April 14, 2003
NOTRE DAME BASEBALL GAMES NOTES – vs. Central Michigan (April 14, 2003)
The Notre Dame baseball team (25-6, 7-1 BIG EAST) – riding a 16-game winning streak and ranked as high as 13th in the national polls – returns to action for a rare Monday non-conference game vs. Central Michigan (5:05 p.m.) … the ND-CMU games – and the April 24 game vs. IPFW (5:05, at Eck Stadium) are makeups for the road doubleheader that recently was cancelled vs. Boston College … ND opened 2-4 vs. a challenging schedule but is 23-2 in its last 25, with both losses coming in extra innings … the Irish are coming off a pair of one-run road wins over Creighton in Omaha (2-1, 13-12) and are slated to play host to Eastern Michigan on Tuesday, April 15 (5:05) … the ND-EMU game will complete a four stretch of four straight days of competition for the Irish (the last time that happened, outside of Spring Break trips and postseason play, was in the season 1998) … sophomore RHP John Axford (2.14 ERA, 6-0, 47 Ks, 16 BB, .224 opp. avg. in 42 IP) is the probable starting pitcher for the Irish, after setting the ND record for Ks in an Eck Stadium game in last week’s 7-1 win over Western Michigan (12).
IRISH ON VERGE OF MORE HISTORY – Recent Notre Dame baseball teams have established a pattern of groundbreaking accomplishments – the 1999 team was an NCAA Regional host, the 2000 squad staged an epic battle at the NCAA Starkville Regional, the ’01 team claimed the No. 1 national ranking and the ’02 team advanced to the College World Series – and the current edition of Irish baseball players is poised for similar accomplishments … Notre Dame has posted a 16-game winning streak for the third consecutive season, matching the third-longest single-season winning streaks in the program’s 111-year history … the 1991 team, which included current Major Leaguers Craig Counsell (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Chris Michalak (Colorado Rockies), won 18 consecutive games from April 7-28 of that season (before dropping a 3-1 game to Saint Louis in the finale of a four-game series) … the 1907 team owns the second-longest winning streak, opening that season with a 17-game run from April 20-May 21 (that streak ended with a rare 1-0 loss, to Illinois) … the longest overall winning streak in ND baseball history is 21 games, spanning the final four games of the 1906 season and the first 17 in 1907 (5/31/06 to 5/21/07).
* Second-year RHP John Axford has shown no effects of a sophomore slump, with one of his most noteworthy improvements coming in a lowered walk total … Axford averaged 7.5 walks per nine innings as a freshman but has dropped his BB average to 3.4 in 2003.
* Axford owns an 11-2 career record and already has bested his 2002 win total (5-2 in ’02, 6-0 in ’03) while nearly slicing his ERA in half (3.95 in ’02, 2.14 in ’03).
* Axford posted a .231 opponent batting average in 2002 (10th-best by an ND pitcher since 1991) but has done even better this season (.224).
* One measure of a quality pitching performance is the combined total of strikeouts and groundball outs (20-plus per 9 IP generally is a solid average) and Axford joins many of his teammates in grading out well in that area – averaging 18.9 outs per nine innings via Ks (10.1) or groundouts (8.8).
* Since 1990, only three ND pitchers have posted a better nine-inning strikeout average than Axford’s current 10.07 Ks per 9 IP: 1998 teammates Aaron Heilman (10.48) and current Houston Astros player Brad Lidge (10.42) and Heilman (10.24) and closer John Corbin (10.13) in 2000.
* Axford IS the 17th Notre Dame pitcher ever to post 12-plus Ks in a game and is just the fourth to do so since 1980, joining Darin Schmalz (12 in 9 IP at Georgetown, in ’96), Lidge (12 in 7 IP vs. Pittsburgh, at Three Rivers Stadium in ’98) and Heilman in that distinction … Heilman posted 12-K games in 2000 (vs. Georgia in the Metrodome, 8 IP) and 2001 (vs. Rutgers in the BIG EAST Tournament, 9 IP), in addition to an historic 18-K game at West Virginia in 2000 (10 IP).
SERIES NOTES – Notre Dame leads the Central Michigan series 13-6, with six straight wins (dating back to 1997), including a 10-9 win last season … ND’s 6-4 rally past CMU in the 2001 season helped the Irish claim the nation’s No. 1 ranking the next week … in that game, three straight ND batters reached on 2-out, 2-strike count (Kris Billmaier reached on an error by the third baseman, Paul O’Toole singled and Andrew Bushey walked) before Ken Meyer’s memorable game-ending grand slam over the leftfield fence.
LAST YEAR’S MEETING – Javi Sanchez (3 RBI, HR) factored into five ND runs and matched Steve Stanley’s four hits as the Irish rallied from an early 5-1 deficit before holding off visiting Central Michigan, 10-9 … the Chippewas scored twice in the 8th to set up an exciting finish … LHP Scott Bickford took the hill with one out in the 3rd and recorded the next nine outs while picking up the first decision of his Irish career (2 R, 3 H, BB) … Matt Laird kept CMU off the scoreboard for 1.2 innings before Drew Duff inherited a save opportunity in the 8th … Brian Stavisky added three hits and three RBI for the Irish.
CAREER STATS VS. CMU
Steve Sollmann … 2-for-9, R, E
Kris Billmaier … 0-for-6, 3 R, 2 BB, HBP, 1-2 SB
Javi Sanchez … 4-for-4, 3 RBI, 3 R, HR
Joe Thaman … 0-for-5, R, 2 BB, SAC
Matt Laird … 2 GP, 1-0, 3.0 IP, H, BB, WP, 2 Ks
J.P. Gagne … 1 GS, 3.0 IP, 2 H, HB, 4 Ks
Martin Vergara … 1 GS, 5 R, 7 H, BB, WP
Scott Bickford … 1 GP, 1-0, 2 R, 3 H, K
CAREER STATS VS. ND
Ryan Krueger … 0-for-5, K
Jim Geldhof … 1-for-1, SAC
Tommy Grubb … 1-for-4, RBI, R, BB, SB
Mike Gates … 2-for-9, 3 RBI, R, 2 Ks
David Latour … 2-for-4, RBI, R, HR, E
T.J. Johnson … 2 GP, 4.2 IP, 3 R/1 ER, 8 H, BB, HB, K
Jeff Opalewski … 2 GS, 4.2 IP, 2 UER, 5 H, 2 BB, WP, K
Ryan Creamens … IP, R, 3 H, BB, HB