Irish Split With Mountaineers

<P>The Notre Dame baseball team split a pair of games with BIG EAST rival West Virginia on Saturday. The Irish won the first seven-inning game riding the arm of starter <B>Chris Niesel</B> (7-1). Niesel threw a gem with a one-hit shutout and that hit came in the top of the seventh on a bunt single as the Irish won the game 1-0. The Mountaineer bats came alive in the second game pounding out 12 hits for the 7-5 Mountaineer win. </P>

The talk of the day was the pitching performance by sophomore Chris Niesel. Niesel took the mound with a bulldog attitude and dominated the BIG EAST leaders in batting average, home runs and RBI. Niesel allowed just one hit in the game and came equally as close to a perfect game as the Irish defense didn't have an error and Niesel issued just one walk for the game. Niesel also punched out nine Mountaineer batters while throwing only 101 pitches, 67 for strikes.

Niesel was upset about his no-hitter ending in the seventh but was happy to get the win. "I had all my pitches working and I was hitting my spots real well," said Niesel. "We knew this was going to be a dogfight today. Those guys have got good bats. I pitched real well and we scratched together a run and got the job done and that is all that counts in these BIG EAST games."

Niesel knew he would be facing an excellent hitting team but he knew he had a job to do. "I don't really think about statistics too much," Niesel said. "I just go out there and I think in the big games I like to perform better. I'm at my best when there's more pressure on me."

The Plantation, FL native knew he had a no-hitter going into the seventh but tried not to think about it. "You try not to think about it because that's when you lose it. I think going into the last inning it's in your head you can't deny that. When you get that first out then you get some confidence and then a guy lays down the bunt, it was close but you just got live with that."

Niesel thought he had the runner out on the bunt but also knew the circumstances of the game. "I was thinking easy out. Then I guess I kind of took a long time. I didn't want to throw the ball away because it was only a one-nothing game. If I throw the ball away there's a runner on second with one out."

While Niesel was happy to get the win and pitch so well for his team, he was a little upset about the Mountaineers bunting in the last inning of his no-hit bid. "It's kind of one of those unwritten rules in baseball. I think it's more prominent in the major leagues, I would say yes," said Niesel when asked if he was upset that the Mountaineers bunted in the seventh.

Coach Paul Mainieri was thrilled with the pitching performance of Niesel. "Thank goodness he pitched like that otherwise it would've been a long day," said Mainieri. "He pitched so outstanding and was in total command out there. I thought we were going to witness our first no-hitter, I really did. He had such great command. We were just glad to get the victory and sometimes you need those kind of pitched games to get the win. He gave it to us today."

The Irish only managed one run in the game on four total hits. Matt Macri (2-for-3) scored the lone run the Irish would need to get the victory.

Starter John Axford (9-1) took the mound in the second game and struggled with his control lasting only three innings allowing five hits and three earned runs. "I just thought if we wanted to stay in the game that I needed to get a new pitcher in there," said Mainieri on pulling Axford so early.

Axford struggled and Mainieri knew he wasn't having one of his better days. "He was just struggling with his control. It wasn't the walks, he just kept falling behind hitters and they were hitting him. He was just trying to lay a fastball in there to get a strike and I just felt we needed to make a change."

Senior Matt Laird entered the game in relief and pitched well at times but also gave up four hits and four earned runs in four innings pitched while also surrendering the only home run on the day. The Irish pitchers allowed 12 hits and seven earned runs in an uncharacteristic performance by the Irish pitching staff.

The Irish had their chances to steal the game but hit into three inning-ending double plays. The Irish chipped away at the lead scoring one in the eighth and one in the ninth and left runners on first and second in the ninth as Matt Macri struck out swinging to give the Mountaineers the 7-5 victory.

The Irish (36-11, 14-3 BIG EAST) play the final game of the three-game series today at Eck Stadium. Mainieri knows this game is critical and is hoping his team can get the extra hits they will need to win the game. "They just have to keep competing. You can only play to the best of your ability and I'm sure the kids are up there trying the best they can. All we've got to do is to keep battling as hard as we can. We're still in position for something good to happen this year. Tomorrow we will be going against a good pitcher and we just need to be ready to battle him tomorrow and hopefully we'll get a few more hits."

The final game will be important for the Irish as West Virginia (30-14, 13-4 BIG EAST) is in third place in the BIG EAST and can move into a three-way tie with Notre Dame and Rutgers (25-15, 14-4 BIG EAST) with a victory on Sunday.

Senior Ryan Kalita (5-0) will start the game for the Irish as Notre Dame tries to stay atop the BIG EAST standings.


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