good job and I thought he did an excellent job on Thursday,” Aoki said. “We cost [him] probably, a conservative estimate, 25 pitches by not being able to do a good job of communicating and going after fly jobs. We handled it really, really poorly. I thought he did an exceptional job of pitching through that.”

Due to Saturday’s rainout, senior right-hander Todd Miller will take the hill Wednesday as the Irish take on Butler (15-19, 4-8 Horizon) in a midweek nonconference matchup. Aoki said Miller will be on a strict pitch count and expects several pitchers to throw, including sophomore Adam Norton and freshman Anthony McIver.

“It’s one of those things, certainly with the way our offense has struggled this year, it doesn’t matter who it is [we play],” Aoki said. “It’s going to be something where we have to come out and pitch it really well, defend it really well and play really well.”

Notre Dame takes the field Wednesday at 5:35 p.m. at Frank Eck Stadium.