Central Michigan scored six first inning runs and held on at the end to beat Notre Dame 8-4 at Frank Eck Stadium. The loss sends the Irish to 11-12 and they have now lost three straight contests after going to a season-high two games over .500 last Friday. The Chippewas mustered only two hits after the first inning outburst but the run output was enough to get by Notre Dame on Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, because we didn't get a lot of innings from our starters this weekend, we had to try to piece together something today," head coach Dave Schrage. "Everybody knew coming in no one was going to through more than a couple of innings."
Jess Stewart, normally a reliever, started the contest for the Irish because it was a staff day where the coaches hope a few pitchers can each go a couple of innings. But the senior right-hander struggled mightily in the first inning. Central Michigan had a hit parade in the opening frame to take a 6-0 lead. The Chippewas pounded out eight hits in the inning and they came one after the other. Stewart actually got leadoff batter Cody Allen to ground out but Tyler Stovall's infield single opened the flood gates. Scott Szpyrka doubled home Stovall to make it 1-0. Szpyrka scored a batter later on Ben Humphrey's RBI single. Four more Central Michigan batters would contribute RBI hits to give the Chippewas a comfortable early advantage. It was Stewart's (1-1) first start since 2005 down in San Antonio, when he allowed five runs in 0.2 innings of work.
"That seems to be our downfall lately is giving up innings of four or more runs," Schrage said. "That's what killed us this weekend against South Florida and that's what killed us today. Unfortunately, it was in the first inning and we were chasing."
Slowly, the Irish started to chip away. After A.J. Pollock walked, Mike Dury launched a deep home run to right center field in the bottom of the first to cut the deficit to 6-2. It was Dury's team-high sixth homer of the season. The senior first baseman had only four in his first three years combined.
The lead would continue to shrink later in the game. After the first inning, the Notre Dame pitching dominated from innings two through seven. At one point, the Irish staff retired 19 of 20 Chippewa hitters. Joey Williamson relieved Stewart and pitched three scoreless innings while allowing one hit. Sophomore Brett Graffy added a 1-2-3 seventh inning. The problem was that Central Michigan starter Kurt Lauscher (1-1) was steady, pitching six innings of three-run ball.
"You would like to see that bullpen pitching in a close game," Schrage said. "On Saturday and Sunday, that wasn't the case. We need that in close ballgames. Then we need the clutch hits."
Notre Dame had two great chances in the sixth and seventh to comeback. The Irish had the bases loaded with one out in the sixth after singles by Danny Dressman, Jeremy Barnes and Eddy Mendiola. But Central Michigan third baseman Noah Lankford dove to stop Ryan Connolly's groundball smash, stepped on third for the second out and threw it to first base for the 5-3 double play to end the inning.
"I think right now we're hitting into some hard luck," Schrage said. "They made some great plays on us. Their third baseman made two great plays today in some big situations."
Unlike the sixth, Notre Dame was able to plate a few runs in the seventh and was benefited by some wild Chippewa pitching. Matt Weglarz drove home Brett Lilley on a sacrifice fly to right field and A.J. Pollock crossed home on a Central Michigan wild pitch. Pollock finished the day 2-for-4 with two runs scored. But with the bases loaded once again, pinch hitter Ryan Smith weakly grounded out to the pitcher to doom any more scoring chances. The Irish left 11 runners on base on Tuesday and 25 in the past two games to just five runs scored.
Central Michigan, after not scoring a run for seven innings, put the game away in the eighth. The Chippewas scored two runs on Jeff Help's two-out base hit off of Dury to increase the advantage from a shaky two to a comfortable 8-4.