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    Vercelli Goes Deep Twice as Northwestern Topples Notre Dame, 5-1

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Eric Jokisch surrendered just four hits while striking out three in five innings of work to earn the win.
    Eric Jokisch surrendered just four hits while striking out three in five innings of work to earn the win.

    April 15, 2009


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    CHICAGO - Tony Vercelli socked a pair of home runs and Eric Jokisch hurled five shutout innings as Northwestern defeated Notre Dame 5-1 in a contest played at U.S. Cellular Field Wednesday evening. Tommy Finn and Trevor Stevens added two hits apiece for the Wildcats.

    "I can't tell you how proud I am of this team," NU head coach Paul Stevens said. "They've battled all year and have faced a lot of adversity. Today that persistence paid off.

    "I can't tell you how fortunate we feel for getting the opportunity to do this," Stevens said of playing at the home of the Chicago White Sox.

    NU (9-23) jumped in front right away in the top of the first as Stevens reached on a one-out bunt single and then raced all the way around to score on a booming double to left by Chris Lashmet. The sophomore third baseman, who entered the contest with 20 hits in his last 37 at-bats, extended his hitting streak to nine games with the base knock.

    The Wildcats made Notre Dame starter Ryan Richter pay for a leadoff walk as they extended their lead to 2-0 in the third, but missed out on an opportunity for a big inning. Jim Grieco started the frame with a free pass and moved up to third on a perfectly executed hit-and-run single to right by Finn. Stevens followed with an RBI single to right to give Northwestern the two-run advantage. Another walk loaded the bases with no one out, but Richter escaped further damage by getting a shallow flyout to right and a pair of strikeouts.

    Meanwhile, Eric Jokisch was cruising along on the mound as he didn't allow a baserunner until Greg Sherry recorded a one-out single in the bottom of the third. But a double play helped the sophomore left-hander face the minimum his first time through the order.

    Northwestern had a number of great opportunities to build upon its lead, but stranded a pair in scoring position in the fourth and left the bases loaded in the sixth.

    The Fighting Irish had its best shot against Jokisch in the fifth as it started the inning with consecutive singles, but the crafty southpaw was able to work his way out of trouble to keep the shutout intact.

    Notre Dame (20-13) got a pair of two-out baserunners in the bottom of the sixth, but reliever David Jensen got a forceout at second to maintain the two-run lead.

    NU tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh as Vercelli took Todd Miller deep over the wall in left-center to put the 'Cats up 3-0.

    The shutout bid was spoiled in Notre Dame's half of the seventh as Jeremy Barnes hit a solo home run to get the Fighting Irish back within two. A two-out double prompted Northwestern to bring on Cole Livermore and brought the tying run to the plate. An error extended the inning, but Livermore struck out Brayden Ashmore looking to end the threat.

    The Fighting Irish got the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, but Livermore got pinch hitter David Casey to ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

    Vercelli then added a pair of important insurance runs in the top of the ninth to help put the game away, launching a two-run blast off a slider from Steven Mazur for his team-leading sixth home run of the season and second of the night.

    "I don't think you can ever score enough in a baseball game. I was just trying to drive one in. We weren't going to let this one slip away. This is a great win for us. We were really excited."

    The win is Northwestern's fourth consecutive over Notre Dame in the first meeting between the schools on the diamond since the 2000 season.

    Jokisch (3-4) surrendered just four hits while striking out three over five innings of work to earn the victory. Livermore tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings to earn his first save of the season.

    "Tip your cap to Jokisch," Notre Dame head coach Dave Schrage said. "He's one of the top pitchers in the Big Ten. I was surprised he was throwing tonight. We knew it would be a challenge. He's tough and I was impressed with Livermore. They might have found a relief pitcher tonight."

    Northwestern returns to action at 3 p.m. Friday as it opens a three-game series against Iowa at Rocky Miller Park. The contest is being televised live by Big Ten Network.