April 24, 2007

Two Notre Dame baseball players – freshman shortstop A.J. Pollock and sophomore lefthanded pitcher Sam Elam – have been named to the BIG EAST weekly honor roll, in recognition of their efforts during the week of April 16-22. Pollock hit .421 (8-for-19) as the Irish posted midweek games over Toledo and Purdue, followed by taking 2-of-3 from West Virginia. Elam had an historic start in the Purdue game, surrendering his only hit in 9.0 innings with 2-outs in the 8th and ultimately striking out nine Boilermaker batters.

Pollock (Hebron, Conn.) compiled a lofty 1.226 OPS – .542 on-base pct. plus .684 slugging pct. – in the five games, with 6 RBI, 7 runs scored, a home run, a pair of doubles and a stole base. He led the Irish with .545 batting in the WVU series (6-for-11, 6 RI, 5 R, HR, 2 2B, 4 BB, SB), including a big effort in the 17-6 game-2 win (3-for-3, 3 BB, 6 RBI, 3 R, HR, 2B). He currently leads all BIG EAST freshmen (excluding reshirts) in season batting average (.371) and RBI (23) while his 27 runs scored trail only West Virginia’s Vince Belnome (39) and Brian Kemp of St. John’s (33), among the league’s true freshmen.

One of Notre Dame’s top all-around offensive players, Pollock currently leads the Irish in stolen bases (7-of-7) and three situational batting categories: vs. LHPs (.451), with runners on base (.451) and with runners in scoring position (.435). He also has advanced a team-best 67% of baserunners while ranking second on the team in eight other categories – batting avg. (.365), slugging pct. (.467), on-base pct. (.440), hits (50), home runs (3), sac. bunts (8), batting vs. RHPs (.321) and 2-out batting (.324) – plus third in runs (27), total bases (27), walks (18) and 2-out RBI (8), and fourth in RBI (23).

Elam was part of an epic pitchers duel that saw him and Purdue’s Matt Bischoff both take no-hitters into the 8th inning. Elam ended up 4-outs shy of a no-hitter while Bischoff’s perfect game ended with a leadoff single from Jeremy Barnes in the 9th (ND won 1-0, in the 10th). Elam faced just 33 batters in the 9.0 innings, with 6 walks and a career-high 9 strikeouts. The big lefthander was close to becoming the first Notre Dame pitcher since 1938 to throw a solo 9-inning no-hitter, nonetheless becoming the first ND pitcher since Grant Johnson in 2002 (vs. South Alabama, in the NCAAs) to throw a 9-inning, solo 1-hitter.

The win over Purdue saw Elam allow just three balls to reach the outfield, with his 27 outs including the 9 Ks, 12 groundouts,a couple infield popups, a pair of flyouts, another ball caught by the centerfielder just beyond the infield dirt, and a pickoff move that caught a runner going on first movement. He allowed only one leadoff baserunner all night and faced just four baserunners in scoring position (only one reached third base), with three of his Ks coming “looking” (he struck out all but two of the Purdue starters) while he located 73 of his 122 pitches in the zon.

Elam knocked his 6.00 season ERA down to 3.75, with his other season stats now including 20 Ks, 17 walks and 12 hits allowed in 24.0 innings – with a lowly .152 opponent batting average in eight appearances and five starts (0-1 record).

Prior to the 1-0 win over South Florida in the opener of that series five weeks ago (March 23, at Eck Stadium), it had been five years and 316 games since the Irish had played in a game that ended 1-0 and extended to at least nine innings (April 1, 2002; when J.P. Gagne went the distance to beat BYU). It then happened twice in a span of 27 days (and 17 games) – with Elam joining his classmate David Phelps (who beat USF) as Notre Dame pitchers who have gone the full nine innings in a game that ended up 1-0.

A check of the Notre Dame record books back to at least 1992 revealed no other seasons in which an Irish team has played two different 1-0 games that have gone at least nine innings, thus linking Phelps and Elam in that unique combination of pitching excellence under the high pressure of a 1-0 (or 0-0) score.

The rarity of any 1-0 game can be seen in the fact that only eight ND games in the past 15 seasons – spanning 919 games – have yielded that score (all won by the Irish), and three of those 1-0 finals were 7-inning games. Most college baseball observers rarely see a game go nine innings without any runs, but that actually happened to ND in the 2006 season, with Arizona going on to win that game in 10 innings (2-0; on March 5, 2006, at the Metrodome in Minneapolis).

Elam joined Phelps among the 11 different ND pitchers since 1995 (done a total of 16 times) to pitch 9.0 shutout innings in a game. The 2007 season marks the second straight year in which the Irish pitching staff has produced multiple 9-inning solo shutouts, with departed LHP Tom Thornton (4-0 win over Southern Illinois) and current junior LHP Wade Korpi (2-0 vs. Western Michigan) both going the full 9.0 without allowing a run during 2006 games. The four seasons prior to `06 (2002-05) each did not feature more than one game in which an Irish pitcher logged a 9-inning solo shutout.

Notre Dame pitchers have combined to throw 9-inning shutouts 16 times since 1995, with Elam being the only one to do so while allowing only one hit. Gagne, Phelps and Elam are the only Irish pitchers in the past 13 seasons to log nine shutout innings in a 1-0 game.

Elam was four outs away from securing a rare no-hit stat line through 9.0 innings. It’s been nearly 60 years since an ND pitching staff produced a 9-inning no-hitter, dating back to a 1949 win over Pensacola (when Bob Nemes, Dick Smullen and Tony Lipton combined for no hits allowed, as part of a 12-0 win). One has to go back 10 years earlier than that game to find a solo 9-inning no-hitter by a Notre Dame pitcher, with that rare feat turned in by Mike Mandjiak in a 1939 win over the University of Chicago (5-0). The most recent solo no-hitters in the ND record book both came in 7-inning games, by RHP Brian Piotrowicz in 1988 (2-0 vs. Ball State; 5/11/88) and LHP Don Wolfe 13 years earlier (10-0 vs. Butler; 4/20/75).

The previous time that Notre Dame has turned in a one-hitter during a 9-inning game was the record-setting 25-1 win over South Alabama to open the 2002 NCAA Regional at Eck Stadium (6/1/02). Then-freshman Johnson – who currently pitches for the single-A Daytona Cubs – faced only 30 batters that day while allowing just one hit and one walk (plus a pair of hit batters and 8 Ks) in the full 9.0 innings. Johnson that day became only the 13th pitcher ever to post a no-hitter or one-hitter in the NCAAs and was just the fourth to do so since 1981.

Johnson’s classmate and fellow righthander Chris Niesel threw a one-hitter in the 7-inning opener of the 2003 showdown series with West Virginia (5/3/03, also at Eck Stadium). Niesel allowed only a bunt single in the 7th, facing just 23 batters with a walk and 9 Ks. Three years prior to the one-hit win over South Alabama, the Irish posted an historic one-hit victory over the University of Miami (1-0; 5/12/99), when Alex Shilliday, Chris McKeown and Aaron Heilman combined to nearly no-hit the Hurricanes. Miami’s only hit in that classic battle came with two outs and a 1-2 count in the 9th.