Irish Pitching Outstanding in Doubleheader Sweep

The Notre Dame baseball team picked up a pair of important wins against rival Rutgers on Saturday. The Irish enjoyed two outstanding pitching performances from juniors Grant Johnson (4-0) and Chris Niesel (7-2) to improve their record to 41-9 on the season, and jump in the first place in the BIG EAST with a 17-5 record.

In the first game, the story was the brilliant pitching of Grant Johnson. Johnson threw seven innings of scoreless baseball to pick up his fourth win of the season. He allowed just four hits and issued just one walk while striking out three Rutgers hitters.

Johnson ended every Rutgers threat with mainly his dominating fastball and sure determination.

The Irish picked up their lone and winning run in the bottom of the third. Sophomore Cody Rizzo reached after being hit by a pitch. Rizzo then advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Greg Lopez. Junior Matt Macri then picked up the winning RBI with a double down left field line scoring Rizzo.

The second game also featured some outstanding pitching by Chris Niesel. Niesel also threw seven impressive innings, allowing just one run. Niesel scattered eight hits and logged nine strikeouts while issuing just one walk on the day.

The Irish got their bats going in the second game logging 12 hits and five for extra bases scoring seven runs.

Notre Dame picked up their first run of the game in the first inning. Matt Macri led off the day with a single. He advanced to second on a fielder's choice and was later knocked in on a Matt Bransfield single down the left field line to give the Irish the 1-0 lead.

Rutgers would later tie the game in the top of the second. Rich Canuso led off the inning with a double and was later knocked in when catcher Colin Graner singled to tie the game, 1-1, and giving Rutgers their only run on the day.

Craig Cooper started off the bottom of the second with a rocket double down the left field line and was later knocked in when Greg Lopez singled to give the Irish the 2-1 lead.

Another run was plated in the third when Matt Bransfield was issued a walk. He later scored on a Steve Andres triple down the right field line.

Andres picked up two more RBI in the bottom of the fifth with a towering home run hit over the right field wall to give the Irish the 6-1 lead.

The Irish also played some outstanding defense on the day with just one error in both games.

"We won two enormous ballgames," said Irish Coach Paul Mainieri on his team's performance on the day. "To sweep a doubleheader from Rutgers is an unbelievable accomplishment, trust me. We played great in every facet. We got some hits, we played tremendous defense and we ran the bases extremely well. Most importantly, probably, was the performance of Johnson and Niesel. When those two guys pitch that way, it's going to make us tough to beat down the stretch.

"Grant Johnson was fantastic. If anybody pitches better than that in the country I'd like to see it. And, Niesel I thought pitched very courageously today. He pitched out of a couple of jams and really did a tremendous job."

A critical point of the second game happened in the top of the third. Rutgers led of the third with two straight hits giving them runners on first and second with no outs. Niesel then struck out the two, three and four-hole hitters to end the threat and secure Irish 2-1 lead.

"I thought that was the turning point in the game," said Mainieri of Niesel battling out of the inning. "Their middle of their order is really tough. Frazier and Canuso are really outstanding. They've got some real threats in that lineup."

Mainieri walked out and talked with Niesel right before he recorded three strikeouts to end the inning. "I can't tell you what I told him," said Mainieri laughingly. "I don't think you can print what I told him. I told him he needed to make some really good pitches at that time."

"I'm known as a pitcher that likes to pitch in high-pressure situations," said Niesel of his performance. "Today was a big game. I rose to the occasion, my team played a great game and we got the job done."

Niesel also thought the top of the third was a critical point in the game for him. "I knew that was going to be a pivotal point in the game," he said. "It was early in the game, if they get a few more hits there, they could get a lead on us and I didn't want that to happen. I knew I had to step up there, take care of business and get the heart of the order out."

The Irish return to Eck stadium tonight at 7 PM to try to record the rare three-game sweep of Rutgers. Sophomore Tom Thornton will be on the mound for the Irish as they try to remain on top of the BIG EAST standings heading into their final weekend of BIG EAST play next weekend against Virginia Tech.


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