High Scoring Affair Goes Irish's Way

After the top half of the first inning, there was a power outage at Frank Eck Stadium. The scoreboard was dead and so was the electricity up in the press box. This was not the case on the field where Notre Dame and Rutgers put on an explosive offensive display.

With the wind blowing out, take a glance at these stats: a combined 39 hits, a total of eight pitchers used and three home runs blasted. The most important stat is the final score. For the 22nd time in a row, Notre Dame owned this category as the Irish completed a three-game sweep of Rutgers with a 14-12 victory. The 22nd straight win is a new Notre Dame record, besting the 1906-07 team who won 21 in row over the course of two seasons. The Irish sit at 32-8 and 14-1 in the Big East.

They might be moving up the rankings as well. Teams in the baseball writers' top-30 poll lost a combined 25 games this week to lower-ranked squads. Also, attendance for the three-game stand was over 10,000, a new record for a weekend series.

"I told somebody before the weekend that I believed we could draw 10,000 people," head coach Paul Mainieri said. "They looked at me like I was cross-eyed. That's three straight crowds of over 3,000 people. We had great support and it meant a lot to our team. I think people got their money's worth. They saw some real good baseball all weekend long and hopefully they're here on Tuesday against Purdue."

On a day when the hits and runs were adding up faster than one could count, it was some clutch pitching at the end for the Irish that nailed it down. After the Scarlet Knights had cut a eight-run deficit to 14-12 in the seventh, reliever Kyle Weiland entered with the contest and shut down the Rutgers comeback attempt. The freshman pitched the last 2 2/3 innings of the contest, surrendering no runs on just two hits while striking out four to earn his 10th save of the year.

"Kyle Weiland was awesome today," Mainieri said. "I told Sean Gaston and Terry Rooney in the third inning that if we stayed close in the game and hang in there, we would have the advantage at the end with Weiland."

It was quite the offensive weekend for Notre Dame. In the three wins over Rutgers, the Irish scored a combined 40 runs. The biggest bright spot continues to be Craig Cooper. The senior first baseman extended his hitting streak to 21 games with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first inning. It was his ninth home run of the year. Cooper's two-run double in the third inning to the right center gap broke a 6-6 deadlock and put the Irish up for good. He finished the day 4-for-5 with five RBI's and four runs scored and the weekend 8-for-11, nine RBI's, eight runs scored, three home runs, 19 total bases and 13-of-16 in reaching base. Cooper is now hitting .441 in 2006.

"I've stayed away from Cooper and just tell him what time to be at the ballpark," Mainieri joked. "Hopefully that's enough."

Notre Dame set a season-high for hits with 19. Seven of the nine Notre Dame players in the batting order had more than two hits. Matt Bransfield went 2-for4 with three runs batted in, including a home run in the first inning to give the Irish a 4-3 advantage. It was his fifth round tripper of the season. Also notching two or more hits was Gaston, Greg Lopez, Cody Rizzo, Danny Dressman and Jeremy Barnes.

Jess Stewart (4-1) earned the win after coming in to relieve starting pitcher Tom Thornton. Stewart pitched 4.1 innings and only allowed two runs on eight hits. His solid performance was in contrast to the struggles of Thornton, who was roughed up for four runs on six hits in just 1 1/3 innings. He took a hard line shot off of his leg in the first inning and did not recover. But Stewart came in and steadied the contest for Notre Dame.

"It's unimaginable but true that we could give up 20 hits in a game and sit here and tell you the key to the game was our pitching," Mainieri said. "I thought Jess Stewart coming out of the bullpen was the key to the game. He took control of the game."

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