Notre Dame Clinches Spot in Big East Tourney

SOUTH BEND - Ryan Smith's RBI single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, drove home Ross Brezovsky, giving the Notre Dame baseball team a 5-4 victory over Connecticut, Friday night at Frank Eck Stadium. The win snaps a five-game losing streak, and guarantees the Irish a top-eight finish in Big East play and a spot in the conference tournament.

It will be the Irish's 12 straight appearance in the Big East Tournament, beginning Tuesday in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Pinch hitting for the left-handed hitting designated hitter Evan Sharpley, who was 0-for-3, the right-handed Smith lined the first pitch he saw from Huskies' left-handed closer Matt Karl into right field, plating Brezovsky who led off the inning with a walk.

"I was looking for a fastball and that's what I got," Smith said. "He had nowhere to put me, and as a hitter you just try to look down for your pitch and that's what I got."

If the Irish (28-25, 11-14) can win the rubber game against Connecticut (29-25, 9-14) on Saturday, and South Florida and Villanova both lose, they could finish as high as fifth in the Big East. The Huskies face a must win game to complete the regular season to have a chance at making the league tournament.

In what was an exciting ballgame, Connecticut tied the score at four in the top half of the ninth, when Irish closer Kyle Weiland walked Pat Mahoney, scoring Pete Fatse who was walked by starter David Phelps.

Phelps, the staff ace, didn't have his best stuff giving up four runs, three earned on 12 hits with four walks and four hits in eight-plus innings, but he made the pitches when he needed to get out of jams. He only had one inning without allowing a base runner, and the leadoff man reached seven times for the Huskies.

"That's a sign of a good pitcher when he can keep his team in the game with out his best stuff," Notre Dame coach Dave Schrage said. Phelps has a 1.87 ERA, and is just one of six pitchers in the nation with an ERA under 2.00. "He did an outstanding job gutting it out and pitching out of tough situations."

Phelps nearly pitched out of his toughest situation of the game in the second inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Harold Brantley Jr. hit a routine double-play ball to second, but shortstop Brett Lilley's throw on the turn to first base hit base runner Josh Farkes in the hand and ricocheted into the Huskies dugout. Two runs came across to score on the play, and Brantley later scored on Dale Brannon's single to center, giving Connecticut a 3-1 lead.

"Another fluke play this season we had go against us," Schrage said.

Catcher Matt Weglarz erased the fluke with a two-run homer to left in the fourth inning, tying the game at three. Weglarz also threw out two Connecticut base runners trying to steal in the top half of the inning.

"I thought that was a big hit, relaxed our team a bit," Schrage said. "We were looking for a big hit to get our team going and we got it."

A.J. Pollock delivered a big hit of his own in the bottom of the eighth, a one-out triple to right scoring Brett Lilley from second, giving the Irish a 4-3 advantage. Pollock had a game-high three hits, and now has 25 multiple hit games in his first year of college baseball. His .376 batting average leads the team.

Pollock scored the game's first run in the first inning with heads up base running. He went from first to third on Danny Dressman's single to left, and came home to score as Dressman was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double.

Connecticut starter Dusty Odenbach went eight innings, giving up four runs on seven hits, with one strikeout and one walk. Ted Garry started the ninth by walking Brezovsky, and giving up an infield single on Jeremy Barnes's bunt.

Karl relieved Garry, walked Dury and gave up the game-winning hit to Smith.

"I thought our team played through a lot of adversity tonight," Schrage said. "It was a good character win for us, and hopefully gives us some momentum as we head into the Big East Tournament."


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