Notre Dame drops game but not confidence

Friday, May 16, 2003

If there's such a thing as dress rehearsal for district play, one was held Thursday at Notre Dame Regional High School.

Two of the area's top Class 3 programs, North County and Notre Dame, paired off and made one last dry run before district tournaments open Monday.

Notre Dame saw a seven-game winning streak end with a 5-3 loss to the Raiders, who extended their winning streak to nine games.

North County (21-3) came into the contest ranked fourth in the state behind top-ranked Sikeston, the No. 1 seed in Notre Dame's district. In North County, the Bulldogs saw a team similar to Sikeston and the heavy favorite to win District 2.

Both teams appeared to get what they wanted Thursday. Both wore their district faces into the game. Both walked away with confidence intact.

"I hope we sent a message more to ourselves than to anyone else -- that we're a team to be reckoned with," Notre Dame catcher Kyle Diveley said. "I think it was more of a self-confidence thing."

Notre Dame (16-6) matched the Raiders with seven hits, all coming off North County's unbeaten senior ace, Mike Cole. Seven different Bulldogs had hits off Cole, who struck out 10 on his way to improving to 8-0. Cole has 80 strikeouts this season in 50 innings and has a 25-1 record since his sophomore season.

The Bulldogs added North County, a perennial Class 3 power, to the schedule after getting bumped up in class. Notre Dame reached the Class 2 final four last year.

"We put up a good record, but we're playing the same teams," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said. "By adding a team like this that we know is a top team in Class 3, we found out today we belong on the field with the elite Class 3 teams -- that being North County and Sikeston."

The game was a possible preview of a sectional showdown should both teams win their district.

"They had a nice effort," North County coach Steve Pasternak said of Notre Dame. "Notre Dame was happy they got an opportunity to play us. From what I hear, they're a No. 2 seed, but they could do some damage in their district."

Notre Dame players were mindful of Tuesday's first-round game against Fredericktown after the loss.

"I'd rather play a team like this and get beat 5-3 than play a worse team and just beat them 30-0," said Notre Dame left fielder Matt Wulfers, who had a double. "Playing a game like this makes you better."

North County broke a 1-1 tie in a four-run fourth inning that was sparked by a leadoff home run by Adam Howard, who also had a double and scored the Raiders' first run in the first inning.

A single by Blake Urhahn had tied the score in the third inning, but Cole escaped a first-and-second jam with one out by fanning the Notre Dame's Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, Wulfers and Diveley.

Howard's home run came just two pitches into the fourth inning. The junior overpowered a breeze coming in from left field, launching a Urhahn delivery well over the wall 320 feet away.

"It was a towering blast," Graviett said. "It changed the momentum of the game."

The next four Raiders reached safely, including Pete Pasternak, who singled with the bases loaded for a 3-1 lead. The Raiders then pulled off a surprising suicide squeeze with the bases loaded and nobody out and Danny Braning at the plate for a 4-1 advantage. The Raider attempted back-to-back squeezes, but the next batter, Cole, missed connections and the runner was tagged out. However, the Raiders tacked on their final run on a wild pitch.

Urhahn (1-2), who pitched six innings, issued all three of his walks in the fourth inning and gave up three of his seven hits. On the positive side, he surrounded the four-run frame with four scoreless innings.

"That was a big thing throwing him against a good club and getting him out there for a lot of innings today," Graviett said. "We're going to need him on the mound if we're going to make a run."

Urhahn may have been Notre Dame's top pitcher at the end of last season, but he's struggled to regain his form. He's displayed signs of coming around his last few times out.

Notre Dame put together three of its hits in the sixth when it scored twice. Wayne Essner doubled to score Wulfers with the first run and Jeff Brosey followed with a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 5-3. With Essner at second and two out, Cole escaped the inning. He retired the Bulldogs in order in the seventh.

335-6611, extension 124

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