Up Next: Rutgers

A blown ninth-inning lead by Notre Dame in the regular season finale on Saturday to Connecticut shook up the bottom of the Big East standings. It allowed the Huskies to clinch the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament. It also moved the Irish down to the seventh position. It sets up a first round match-up on Tuesday with second seed Rutgers.

This may not be too bad for Notre Dame. If the Irish had held onto the lead, they would have played Louisville, a team that swept Notre Dame just two weekends ago. Instead, the Irish play the Scarlet Knights and will look for their sixth straight Big East Tournament title. In the regular season series, Notre Dame took two of three from Rutgers in Piscataway, NJ. This won't guarantee success but possibly sets up a more favorable opponent for the Irish in the first round. The winner will advance to play the victor of the Louisville-Villanova contest on Wednesday at 5 PM while the loser of the two games will do battle on 10 AM.

Rutgers has a potent offense. The Scarlet Knights are third in the conference with a .314 average. Seven players are hitting .300 or better. Rutgers is led by Todd Frazier. The junior shortstop is first in the Big East in home runs with 19, first on the team in RBI's with 57, slugging percentage at .724 and stolen bases with 23. Frazer, who was named Big East Player of the Year on Monday, is second in hitting at .362. Dave Williams is tops in the league with a .405 average. Ryan Hill has blasted ten round trippers and has 50 RBI's.

The pitcher who'll have to face this lineup will be sophomore Kyle Weiland. The sophomore right-hander is 5-2 on the season with a 4.79 ERA. Weiland, who was a closer as a freshman, has moved into the starter's role this year. The right-hander has struck out 35 batters in 35.2 innings pitched Weiland will be opposing Rutgers' Steve Healing. The senior right-hander is 8-3 on the season with a 3.70 ERA.

After splitting the first two match-ups this year, the rubber match between these two teams turned into a classic. Notre Dame took a 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth on Ross Brezovsky's two-run RBI triple. Rutgers came back to tie it up at 4-all on Jon Gossard's home run. In the ninth, Jeremy Barnes' RBI triple put the Irish back up 5-4 and Mike Dury's sacrifice fly added an insurance run at 6-4. In the bottom of the frame, with the tying run on second base, Sam Elam struck out Tom Edwards to end the contest and gave the series win to Notre Dame.


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