April 22, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame and Ball State baseball teams have waged some tight battles at Eck Stadium in recent years and Tuesday night’s meeting was no exception, as the Cardinals capitalized on a costly two-out error in the top of the ninth to plate the decisive runs in a 3-1 win over the 16th-ranked Irish.
Notre Dame (29-9) again struggled at the plate, totaling just five hits, but the Irish still had several chances at scoring more runs before ultimately leaving seven runners on base. The lone Notre Dame run and three of the five hits came in the opening inning, with a Brennan Grogan groundout plating Steve Sollmann.
Ball State (27-11) – which entered the game ranked 11th in the nation with a .333 team batting average – also missed out on several opportunities, stranding 10 baserunners in the game.
The Cardinals emerged victorious from a close game with the Irish for the third time in the last six years, also winning tight games at Eck Stadium in 1998 (4-3) and 2001 (5-4).
The game marked just the second time this season that Notre Dame’s losing margin has come via unearned runs – and the first since the opening week of the season (when six unearned runs provided Arizona State its 14-8 margin). The Irish entered the game ranked 27th in the nation with a .970 fielding percentage (a full five points above the school record) – but the team’s only error of Tuesday’s game proved a costly one.
Sophomore righthander Chris Niesel again failed to pick up a decision despite six strong innings, striking out six BSU batters while allowing one run on seven hits and one walk. Senior closer J.P. Gagne (3-4) then logged the final three innings, allowing the two unearned runs, two hits and three walks while posting three Ks.
BSU freshman Joe Ness joined Niesel in the pitchers’ duel, allowing just one hit after the first inning (four total) while yielding just one walk and fanning three in his six-inning stint.
Both starting pitchers showed excellent location, with Niesel placing 61 of his 83 pitches for strikes while Ness was on target with 50 of 76.
The ninth-inning runs made a winner of sophomore lefthander Cory Bucklew (3-1), who tossed a scoreless seventh and eighth with two Ks, two walks and one hit allowed. Junior righthander John Pettitbone gave up a two-out walk in the ninth before notching his eighth save of the season.
Brad Miller opened the ninth with a single up the middle and pinch-runner Lorenzo Scott then stole second before Jason Bucholtz drew a one-out, four-pitch walk. A groundball moved Scott to third and forced out Bucholtz at second, with the Irish then conceding the base on the ensuing stolen-base attempt.
Gagne worked ahead in the count versus Lucas Fry, who chopped a 1-2 offering to the left side of the mound. The athletic Gagne moved quickly to his right and jumped in the air to snare the ball before lobbing a soft throw to first base – with the ball glancing off the glove of first baseman Matt Edwards as both runners came around to score.
Sollmann – who extended his hitting streak to 11 games – sparked Notre Dame’s early run with a leadoff double to the left-center gap, moving up to third when the shortstop fumbled with the relay. Grogan’s rightside groundout brought home the run but the Irish failed to cash in two other hits in the inning (by Matt Edwards and Steve Andres), with Ness serving up a groundout and flyout to escape the threat.
Ball State scored a similar run in the fourth, with Marc Franz walking on a full count to start the inning and moving to third on Kyle Dygert’s first-pitch single to center field. Miller then provided the RBI groundout to the right side for the 1-1 score.
NOTES: Sollmann also executed a bunt single in the eighth, for his 22nd multi-hit game of the season (his season batting average now sits at .399) S ND entered the day ranked 27th in team ERA (3.55), with that number dropping to 3.48 S ND scored a 1st-inning run for the third straight game (something that had happened just once previously this season) S Niesel dropped his season ERA to 2.76 while Gagne’s dipped below 3.00 (2.95).
Ball State 0-0-0 1-0-0 0-0-2 - 3 9 1Notre Dame 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 - 1 5 1Joe Ness, Kory Bucklew (7; W, 3-1), John Pettitbone (9; SV, 8) and Lucas Fry.Chris Niesel, J.P. Gagne (7; L, 3-4) and Javi Sanchez.Double: Steve Sollmann (ND).