Notre Dame scored eight runs in the first four innings, including a five spot in the fourth, and received a quality outing from Jeff Manship to beat the Cardinals 11-3. The Irish moved to 37-9-1 on the season and 17-1-1 in the Big East. They have won 27 of their past 29 games. These two teams are slated to play two more games this weekend with the Sunday contest being Senior Day. Once again, the big inning gave Notre Dame more than enough offense to capture another victory.
"We try to emphasize to the players to go up there and battle and make the pitcher work," head coach Paul Mainieri said. "Even though we didn't come through with the clutch hit in the first couple of innings, we made the pitcher work. We saw a lot of pitches and maybe we saw them a little better the second time through."
Already up 3-0 on a RBI single from Jeremy Barnes and a two-run double by Matt Bransfield in the third inning, the Irish salted the game away with five runs in the fourth. A wild pitch from Louisville's Jake Smith (1-3) allowed Alex Nettey to score to make it 4-0. Brett Lilley added one more to that total when he singled in Greg Lopez.
The next batter up provided the craziest play of the night. Danny Dressman lined a rocket shot to Cardinal first baseman Jorge Castillo, which he stopped but could not corral. Cooper scored from second base when Castillo's throw home was off-target and Lilley motored all the way around as well to make it 7-1 Notre Dame. Another Louisville miscue (they committed five errors in the contest), an error on shortstop Chris Cates, plated Dressman and put the finishing touches on the monster inning.
The important stat: Notre Dame has outscored the competition 62-12 in the fourth inning. Also, the Irish have had 14 innings of scoring five or more runs. Four of them have come in the fourth frame.
"I don't know if there's anything to that," Mainieri said of his team's fourth inning dominance. "For awhile there, we were outscoring teams in the first inning. I don't know what it is. I couldn't explain it.
Manship (7-1) wasn't dominant but extremely solid. The junior right-hander went seven innings, allowing three runs on eight hits while striking out nine. This increased his strikeout total to 86 on the year in 74 innings pitched. Manship's only miscues were a deep home run allowed to Louisville's Logan Johnson in the fourth inning and a two-run shot off the right field billboard given up to Nick Haley in the fifth.
"Those things happen," Mainieri said. "We're trying to get him to use his fastball and changeup more. They hit a fastball for a homer and a changeup for a homer. He's obviously got maybe the best breaking pitch in the country. I thought he pitched a great game and was a real leader for us out there."
"Giving up the two home runs kind of made me mad," Manship said. "But that'll fire me up to go out there next time and not do it again."
Three Irish players had multiple hits. Lilley, Barnes and Nettey all had two hits. Leadoff hitter Craig Cooper walked an incredible four times in the contest but scored three times and did get a hit in his only official at-bat. The senior first baseman is now hitting .431 on the year but more importantly his on-base percentage is .538, which would be a new Notre Dame record.
"If he's not the Big East Player of the Year, there needs to be an investigation," Mainieri said.
Tomorrow, Jeff Samardzija is set to take the mound. First pitch is at 1:00 p.m. The right hander was supposed to start Friday's game but he came down with a minor illness earlier in the week. That moved up Manship one game. Mainieri said after the game "The Shark" is 100 percent ready to go.