Irish Sweep 20th-ranked Central Florida

The Notre Dame baseball team picked up their 11th straight win on Wednesday with a 3-2 victory over Central Florida. The Irish had another strong showing on the mound and scratched together enough runs to outlast the Knights to take the two-game sweep over the 20th-ranked team in the country.

The Irish got things going early in the bottom of the first when Matt Macri led off the inning with a double to left-center. He later advanced to third on a fly ball to right, and scored on a Matt Bransfield RBI sacrifice fly to give the Irish the early 1-0 lead.

Notre Dame added their final two runs in the third when shortstop Greg Lopez led off the inning with a walk. Lopez advanced to second when second baseman Steve Sollmann also walked. Lopez then scored on a Matt Bransfield single through the hole at short, and Sollmann later scored on a Javi Sanchez groundout giving the Irish the 3-0 lead.

The Irish started freshman walk-on Rico Bertucci on the mound. Bertucci pitched two innings of scoreless baseball before freshman Jess Stewart entered the game in relief. Stewart (6-1) then pitched five impressive innings of relief to earn his sixth victory of the season. Bertucci and Stewart combined for seven innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just three hits and one walk.

Freshman Dan Kapala pitched the eighth and worked himself out of a jam after allowing the first two hitters he faced to get aboard. Kapala got first baseman Ryan Bono to fly out to left to end the Knights' threat, securing the 3-0 lead.

Irish closer Ryan Doherty then pitched the ninth and the game got interesting. Doherty allowed two straight singles and walked the next batter he faced giving the Knights the bases loaded with no outs. Doherty fought back forcing two straight fly-outs, but Knight centerfielder Clay Timpner singled through the hole at short scoring two runs to narrow the lead, 3-2.

The Irish got out of the jam when Knight second baseman Matt Ray bounced a ball to Irish second baseman Steve Sollmann. Sollmann committed his first error of the season by bobbling the ball, but, he had the frame of mind to see pinch-runner David Mann leaning too far off third base on the play.

Sollmann rifled the ball over to Matt Macri at third, who chased Mann to home plate. Macri lobbed the ball to catcher Javi Sanchez who then applied the tag to end the game.

"We work on a play that we call a slow two—which is a slow-developing double play with runners on first and second," said Irish coach Paul Mainieri of the final play of the game. "We do it every day in infield. As soon as Sollmann dropped that ball, the whole infield started yelling ‘slow two, slow two.' It's the second time it's worked this year. It worked against Florida Atlantic on a double-play ball that was too slow-developing. I'm sure Sollmann kicked that ball on purpose," Mainieri joked.

Mainieri also joked about the end of Sollmann's errorless streak. "You'd have to ask him that," said Mainieri when asked if he thought Sollmann was thinking about his errorless streak on the play. "He doesn't have to worry about that any more."

Mainieri was obviously thrilled to walk away with two victories over a very good Florida Atlantic team. "Two great games between two N.C.A.A teams," Mainieri said after the game. "I think they were tremendously pitched games, and for the most part, great defense. There wasn't a lot of hitting. Probably the only difference between the two teams is we probably took a little more advantage of our opportunities then they did."

"I thought Jess Stewart was really the key to the game," he said. "Bertucci gave us a great start. Kapala gave us an inning and Doherty got it done at the end when he needed to, but the key to the game was Jess Stewart with the five shutout innings."

Doherty struggled in the ninth, but he has pitched a lot recently. He pitched the final inning on Sunday against Rutgers and also pitched the final inning Tuesday night before pitching the ninth on Wednesday. "The only negative for me was that Ryan Doherty had to throw 36 pitches in that last inning," said Mainieri. "I just hope he'll be fine for Friday night. Knowing him, he'll want the ball again."

The Irish have now won 11 straight and will face Virginia Tech this weekend for their final games of the regular season. Grant Johnson will start the first game on Friday at Eck Stadium. Chris Niesel will pitch the second on Saturday, followed by Tom Thornton on the mound on Sunday for the Irish.

The Hokies (28-25, 10-13 in BIG EAST play) have lost seven of their last 10 games, including being swept last weekend at Boston College.

A win on Friday will assure the Irish at least a share in the BIG EAST regular-season championship. Two wins over the weekend will assure the championship and first seed in the BIG EAST Tournament. The Irish can also capture the championship with the help from other BIG EAST teams. Top Stories