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April 16, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Poised to claim a three-game sweep over a struggling Cincinnati team after winning each of the first two games by a run, Notre Dame (19-16, 6-6) missed an opportunity to move into a tie for fifth place in the Big East Sunday with a 6-2 loss to the Bearcats (12-23, 2-10).
“I’m happy to win the series, but obviously disappointed with today,” said Irish head coach Mik Aoki Sunday. “I didn’t think we were the aggressors today. We were in a lot of negative counts, and that has a way of pervading through the team. You’re always on your heel and waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
That shoe dropped with a heavy thud in the Cincinnati fifth when Bearcat designated hitter T.J. Jones launched a three-run home run that turned a 1-1 game into a 4-1 Cincinnati advantage, which became 6-1 an inning later.
“It wasn’t like they were barreling up balls in left, center and right,” Aoki said. “A couple of their hits were the old Baltimore chop and a couple of flairs, and then the Jones kid squared up the slider to put it out of reach.
“It wasn’t like we played bad, but we played blas?rdquo;
Blas?as been the norm recently for the Irish, who entered the series having lost eight of their previous 10 games, including mid-week games at Michigan State (8-2) and at home against Western Michigan (5-4).
Hurting Notre Dame’s chances against the Bearcats was the absence of sophomore cleanup hitter Trey Mancini (.317, 4 HRs, 27 RBI), who took a fastball on his right wrist early in game one.
“That definitely didn’t help,” said Aoki of Mancini’s injury. “He got smashed with a fastball on the left wrist. It’s not broken, but it’s pretty swollen. It takes some length out of your lineup and a kid that other teams have to game plan around.”
The Irish compensated well for Mancini’s absence in the first two games of the series with 10-9 and 6-5 victories Friday and Saturday. Notre Dame scored eight runs in the first three innings of game one, led by Eric Jagielo’s three-run home run - his seventh of the season - and a solo shot by Joe Hudson (No. 5). Sophomore righthander Dan Slania picked up his seventh save as fellow sophomore righthander Sean Fitzgerald (3-3) claimed the victory in 2 1/3 innings of relief.
Notre Dame used a more dramatic route to victory Saturday. Two runs in the bottom of the ninth - a game-tying hit by Jagielo (.331) and the game-winner by centerfielder Alex Robinson (.333) - made freshman righthander Matt Ternowchek (2-1) a winner after throwing just two pitches in the top of the ninth.
But the Irish never solved Cincinnati’s Christian McElroy, who pitched seven innings and allowed just three Irish hits Sunday. Notre Dame was 1-of-10 with runners in scoring position and 2-of-19 with runners on base.
“I have a hard time believing that team is 2-10,” said Aoki of Cincinnati, which is coached by former Irish pitching coach Brian Cleary. “That’s a really good lineup. That’s as good a lineup as we’ve played in the conference.
“(McElroy) was effectively wild. He would lose it for a stretch and then he’d throw a quality changeup to start a guy off. Our right-handed hitters were putting his fastball into the right field stands (foul), and (left-handed hitting) Jagielo was fouling things off the hitting building (down the left field line). The kid did a good job. I don’t think we saw him well all day long.”
Freshman righthander Pat Connaughton (1-2) started on the mound for the Irish Sunday. He threw 80 pitches in four innings and left the game when he reached Aoki’s prescribed pitch count.
“I was glad to get Patrick up to his pitch count, but I’m not as glad that we arrived at that through four innings,” Aoki said. “He made pitches when he needed to. But it doesn’t matter how good your fastball is, you’ve still got to operate in plus counts and he was behind on a lot of counts.
“You just felt like you were on your heels, but credit to (Connaughton). He made some big pitches and left the game when it was 1-1.”
Notre Dame returns to action this weekend with a three-game series at Georgetown (18-18, 5-7). Mancini is expected to return for the Irish in the cleanup spot, which also helps slot the rest of the hitters in the lineup.
“Getting Mancini healthy again is a big deal for us as productive as he has been in the heart of our lineup,” Aoki said. “But no excuses. We’ve had an opportunity to win every game we’ve played without him.”
Notre Dame enters the week in sole possession of seventh place in the Big East, one game ahead of the Hoyas. South Florida is in first place at 10-2, followed by Connecticut (9-3), Louisville (8-4), St. John’s (8-4), Rutgers (7-5) and Seton Hall (7-5).
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