May 10, 2009

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – USF staved off a pair of two-run Notre Dame rallies with a two-out rally of its own in the top of the ninth inning to grab a 6-5 victory to salvage the third and final game of the BIG EAST series Sunday afternoon at Frank Eck Stadium. The Irish still managed to take two of three from the league-leading Bulls. Notre Dame drops to 29-20 overall and 13-11 in the league, while USF improves to 31-19 and 18-6.

After the Irish drew even, 5-5, with a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Bulls plated a run on two base hits and a hit batter, all of which came with two outs. Mills retired Junior Carlin and Todd Brazeal on just seven pitches, six of which were strikes, to open the inning, but Mike Consolmagno laced a 0-1 pitch to centerfield. Mills then plunked Brandon Smith on a 1-2 pitch before Daniel Rockhold followed with a RBI single on a 0-2 pitch to give the Bulls a 6-5 advantage.

USF reliever Joe Cole made the 6-5 lead stand with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Cole improved to2-2 on the year. He allowed one earned run on two hits in 2.0 innings of work.

Mills dropped to 1-1 on the season. He surrendered an earned run on two hits in 0.2 innings.

Notre Dame rallied from 3-1 down to square the game at 3-3, but the Bulls answered with two runs of their own in the top of the eighth inning to regain a 5-3 lead. Smith opened with a leadoff single and raced to third on Sam Mende’s double just inside the third base bag. Peter Brotons then came through with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-3, but sophomore Golden Tate (Hendersonville, Tenn.) dropped the fly ball allowing Brotons to reach. The error cost the Irish a run because Ryan Lockwood followed with an RBI ground out that should have ended the inning.

Senior Ryan Connolly (Binghamton, N.Y.) continued his stellar finish to his Irish career. The first baseman collected three more hits, including a crucial RBI double that tied the game, 5-5, in the bottom of the eighth inning. Fellow senior Jeremy Barnes (Garland, Texas) went 2-for-4 with a solo home run and two RBI. The home run, also in the eighth inning, was Barnes’ team-leading 10th of the season and brought the Irish within a run, 5-4.

USF grabbed a first inning 1-0 lead off Irish starter Eric Maust. Jonathan Koscso laced a one-out single through the legs of Maust and scampered to third base on Carlin’s perfectly executed hit-and-run. Sophomore Cameron McConnell (Bannockburn, Ill.) gunned down Carlin trying to steal second. The caught stealing was McConnell’s fifth consecutive and 24th of the season, which also leads the BIG EAST, but Brazeal followed with a single off the glove of a sliding sophomore Greg Sherry at second base.

The Irish drew even, 1-1, in the bottom half of the first. Junior A.J. Pollock (Hebron, Conn.) opened with a rocket-shot double down the left field line and moved to third base on Tate’s sacrifice bunt, but Tate actually reached when Brazeal could not find the first base bag after fielding the throw. Barnes then ripped a RBI single through the left side of the infield, but USF starting pitcher Shawn Sanford evaded any further damage after getting sophomore David Casey (Whitefish Bay, Wisc.) to ground into a double play and Mills popped out.

Both Maust and Sanford settled down after their first inning issues. Maust and Sanford each retired six of seven opposing batters over the second and third inning.

USF threatened for a big inning off the Irish right-hander in the top of the fourth. Brazeal ripped a single to left field and Chris Rey followed with a double off the top of the right field wall to put runners on second and third with nobody out, but Maust limited the Bulls to just one run after getting three straight ground balls to end the inning.

USF had another golden chance for a big inning in the fifth, but once again Maust was able to limit the damage to only one run as Koscso made it 3-1 in favor of the Bulls with a sacrifice fly.

Sanford continued to baffle Notre Dame over the fourth and fifth. The righty allowed just one base runner, a single off the bat of Connolly. In fact, Connolly was the only Irish player to reach off Sanford (consecutive singles) after Barnes’ RBI single in the first inning with no outs.

Maust and Sanford matched scoreless sixth innings. Sanford retired 16 of 19 Notre Dame batters after the Irish plated its first run of the afternoon.

The Irish finally got to Sanford in the bottom of the seventh inning. Mills reached on an error from the pitcher to open the inning. Mills then swiped second, but Sanford struck out Connolly for the first out of the inning. Sophomore Mick Doyle (LaGrange Park, Ill.) followed with an RBI single to bring Notre Dame within a run, 3-2. McConnell then singled following a nine-pitch at bat to put runners on the corners and one out for the pinch hitter Evan Sharpley (Marshall, Mich.).

The senior delivered again with a first pitch, RBI single to tie the game, 3-3. Pollock came to the plate with runners on first and second with one out, but Sanford induced a fielder’s choice ground ball. With runners now on the corners and two down, Tate flied out to end the inning.

Maust battled through 7.1 innings and allowed 14 hits, but only four earned runs. He struck out four and did not issue a walk. In fact, Notre Dame did not walk a batter the entire afternoon.

The Irish returns to action tomorrow evening with the final home game of the 2009 season. Notre Dame hosts Western Michigan at 6:05 p.m.