Irish Improve to 18-3 with win over Broncos

The Notre Dame baseball team improved their record to 18-3 on the season with a 12-3 victory over Western Michigan on Wednesday. Irish hitters pounded out 17 hits and three homeruns while three freshmen Irish pitchers held the Broncos to just seven total hits and two earned runs.

The Irish got the bats going in the second inning scoring four runs on singles by designated hitter Matt Bransfield, third basemen Matt Macri and centerfielder Danny Dressman. Irish captain Steve Sollmann also continued with his hot bat adding a double and picking up an RBI.

The Irish scored another run in the third as Irish first baseman Matt Edwards led off the inning with his fifth homerun of the season.

The Broncos made a charge in the top of the fourth with the Irish up 5-1. Bronco third basemen Mark Abro led off the inning with a single and then shortstop Adam Rosales homered narrowing the lead, 5-3.

The Irish came storming back as Lopez led off the bottom of the fourth with a single and would later score on a Sollmann bunt single. Danny Dressman also singled and scored on a fielder's choice giving the Irish the 7-3 lead.

Sollmann led off the sixth with his third hit on the night followed by a Steve Andres single advancing Sollmann to third. Matt Edwards picked up his third RBI of the evening with a sacrifice fly knocking in Sollmann. Andres later scored when catcher Javi Sanchez reached on an error. Cody Rizzo also singled and scored in the inning giving the Irish the 11-3 lead.

The Irish picked up their final run of the game when sophomore Craig Cooper sent a pitch over the right field wall for the first homerun of his career.

The Irish were led by Sollmann (3-for-5, RBI, R), Dressman (2-for-4, RBI, 2R), Bransfield (3-for-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2R), Edwards (1-for-4, HR, 3RBI) and Matt Macri (3-for-3, R) at the plate.

The Irish also enjoyed some outstanding pitching from three freshmen pitchers. Jess Stewart started the game and logged four solid innings. He surrendered five hits and two earned runs, but pitched pretty well. Lefty Mike Dury then pitched three outstanding innings of relief. He retired all nine hitters he faced without allowing a hit to earn his first Irish win. Dan Kapala also impressed while pitching the final two innings of scoreless relief.

"I thought today was one of our better games," said Irish coach Paul Mainieri. "I was really happy. I met with our hitters yesterday in practice and I really challenged them. Here we are 17-3 and we've got a coach who's not satisfied. They must've thought I was crazy. I knew we were better than we've been playing the last seven or so games."

The good news for the Irish is senior Steve Sollmann is finding his stroke after a rough start. Sollmann got hot last weekend going 5-for-11 with a homerun, a triple and 3 RBI. He continued on his hot streak today with his 3-for-5 performance.

Mainieri told the media last week that he'd be hitting .340 in a few weeks—it appears he was right. "I probably underestimated him. It's not going to take him three weeks to get back to .340. I knew that even though he wasn't getting a lot of hits in the first four or five weeks of the season that he wasn't that far off. He was hitting balls hard at people. He was just missing some pitches. He's worked really hard the last couple of weeks. I think he's locked in now. I think he's going to play this way the rest of the season and he's going to lead our team."

"You go through ups and downs in baseball," said Sollmann of his early slump. "One thing you've got to do is just try to keep your confidence. I'm seeing the ball better. I'm keeping things simple. I'm not thinking too much at the plate. I'm starting to hit the ball hard—hopefully it will continue."

Sollmann might've been struggling at the plate, but his defense has been outstanding. He has yet to commit an error in 20 games played so far this season. "That's the only thing I can do is just do whatever it takes to help this team. If I'm not swinging the bat well one day, I've got to make plays in the field, and do anything I can to get on base. Playing defense has definitely helped me out—it's kept me in all the games."

Another good sign today was the way first basemen Matt Edwards was swinging the bat. Edwards only had the homerun, but knocked in three and hit everything hard today. Mainieri was very glad to see that. "Today in batting practice he really attacked the ball and it carried right over into the game. We need Matt Edwards to be our big bopper in the middle of the order. If he gives us that presence in the middle of the order, we're going to have a good offensive team, it's that simple."

If the Irish are going to make a run at the BIG EAST Championship they are going to need Grant Johnson as a starter in the rotation. Mainieri said Johnson is getting close and hasn't had his whole arsenal of pitches so far this season. "He has not even thrown breaking balls yet," said Mainieri of Johnson. "Tomorrow will be his first day where he's actually throwing breaking balls. When you think about it, he's done pretty well considering he's been a one-pitch pitcher, basically. And, the other team can figure that out pretty quickly. Tomorrow, hopefully it will go well, and then the next time he pitches he'll be able to use all three pitches."

The Irish will be back in action on Thursday with a game against Hillsdale College at 5:05 PM at Eck Stadium. The game replaces an earlier rainout against Illinois. Freshman Chris Vasami will start the game for the Irish and fans should expect a lot of reserve players to get some action on Wednesday. The Irish will then host a three-game series this weekend against Villanova (17-5, 3-0 in BIG EAST play) with the first game beginning at 12:05 PM on Saturday. Top Stories