Bullpen Blows It For Irish

SOUTH BEND - Wade Korpi spotted the Notre Dame bullpen a four-run lead, but the relievers couldn't hold it, and the Irish ended the regular season with a 7-6 loss to Connecticut, Saturday afternoon at Frank Eck Stadium. The Huskies scored all seven of their runs over the last four innings, including a two-out two-run rally in the ninth.

Connecticut, needing to win to keep their hopes of qualifying for the Big East tournament alive, got a go-ahead two-run single by Matt Untiet off Dan Kapala in the ninth, spoiling Notre Dame's senior day.

The Huskies (30-25, 10-14) got the help they needed as well. Cincinnati and West Virginia both lost on Saturday, so Connecticut grabbed the eighth and final spot in the Big East tournament.

Notre Dame (28-26, 11-15) came into the game with a chance of finishing as high as fifth in the league, but will be the seventh seed when the league tournament starts on Tuesday. The Irish will open up against No. 2 seed Rutgers at 1 p.m. in Brooklyn, N.Y. Notre Dame took two of three from the Scarlet Knights at their place during the regular season.

Brett Graffy and Jess Stewart each gave up two runs, Sam Elam and Kapala were each charged with a run, spoiling Korpi's best start of the season. Korpi's line, a season-high six innings, one run, four hits, one walk with five strikeouts.

The bullpen nearly blew it for the Irish yesterday, but Ryan Smith's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth gave Notre Dame its only win in its last seven ballgames.

"We haven't had anybody the last two days come out of the bullpen and throw strikes, attack the zone and be aggressive," Irish coach Dave Schrage said. "They've been tentative and they walk people. You get yourself in trouble when you pitch behind and you walk people."

With two outs in the ninth, Elam walked Dale Brannon. Kapala relieved Elam and quickly gave up a single to Larry Day. Cleanup hitter Dennis Donovan walked setting up Untiet's game-winning single.

Korpi has struggled most of the season, but showed Schrage signs of life heading into the Big East tournament. A lot of preseason hype surrounded the junior lefthander, but the Lake Worth, Fla., product lost his weekend starting role for a few series being sent to the bullpen. In his first start in 18 games, Korpi threw the ball like he did as the Big East Tournament MVP a year ago.

"He threw outstanding and it's a shame to waste a good start like that," Schrage said. "Again, we're trying to save him for the tournament. We were in a tough situation. If it was a regular ballgame, Wade would've thrown all nine innings. With going into the tournament in two days, we had to make sure we had some pitching available. We went into the game hoping he would throw only 70 pitches."

Korpi threw 73 pitches.

The Irish hit the scoreboard first, getting four runs in the third inning. Danny Dressman was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to start the scoring. Matt Weglarz drove home Brett Lilley and A.J. Pollock with a two-run single. A squeeze bunt by Jeremy Barnes plated Dressman.

Pollock, who had three hits, doubled in Lilley in the fourth, giving the Irish a commanding 5-0 lead. Pollock's team-high .382 batting is the highest for a Notre Dame freshman since 1994. The third basemen had 26 multi-hit games this year.

Connecticut started chipping away at the lead in the sixth. An RBI single by Donovan off Korpi cut the lead to 5-1.

Josh Farkes hit a long two-run homer to right-center field off the batter's eye in the seventh, making it a 5-3 ballgame.

Mike Dury, who struck out three times, gave the Irish an insurance run in the seventh, singling in Dressman with two outs.

Connecticut answered right back with two more in the eighth. Gordon Stevens' single scored Donovan and Untiet.

Connecticut starter Greg Nappo was touched for five runs, three earned and five hits in six innings of work. Closer Matt Karl, who took the loss on Friday, limited the Notre Dame offense to just one run and three hits over the final three innings.

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