Irish club the Crusaders

<P>Another beautiful night set in South Bend and the Irish baseball team clubbed 15 hits scoring 13 runs as the Irish beat Valparaiso 13-4. The Irish bats had a little extra pop tonight with Matt Edwards and Steve Andres taking pitches out the ballpark. Martin Vergara continued the streak of strong starting pitching throwing five innings and allowing only one earned run. Vergara allowed four hits, two walks and had six strikeouts to pick up the win. </P>

Notre Dame's offense got rolling in the bottom of the second. Javi Sanchez led off with a line drive double over the center fielder's head. Shortstop Matt Marci dropped a perfectly placed bunt to reach first with an infield single and freshman Steve Andres brought the whooping stick and crushed the Sean Peickert offering over the right field wall scoring Sanchez and Marci.

The Irish scored two more in the second with four straight singles by Craig Cooper, Steve Sollmann, Greg Lopez and Matt Edwards.

Notre Dame (18-6, 5-1 Big East Conference) picked up two runs in the bottom of the fourth led by a Craig Cooper triple to right center and Matt Edwards tattooing another Peickert pitch deep over the wall in center. Edwards is clearly swinging the bat well and is hammering the ball when he connects.

The hot bats didn't stop in the fifth as the Irish plated another five runs putting the game out of reach for the Crusaders. Sanchez led off reaching first after being hit by a pitch. Macri doubled down the third base line scoring Sanchez. Andres and Cooper singled and scored on a sharply hit Steve Sollmann triple to right center field.

Seven of the 15 Irish hits went for extra bases as the Irish clubbed three doubles, two triples and two homeruns.

Notre Dame ended their seven-game homestand with a 7-0 record and 3-0 in the Big East. The Irish hit .371 as a team while their opponents hit just .223. The team ERA over the last seven games is just 2.80 compared to the opponents ERA of 10.67.

Coach Paul Mainieri could not be happier with the results of the last seven games. "I'm about as happy with this team as I possibly could be at this time. I told the guys after the game that I really think we have gotten better in every faze of the game. I thought we started swinging the bats with more aggressiveness, attacking the ball, driving the ball. I thought our base running was good, I thought our defense was good and obviously our pitching has been good so I feel good where we are at.

Mainieri also knows that his team will be facing a tougher level of competition this weekend and he made sure his team knew that after the game. "I also told the guys that this coming weekend the level of competition is upgraded a big notch. Not only are the teams good but we're playing them on the road and they are Big East conference games. Our history of our program is that our Irish teams have always accepted those kind of challenges on the road and come through in the clutch and now that's what this team needs to show they can do in order to be talked about with some of the great teams that we've had the past few years."

The Irish haven't hit a homerun in the last 13 games but managed to muscle two out of the park tonight. The extra power and the emergence of Matt Macri as a hitter have Mainieri very optimistic. "I felt pretty confident we weren't going to go the whole year playing at home and not hit a homerun. I knew sooner or later we would hit one. Tonight Andres got into that one. I couldn't believe he took those first two strikes, I don't know what he was thinking. That probably should be our new hitting philosophy, take two strikes and then jack one out of the ballpark. And then Matt Edwards, he hit a no-doubter, he crushed that ball. I just have sensed that Matt Macri is really starting to come around these last few days. He is just looking more and more confident at the plate. Tonight I thought he hit the ball really hard and boy if he could really get it going that would be a big shot in the arm for our team."

The biggest challenge for Mainieri will be to get his freshmen to contribute against some of the best arms in the BIG EAST this weekend. Can they contribute this weekend? "I hope so, only time will tell," said Mainieri. "They obviously have a lot to prove when they are in there against the Big East pitchers. I feel really confident that they are going to be able to handle it. These kids are getting better; I don't care who we are facing. They've got 24 games under their belt. After you have been out there for a while, your confidence grows and they have the talent."

That talent reminds Mainieri of a freshman class five years ago. A freshman class that led Mainieri to the College World Series. "I felt going into the year, I was really excited about this freshmen group. This freshmen group really reminded me a lot of the freshmen group that started five years ago, Stanley, O'Toole, Bushey and those guys. I knew we were going to count on freshmen and these kids are getting better just like that group got better five years ago and you know how that group culminated with the trip to the World Series. You don't know what is going to happen in the future but I like what I am seeing out of these young kids".

Something has been brewing in the air at Eck Stadium lately. Something is definitely brewing and Mainieri senses it as well. I am sure that Mainieri would love to have four or five guys that can take the ball out of the ballpark 20 times a year but I am not sure that is Paul Mainieri baseball. I think he loves these scrappy, grind-it-out guys because he knows they will give him everything they have.

There is no arrogance in Mainieri, nor flash. I doubt you will see a "win one for the Gipper" speech out of him either. He is simply a Magna Cum Laude, Harvard graduate in the school of baseball who can communicate with his players. He is a nuts and bolts guy who can figure out how to put a square peg in a round hole.

Nothing is certain in regards to the future of this team but they are young, they are talented and they know how to win. They will face some stiff competition on the road at Boston College Friday and St. Johns on Sunday. We should know more about this team after this road trip.

Homestand Notes

Steve Sollmann continued with his hot bat going 3-for-4 with three RBI and 2 runs scored last night giving him a .553 average over the seven games and raising his overall average to .414. Sollmann also stole six bases and scored 16 runs.

Matt Edwards continues to knock the cover of the ball as he 2-for-2 with two RBI, a homerun and a run scored. For the series, Edwards had 14 RBI with three doubles and a homerun while hitting .435. He has raised his overall average to .356.

Matt Marci is starting to find his stroke hitting .417 in the homestand. He added a double and a triple amongst his 10 hits.

Freshmen Greg Lopez (.400 in homestand, double), Steve Andres (.417, triple, homerun), Brennan Grogan (.368, triple), Cody Rizzo (.350, two doubles, triple) and Craig Cooper (.300, triple) all hit the ball well during the homestand.

The Irish pitching staff recorded 70 strikeouts with only 24 walks.

Notre Dame plays a double-header on Friday against Boston College and then plays another double-header on Sunday against St. Johns. Irish Eyes will resume coverage from Eck Stadium Tuesday April 8th against Bowling Green. Top Stories