May 19, 2006
PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. – PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. (5/19/06) – Jeff Manship made a strong final statement for BIG EAST pitcher of the year honors and Ross Brezovsky had a hand in four of the team’s runs as the 19th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team clinched the BIG EAST Conference regular-season title with Friday’s 6-2 win over Villanova. The Irish have reached 40 wins for the 17th time in the past 18 seasons and have posted 20 wins in BIG EAST play for the fourth time, with no other team ever reaching 20 victories in 22 seasons of BIG EAST baseball.
Ross Brezovsky has been Notre Dame’s top offensive player in the post-finals games (all photos by Pete LaFleur).
Notre Dame (40-14-1, 20-5-1 BIG EAST) claimed its sixth regular-season title in 11 BIG EAST seasons and next will look to complete its fifth three-game sweep of the season, in Saturday’s series finale versus Villanova. The Irish then will set their sights on winning a fifth consecutive BIG EAST Tournament title, with their first-round opponent (and game time) still to be determined for that opening game on May 23 in Clearwater, Fla. (the Irish will face either South Florida or Pittsburgh in that game).
Manship (9-1) allowed just one earned run (and an unearned run) on five hits, one walk and two hit batters in 7.2 innings, with his 23 outs including six via strikeouts and 12 that came on groundballs (plus three infield popups and a runner thrown out trying to stretch a single). He faced just five batters over the minimum allowed only five balls to leave the infield, on four of the hits (the other was an infield single) and a flyout to left field.
Greg Lopez helped turn two double plays behind Jeff Manship.
The strong outing saw Manship located 70 of his 114 pitches for strikes while allowing just 2-of-8 leadoff batters to reach base while limiting Villanova to 1-for-7 batting with 2-outs. Manship became the fourth pitcher in Notre Dame history to eclipse 100 strikeouts in a season (102), with 2001 classmates Aaron Heilman and Danny Tamayo being the only Irish pitchers with more strikeouts in a season. Heilman holds the record of 118, set in 1999 and tied in 2000.
Brezovsky paced the Irish offense from the cleanup spot, with an RBI single, a two-run double and a run scored. The sophomore second baseman boosted his season batting average to .316 and is the team’s top hitter (.435; 10-for-23) during the six games since the end of final exams.
Senior first baseman Craig Cooper (2-for-5, R, 2B) took another step towards being the first player ever to win three BIG EAST batting titles (for avg. in conference games). Cooper entered the day with a 40-point cushion on the second-place batter and saw his BIG EAST average dip just four points to .471 (49-for-104). He also entered game-2 as the BIG EAST leader in overall batting avg., with that number staying at .426.
Brett Lilley scored the first Irish run and reached base four times in the game-2 win over the Wildcats.
Cooper – who has reached base in 47 of his 49 games played this season while collecting hits in 44 of them and scoring in 43 – maintains a shot at claming the BIG EAST record for top career batting avg. in BIG EAST games. Cooper is batting at a .440 clip in BIG EAST games during his career (117-for-166), trailing only former Rutgers player Joe Cirrone (.443) in the BIG EAST record book. Cooper’s average is considerably the more impressive mark of the two, as he actually has totaled two more hits than Cirrone’s total career at-bats (115) during his BIG EAST career.
With one BIG EAST game left to play, Cooper also ranks 7th on the list for career hits in BIG EAST play (117) and 9th in runs scored (81). Next up on the hits list are former St. John’s shortstop Mike Rozema (120) and former UConn centerfielder Mike Scott (121) while Scott also scored 83 runs (former Seton Hall standout Dana Brown had 84 career runs). Cooper likely will come a few hits shy of the BIG EAST record for hits in a season (54), set by former Rutgers shortstop Darren Fenster.
Cooper can claim the BIG EAST record for career batting avg. by going 2-for-2 or 3-for-4 (or better) in the regular-season finale versus Villanova.
Steve Andres had a double and sacrifice fly to continue his strong series versus Villanova.
Manship’s impressive season now includes a 2.65 ERA, better than a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (102/19), a lowly .212 opponent batting average and 20 more innings pitched (88.1) than hits allowed (69). He maintains the top career K-to-walk ratio in the Notre Dame record book (4.21; 122/29) while his 5.37 K/BB ratio for the 2006 season still would rank 6th-best in record ND history. Manship also is averaging 10.39 strikeouts per 9.0 innings pitched this season, good for 9th-place in the ND record book (his 9.89 career Ks/9 IP ranks 5th).
Notre Dame has dominated 4th-inning scoring all season and that continued in game-2, as the Irish plated a pair of runs for a 66-14 scoring edge in the 4th this season. Righthanded starter Mike Loree (3-7) plunked Brett Lilley with an 0-1 pitch and a groundout advanced the runner to second before Brezovsky sent the next pitch up the middle for an RBI single. Loree then uncorked a wild pitch and lost Danny Dressman on a five-pitch walk before senior leftfielder Steve Andres (who also doubled earlier in the game) lifted a sacrifice fly to left field.
The Irish tacked on a run in the 5th, after a leadoff single by Greg Lopez, Cooper’s opposite-field double down the rightfield line (on a 1-2 pitch) and Lilley’s first-pitch single through the right side. The lead grew to 5-0 in the 7th, as Loree (6 IP, 5 R/4 ER, 6 H, 4 BB, K) was knocked from the game after walking Cody Rizzo on four pitches and serving up Cooper’s first-pitch single up the middle. Righthander Ryan Wendler then fell behind in the count versus Brezovsky, who ripped a two-run double over the rightfielder’s head for the five-run cushion.
Craig Cooper continued his impressive season by batting 2-for-5 in game-2.
Notre Dame capped its scoring in the 8th, after Alex Nettey’s leadoff single and Rizzo’s RBI double to the gap in right-center.
Manship and the Irish nearly registered a shutout, as Lilley stepped on the third-base bag and threw across the diamond for a potential inning-ending double play in the 8th. But the throw bounced and the inning continued with two runners in scoring position, with both scoring on Ryan Arcadia’s double down the leftfield line. Freshman righthander Kyle Weiland then took the mound and ultimately retired four of the six batters he faced to close out the win (2 H).
BIG EAST TOURNAMENT UPDATE – ND will be the top seed and UConn (17-6-1) the #2 seed while Louisville has moved into 3rd (16-10) and St. John’s now is 4th (15-10) … West Virginia (14-12) is holding onto the 5-seed while Rugers and Cincinnati are tied for 6th (13-13) … South Florida (11-15) can claim the final spot with a win at WVU or a loss by Pittsburgh (10-16) vs. Georgetown.
Kyle Weiland closed out Notre Dame’s 40th win of the season.
NOTES – Manship’s 10.39 Ks per 9 IP this season rank 9th in ND history and 35th in the Mainieri era, behind Ryan Doherty (12.18 in ’04, 11.10 in ’05), Aaron Heilman (10.48, in ’98) and Brad Lidge (10.42, in ’98) … his season 4.21 K-to-walk ratio rank 11th in the ND record book and 5th in the Mainieri era, behind current senior LHP Tom Thornton (10.40, in ’06), Danny Tamayo (6.24, in ’01), Scott Cavey (5.88, in ’99), Chris Niesel (4.58, in ’03) and J.P. Gagne (4.31, in ’02) … the only ND pitchers with more Ks in a season than Manship (102) include Heilman (118 in ’99 and ’00; 111 in ’01) and Tamayo (106, in ’01) … the Irish have the chance to end the regular season having no players with double-digit errors (Brezovsky and Jeremy Barnes have 9 each) … Lopez moved past Mike Amrhein into 10th place on the ND career list for games started (210) … Lopez and Rizzo (201) are the second set of ND classmates to each start 200-plus games – joining the 2002 group of CF Steve Stanley (256), catcher Paul O’Toole (229) and 3B/C Andrew Bushey (222) … Rizzo (225) and Lopez (223) also are the second set of classmates to each play in 220-plus games (Stanley 256, O’Toole 239 and Bushey 223) … Craig Counsell (236) and his 1992 classmate Cory Mee (219) had been the program’s most noteworthy games-played classmates prior to ’02 … Lopez is tied with Bushey for 9th on the ND career games played list (Rizzo is 7th, three behind Jeff Felker) … the senior class now has totaled 174 wins in their four-year career … ND is one of just a handful of teams to reach 40-plus wins at least 17 times in the past 20 seasons … previous ND teams to win 20-plus BIG EAST games include the 1999 (20-5), 2001 (22-4) and 2006 (20-6) teams … Cooper (251) is the 9th ND player ever to reach 250 career hits … Cooper .358 career batting avg. remains 11th in ND history while his .426 second avg. is 6th-best (2nd in the Mainieri era) … his season on-base dropped a bit to .523 (still 3rd-best in the ND record book) while his .458 career on-base pct. is 8th in ND history … Cooper also became the 13th ND player to score 70 runs in a season while his 182 career runs are one behind Alec Porzel for 10th on the ND charts (his 107 walks are 11th, two behind Jeff Wagner) … Cooper’s double was the 48th of his career (12th-most in ND history) … Lilley was 1-for-2 with 3 HBPs in game-2, his 18th HBP of the season and 48th of his career … Lilley’s .486 career on-base pct. trails only Eric Danapilis (.559) and Scott Sollmann (.522) in ND history … Lopez’s 719 career at-bats leave him 10 shy of that ND top-10 list while his 561 career fielding assists rank 4th, just one behind Porzel.
#19 Notre Dame (40-14-1, 20-5-1 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 2-0-1 2-0-1 – 6 9 1
Villanova (27-26, 8-17 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-2-0 – 2 7 0
Jeff Manship (W, 9-1), Kyle Weiland (8) and Cody Rizzo.
Mike Loree (3-7), Steve Wendler (7) and Jim Gillin.
Doubles: Craig Cooper (ND), Ross Brezovsky (ND), Steve Andres (ND), Cody Rizzo (ND), Ryan Arcadia (VU).