"I was concerned last week, to be honest with you," Mainieri said. "I didn't think we played well against Bowling Green and didn't have the hungriness. I couldn't understand it because we were riding a 23-game win streak and we didn't seem to get after it the way I liked to see them do it."
On Tuesday against a bad Cleveland State team, this was no such problem. The Irish put the game away early with nine runs in the first four innings and were backed up by an excellent pitching performance from six Notre Dame hurlers as they downed the Vikings 12-1. They move their record to 36-9-1 on the season and have won 26 of their past 28 contests. Since that loss to Bowling Green, the Irish went 2-0-1 over UCONN plus Tuesday's beat down.
"They played great against Connecticut," Mainieri said. "They met a challenge head on and were phenomenal. We had a tremendous opening game victory against maybe the top pitcher in league in a very hostile environment. We followed that up with a good solid win with (Jeff) Manship pitching. And even though we tied on Sunday and no one likes to tie, if there was ever a good category for a tie, that was it.
"It's always good for my heart to have a game like we did today. We won it more handedly."
It didn't take long for Notre Dame to light up the scoreboard. After Craig Cooper and Brett Lilley both walked to lead off the bottom of the first, Danny Dressman laid down a sacrifice bunt. Cleveland State catcher Josh Geric promptly threw the ball into left field, allowing Cooper to score and give the Irish a 1-0 lead.
A double in the second by Cody Rizzo to deep right center field scored Alex Nettey. Nettey also got into the extra base rhythm, hitting two doubles in the contest. One batter later, Cooper singled to increase the margin to 3-0. Cooper went 2-for-2 with two runs scored and a RBI. Notre Dame tacked on another run in the third when Matt Bransfield got into the swing of things by lining a base hit to plate Dressman.
In the fourth, the Irish exploded for five runs to erase doubts of a Viking (8-30) comeback. Lilley and Dressman both had RBI singles to give Notre Dame a 6-0 advantage. The big blow in the inning came when Jeremy Barnes deposited a Brian Long (1-2) pitch over the left field wall for a three-run home run and a 9-0 Irish lead. It was Barnes second homer of the season and the dagger in Cleveland State's heart. Barnes finished the day 2-for-4 with four RBI's.
The bats weren't the only hot aspect of the Notre Dame attack. The Irish pitchers represented themselves well, allowing just three hits. Brett Graffy (2-0) picked up the victory by going three innings and surrendering one run. Starting pitcher David Gruener only pitched the first frame, giving up two hits and no runs, before being replaced by Tom Thornton, who was perfect in two innings of work.
The blowout allowed Mainieri to show off his bench. Twenty-two Notre Dame players saw action at some point during the game. Evan Sharpley, the favorite to be the Irish's backup quarterback in the fall for the football team, got some playing time for the sixth time this season. He doubled and drove in a run in his only at-bat but displayed some bad base running in the bottom of the seventh when he was caught between home and third on a grounder in the infield.
"It's great when you have an opportunity to play some guys who are practicing just as hard as the starters," Mainieri said. "Guys like Eddie Smith, (Eddy) Mendiola and Sharpley. That was Evan's first career at-bat at Frank Eck Stadium and he hit a double over the left fielder's head. That was a great start for him. It's the first time he's faced a live pitcher in two months. A lot of good things happen when you have a game like this."