June 4, 2004
Notre Dame, Ind. – Sophomore righthander Andy Sonnanstine allowed only an unearned run and six hits while striking out seven in seven innings of work to lead fourth-seeded Kent State to a 2-1 upset victory against top-seeded Notre Dame (49-11) Friday afternoon in the opening game of the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. The Golden Flashes (36-25), who won their opening game in the NCAAs for just the second time in seven appearances, prevailed in a contest that featured strong pitching performances and many missed opportunities from both sides.
Sonnanstine, fresh off a Mid-American Conference Tournament in which he struck out 21 and surrendered just three earned runs in pitching a pair of complete games, won his sixth consecutive decision to move to 11-4 and improve upon his school record for victories in a season. He threw 135 pitches and walked just a pair, while striking out seven or more for the ninth time this spring. He also added to his school records for both strikeouts (now 117) and innings pitched (125.0) in a season.
“What Andy did today against a high-powered offense – you can’t say enough about what he did,” said KSU head coach Rick Rembielak. “It’s a good reflection of what he’s done all season. He did a great job of keeping them off balance.”
The Golden Flashes, which have won 16 of their last 20, will next play the winner of Friday evening’s game between second-seeded UC Irvine and the No. 3 seed, Arizona Saturday at 3:05 p.m. (EST). KSU has never played either the Anteaters or the Wildcats.
Senior third baseman Matt Sega made up for a throwing error that allowed an unearned run to tie the game, leading off the eighth inning with a double and scoring on a single by Will Vazquez to hand the Flashes the lead for good.
Irish junior righthander Chris Niesel (8-3) was the hard-luck loser, giving up just two runs in 7.1 innings, while striking out four. It marked his first career postseason loss in seven appearances and dropped his career record to 21-4. He was especially proficient at getting out of jams against a KSU team that put runners in scoring position in six innings and left eight on base.
Notre Dame, ranked as high as fifth in the national polls, had won 16 of its last 17 games and nine of its last 10 at home. The Irish dropped their first NCAA game for the first time since 1994, a span covering seven appearances.
A crowd of 2,117 packed Eck Stadium for the contest, marking the largest-ever crowd for an NCAA regional game in the facility and the fifth-largest of all-time.
“I was really pleased with the tremendous crowd and the enthusiasm,” said Irish head coach Paul Mainieri. “The stage was set; I guess someone just forgot to tell Kent State not to do what they did today.”
The Irish threatened on a variety of occasions, leaving runners on third base four times, but managing just one run. Notre Dame stranded a total of eight runners.
The victory was the first for Kent State against a ranked opponent since the Golden Flashes knocked off #1 Georgia Tech 5-3 on March 16, 2003.
After the teams combined to leave eight men on base over the first four innings, Kent State took a 1-0 lead in the fifth with a two-out single from Andrew Davis that scored Adam Crowder from second base. Crowder led off the inning with a single to left center and then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Erick Holick. It was the second consecutive at-bat that Davis came through with a base hit with a teammate on base and the 26th time this season he notched multiple hits.
The Irish tied the game in the seventh, manufacturing an unearned run. Greg Lopez, Notre Dame’s nine-hole hitter, singled to right for the second time in as many official at-bats and then stole second. Matt Macri then reached based when Sega’s throw on a routine ground ball sailed over the first-baseman’s head. Steve Sollmann then scored Lopez on a sacrifice fly to deep right.
Notre Dame would not manage another baserunner, as Sonnanstine retired the final two batters of the seventh and then Chad Wagler came on to pitch two perfect innings for his seventh save.
Notre Dame had opportunities to get on the board three times in the first five innings, stranding a runner on third each time. In the opening frame, Matt Bransfield and Javi Sanchez delivered two-out singles to put runners on the corners. Steve Andres then drove a ball deep to right-center, but Chuck Moore hauled it in on the warning track.
In the third, Lopez led off with a single and Sollmann stretched another would-be one-bagger into a double to put runners on second and third with only one out. Sonnanstine then got a pair of strikeouts, first of Matt Bransfield and then of Irish cleanup batter Javi Sanchez, to get out of the inning. An errant 2-2 offering from Sonnanstine pegged Sanchez in the shoulder, but the Irish were denied a bases-loaded situation when it was ruled that the Irish catcher leaned into the pitch. Two pitches later, Sanchez was a called out on strikes to get KSU out of the inning.
The Irish, trailing for the first time, nearly plated a run in the fifth despite not managing a hit, but Sonnanstine again retired Bransfield with runners on first and third and two outs, getting the BIG EAST Conference’s RBI leader to pop up the first pitch to second base. The inning started with a walk to Cody Rizzo and a sacrifice bunt from Lopez that sent him to second. Rizzo then reached third on a wild pitch, but was stranded there, as Sonnanstine struck out Macri and walked Sollmann before Bransfield’s pop out.
Kent State had a variety of early opportunities, putting a runner in scoring position in three of the first four innings before scoring. The Golden Flashes’ best opportunity came in the third, when Joe Tucker reached base via a passed ball on strike three. He then moved to third on a Davis single. Chad Kinyon, Kent State’s top hitter, then drove a ball to right, but Craig Cooper tracked it down to get the Irish out of the inning.
The Irish will take on the UCI-Arizona loser on Saturday at 11:05 a.m. (EST) in the first elimination game of the South Bend Regional.