Irish Increase Win Streak to 10

The Notre Dame baseball team picked up their 10th consecutive win on Tuesday night with a victory over 20th-ranked Central Florida, 4-0. The Irish continued their string of solid pitching, defense and timely hitting in picking up another important victory over a ranked opponent

The Irish got rolling early in the bottom of the first. Leadoff hitter Matt Macri walked and was later knocked in when second baseman Steve Sollmann hit a double to right-center scoring Macri. Sollmann later stole third and was knocked in on a Javi Sanchez single up the middle to give the Irish the 2-0 lead.

Sollmann also scored in the sixth leading off the inning with a single. He advanced to third on a Matt Bransfield double down the left field line and later scored on a pass ball giving the Irish the 3-0 lead.

The Irish also picked up a run in the eighth, but only needed one run on Tuesday to seal the victory.

Freshman Jeff Samardzija (5-2) delivered another outstanding performance on the mound throwing seven innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just two hits and walking two to pick up his fifth victory on the season.

"They threw a lot of lefties at me--I think I had six or seven," said Samardzija after the game. "I had the splitter--it was a big pitch today. It was falling for me--it was working kind of nice, getting it over."

"I'm just happy I could pitch well for the team. I got the one big double play ball in the fifth I believe and that helped. We're just playing well and that gives you confidence to throw strikes."

Senior Joe Thaman pitched a scoreless eighth and closer Ryan Doherty pitched a perfect ninth to finish the game for the Irish and securing the shutout.

Irish Coach Paul Mainieri said he couldn't be more pleased with his pitching as of late after the game. "These last four starts have been outstanding for us," Mainieri said. "We really haven't knocked the cover off the ball. Our pitching and our defense has had to carry us along with some timely hits."

Credit has to be given to pitching coach Terry Rooney. The Irish pitchers are really hitting on all cylinders and Mainieri says Rooney has done an outstanding job with the staff. "I think it's unbelievable what Terry's done with these guys," said Mainieri. "To see how Jeff Samardzija has developed—to see how Grant Johnson has come along in his rehab, to see how Niesel has struggled and come back and Tom Thornton, the same thing, he struggled and has now come along, I think a lot of that goes to our pitching coach. Terry has done a phenomenal job with those guys."

"The guys have obviously thrown very well in the last four starts, but to be honest, I think our guys have pitched very well from a statistical standpoint the entire year," said Rooney. "They've had their struggles at times, but it's a long season. All of them have fought through whatever problems they've had, kept giving us solid starts and now they're throwing very well."

One important key has been the emergence of the old Grant Johnson. Johnson looks to be fully back to top form after sitting out 2003 with a shoulder injury. "Grant Johnson has been a big difference-maker the last three weeks—from a pitch-count standpoint and being able to throw his breaking balls," Rooney said. "That's been obvious with what he's done the last three weeks and has been a big boost for us. We're looking for big things from him down the stretch."

While the starting pitching has been outstanding, how far the Irish go in tournament play likely depend on the bullpen. "We said at the beginning, our go-to guys were going to be the key for us," said Rooney. "We knew we had a great closer and great starting pitching, we knew we needed to have two or three guys that could step up and do that for us.

"Obviously Dan Kapala, Joe Thaman and Jeff Samardzija have done that for us. Samardzija is our swing guy and can come out of the pen or start for us. What Joe and Dan do for us down the stretch will be an enormous key."

Another impressive stat for the Irish has been the defense. The Irish have committed just one error in the last six games. The return of Steve Sollmann has been felt just as much with his glove as it has at the plate. Sollmann has yet to commit an error, and by the way, he also ended his college career with a 4.0 in his last semester at Notre Dame.

"Doesn't surprise me at all," said Mainieri of Sollmann's ability to return from injury in top form. "He's the catalyst for this team. He just beats you in so many ways. In the first, the hit-and-run, he hits a ball in the gap and scored Macri from first--steals a base and then he scores. (He) makes a half a dozen plays in the midfield—anyone who's played infield knows how difficult those plays were to make. He just is one of the greatest players I've ever been around and he just lifts this team and I think that's shown when he came back."

The Irish will play another game against UCF on Wednesday night at Eck Stadium before closing their season with three-game BIG EAST series with Virginia Tech at home this weekend. Wednesday's starter had not been decided after Tuesday's game according to Mainieri.


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