A.J. Pollock led the Irish with two hits and three runs batted in.

Notre Dame Trounces Rutgers, 11-2

April 5, 2008

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Irish scored two runs on a Rutgers throwing error in the fifth to break a 2-2 tie and coasted to an 11-2 victory Saturday afternoon at Eck Stadium. The Irish exploded for four runs in the fifth, two in the sixth, and three in the eighth after Rutgers third baseman Tom Edwards tied the game with a home run in the top of the fifth.

Sophomore A.J. Pollock (Hebron, Conn.) led the Irish with two hits and three runs batted in, passing junior Evan Sharpley (Marshall, Mich.) for the team lead, with 20. Pollock also added his sixth double and team-leading ninth stolen base in ten attempts. Seniors Brett Lilley (North Canton, Ohio) reached base in all five plate appearances and scored three runs, collecting three hits, a walk, and a hit by pitch. The hit by pitch was his 13th of the season and the 91st of his career, leaving him just one short of the all-time NCAA record of 92 set by Tony Hurtado of San Francisco (1997-2000). Senior Sean Gaston (Brownsburg, Ind.) added three hits, and junior Jeremy Barnes (Garland, Tex.) had three RBI.

Notre Dame improves to 15-9-1 on the year and 6-2 in the BIG EAST, good for second place. The loss was the fourth straight for Rutgers (8-17, 2-6), who committed three errors leading to three unearned runs. Starter Kyle Bradley (0-1) suffered the loss for the Scarlet Knights.

For the second straight game, the Notre Dame played “little ball” to perfection to earn the victory. On Friday night, the Irish had three sacrifice bunts, and today they added three more sacrifice bunts as well as three sacrifice flies. Sophomore David Mills (Battle Creek, Mich.) had two sacrifice bunts and a sacrifice fly on Saturday, including the bunt that led to the crucial Rutgers throwing error in the four-run fifth for the Irish.

“We work on bunting and situational hitting a lot in batting practice,” said Notre Dame coach Dave Schrage. “We really try to execute with a runner on third and less than two outs and it showed today.”

Freshman Cole Johnson (Hudson, Ohio) picked up his first collegiate win for the Irish and is now 1-1 on the year. Johnson relieved senior starter Wade Korpi (Lake Worth, Fla.) after Korpi took a line drive off the head with two outs in the fifth inning. Korpi left the field under his own power and will be evaluated later today. Johnson entered with a 2-0 lead but surrendered the game-tying home run to the first batter he faced. Johnson settled down afterwards and finished the game, pitching 4.1 innings and giving up just one earned run on five hits with three strikeouts. Johnson struggled at times with control, walking three batters, but induced three key ground ball double plays to escape any damage.

Korpi struggled in the first, hitting Donny Callahan in the back with the first pitch of the game and then walking Tom Edwards with one out. Despite reaching a 3-ball count on three straight batters, Korpi rebounded by striking out Jon Gossard looking and inducing Jarred Jimenez to fly out to deep right to end the threat.

Notre Dame got the scoring under way in the bottom of the third. Lilley capped off a seven-pitch at bat with a single up the middle. David Mills then ripped the first pitch he saw from Rutgers starter Kyle Bradley into the right-center field alley for a triple, scoring Lilley. It was the second triple of the year for Mills. Pollock brought Mills home on the first pitch with a sac fly to left, giving Notre Dame a 2-0 lead.

After a rough first inning, Korpi cruised, striking out six batters and giving up just a pair of singles through the first four innings. Rutgers batters repeatedly swung and missed at Korpi’s changeup. Korpi struck out Victor Cegles swinging to lead off the fifth and then retired leadoff man Donny Callahan on a groundout to first. But then shortstop Dan Betteridge stepped to the plate and hit a screamer back up the box that hit the bill of Korpi’s hat and then his forehead. Korpi was on the ground for about five minutes and eventually left the game, but he walked off the field under his own power.

“That was the first time I have seen something like that happen in person,” said David Mills. “It put a little spark into our team, and we all wanted to pull together and get a win for Wade.”

It was a sad ending to outstanding pitching performance for Korpi, who left with a 2-0 lead and a runner on first after pitching 4.2 innings. The lead evaporated instantly, however, as Cole Johnson entered the game and promptly gave up a game-tying home run to Rutgers third baseman Tom Edwards, his first of the year.

Korpi gave up just one earned run on three hits in the outing. He struck out seven (tying his season high set March 2 against Boston College) and walked just one. The senior left-hander is now 3-0 with a sparkling 1.50 ERA in his last four starts, with 18 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched. He has not lost in over a month, with his last loss coming in the aforementioned start against Boston College.

Notre Dame answered right back in the bottom of the fifth. Freshman Greg Sherry led off the inning with a walk, and Lilley followed with a single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch. David Mills then put down a beautiful sacrifice bunt in front of the mound. Pitcher Kyle Bradley picked it up but threw it past second baseman Victor Cegles, who was covering first on the play. The ball went all the way down the right field line and allowed both Sherry and Lilley to score and Mills to go all the way to third base. The Irish led 4-2 and added another run when A.J. Pollock ripped a double past a diving Tom Edwards at third and just inside the chalk. After Sharpley moved Pollock to third with a groundout, Jeremy Barnes hit a sacrifice fly to right field to plate Pollock and stretch the lead to 6-2.

The Irish added a couple insurance runs in the sixth. After a leadoff single by Billy Boockford, Greg Sherry sacrificed him to second. Lilley then singled to left and advanced to second when Donny Callahan bobbled the ball, while Boockford moved to third. David Mills brought him home with a sac fly to right to make it 7-2. The Rutgers error proved costly when Pollock hit a single through the left side of the infield to plate Lilley, giving Notre Dame an 8-2 cushion.

Following walks by Lilley and Pollock in the eighth, junior Casey Martin (Chesterton, Ind.) drove home Lilley with a single. Jeremy Barnes followed with a double down the left field line to plate Pollock and Martin and make it 11-2.

Notre Dame moves within one-half game of league-leader St. John’s in the BIG EAST standings. The Red Storm take on Louisville later today.

“We played a complete game today,” said Schrage. “The top of the lineup got on base, we played good defense, and we battled through a little bit of adversity. I was proud of our guys for battling back after the tying home run.”

The Irish and Scarlet Knights will square off again on Sunday afternoon with the third and final game of the series. First-pitch at Frank Eck Stadium is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. Sophomore Eric Maust (Alpharetta, Ga.) will take the mound for Notre Dame, sporting a 1-1 record and a 3.20 ERA in seven appearances (three starts). He will face freshman right-hander Ryan Beard of Rutgers.

— ND —