Mission unaccomplished. In addition to Notre Dame pounding out a double digit hit total for the ninth straight contest, Oakland set a new opponent record for errors (eight) as the Irish annihilated the Golden Grizzlies 15-1. Oakland prevented the shutout by plating a run in the eighth inning. The win moved Notre Dame to 23-8 on the year and made it 13 in a row after starting 10-8. More good news: this was the first contest in a 12-game home stand at Frank Eck Stadium. The Irish will look for 14 straight tomorrow afternoon at 5:05 p.m. against Manchester.
"Our confidence is growing with each game," said head coach Paul Mainieri. "I've seen this happen the last few years. The more we play, the better we get. It happened to be a hitters' day today. The ground was hard. The wind was blowing out. We put some good swings on some balls. It was just a good offensive day for us."
The Irish bats were hot early. Craig Cooper's leadoff double started the onslaught and from there Notre Dame plated four in the first inning to stake an early 4-0 lead. Cooper is batting .533 during the Irish win streak and .436 for the season. The big shots of the inning were Matt Bransfield and Sean Gaston's solo homers. The big early push has been a theme of the season for the Irish. On the year, Notre Dame has outscored their opponents 39-10 in the first inning. Mainieri attributes that to his leadoff hitter.
"I think a lot of that has to do with Craig Cooper leading off the game," Mainieri said. "He's our best hitter. All of a sudden, the pitcher is facing a tough hitter. If Craig gets a base hit and gets us going, we're manufacturing runs. We're then on top. It's nice to be on top because it allows you to do some nice things. You can bunt, hit and run and steal bases. When you're behind, you're afraid to give away outs."
The Irish put the game out of reach in the fourth. Notre Dame scored nine times in the inning. It was the most runs scored in an inning by the Irish since May of 2004. Alex Nettey scored first when he beat Oakland third baseman Andy Shepherd's throw home to make it 5-0 Irish. One batter later, Cooper scorched a single up the middle, plating Greg Lopez to give Notre Dame a 6-0 advantage.
After a few more errors by Oakland (7-21) and a few more runs by Notre Dame, Bransfield struck again. He blasted a three-run home run, his second of the day and fourth on the season, to make it 12-0 Irish. Bransfield finished the day 2-of-3 with two homers and four runs batted in. Not to be outdone, Nettey, who went 3-for-4 in the contest, followed this up with his own dinger two batters later to complete the biggest inning of the year for Notre Dame.
The Irish got another strong outing from Wade Korpi. The sophomore lefthander pitched five shutout innings, striking out eight while allowing just three hits to move his record to 3-1. He also picked off two runners in the game. On the year, the top four starters for Notre Dame have a combined record of 16-4 with a 2.40 ERA. Korpi has now fanned 52 batters in 37 innings pitched in 2006 and lowered his ERA to a meager 1.76.
"Wade has been outstanding every time he's been out there," Mainieri said. "I think that'll really pay dividends at the end of the year. Later on, when we get into post-season, you can't win the Big East Tournament without winning four games. Your fourth starter is going to be as important as the other guys. He's coming along great. I'm so proud of the way he's coming back and putting it together as a sophomore. Wade continues to improve."