Irish Split with Pitt

<P>The Notre Dame baseball team took the field on Thursday trying to get back on track after having their 17-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday against Eastern Michigan. The Irish resumed BIG EAST play under gray skies and high wind with a double-header against Pittsburgh (27-12). The Irish split the series winning the first game 5-2 and losing the second game 5-3 to Pittsburgh. </P>

The Irish (27-8) won the first game behind the strong pitching and complete game by Chris Niesel (5-1). Niesel pitched seven innings scattering eight hits while only allowing two earned runs and issuing zero walks.

Once again, the Irish bats got going in the bottom of the second. Kris Billmaier led off the inning with a walk. Freshman Cody Rizzo advanced Billmaier to third on a nice piece of hitting successfully executing a hit-and-run with a single to left field. Shortstop Matt Marci then slapped a double scoring Billmaier and moving Rizzo to third. Designated hitter Steve Andres then sacrificed hitting into a fielder's choice scoring Rizzo. Third baseman Greg Lopez then lined a pitch to left center scoring Marci giving the Irish the 3-0 lead.

The Panthers fought back in the top of the third fueled by three straight singles by Mike Scanzano, Bryan Spamer and Tom Cashman but the two runs scored were the only runs allowed in the first game.

The Irish scored one in the fourth fueled by a leadoff double by Matt Macri and one more in the sixth also fueled by a leadoff double by Cody Rizzo giving the Irish 5 runs for the game.

Niesel showed his toughness in the top of the sixth. Niesel got into trouble giving up two leadoff singles leaving runners on first and second with zero outs but Niesel struck out the next two batters he faced and forced Scott Folmar to pop up to second baseman Steve Sollmann to end the threat.

In the second game, the Irish bats were nowhere to be found. The Irish managed just four hits in the second game and everything they hit hard seemed to get caught up in the air. "I think today the wind was a factor," said coach Paul Mainieri. "There were a few balls we hit pretty good into the teeth of the wind but I think more of our problem offensively is we're just not taking what the pitchers are giving us. We're trying to drive the ball too much. Everyone is trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark and that is why we are hitting so many fly balls and easy outs. You look at the team we played today. They just take the ball to the opposite field and they were pesky as can be. They were a very difficult team to strike out because of that. I think we could learn a lesson from the kids we played against today to be honest with you."

Freshman Tom Thornton started the game and pitched 5 innings allowing nine hits and three earned runs to receive the loss. Normally that kind of day would be good enough to get the win but the Irish hitters just couldn't find the holes on Thursday.

Mainieri said his team has some work to do before they play another double-header Saturday against BIG EAST opponent Seton Hall. "Their swings mechanically are not sound swings to be the kind of hitters we need to be," said Mainieri of his Irish hitters. "Everybody goes through these kinds of things during the year. We've just got to get back to work tomorrow and work on it again. Just try to get it straightened out a little bit. The important thing is to try to keep their confidence at this point."

The Irish face Seton Hall on Saturday for a double-header beginning at 12:05 PM CST. Mainieri is confident his team will be ready. "We've got two good pitchers pitching for us in (John) Axford and (Ryan) Kalita. They'll be tough ballgames, no question. Seton Hall will come after us with their best and we've got two good guys going so hopefully our guys will pitch better than theirs. In every game it comes down to the same thing. Getting the runners on and executing something and driving the runners home and then pitching and playing defense. We're at home, it's our ballpark, we play well here usually and we just need to get back on track on Saturday."

The Irish will try to get back on track with two of their best pitchers on the mound Saturday. Axford is 7-0 this season with a 2.20 E.R.A. Kalita is 4-0 with a 3.89 E.R.A. The Irish seem to be in a little slump offensively. Don't expect that to continue as they are still hitting the ball well, just right at someone. Top Stories