March 16, 2001
READY TO ROAR: Notre Dame won eight of its first 10 games for the second consecutive season and is in the midst of a three-year stretch that has seen the Irish win 29 more games than it has lost during the months of February and March (43-24-1), including 16-7 in 1999, 16-5 in 2000 and the current 11-2-1 mark … that early success stands in stark contrast to the starts of the 1995 (11-10) and 1997 (12-11) seasons that saw the Irish forced to rally with strong play in April and May … the current 11-2-1 record is ND’s best after 14 games since the 1958 team started 12-2 (that team improved to 14-2 before suffering its third loss).
TOURNAMENT TOUGH: ND is 50-18-1 (.731) in regular-season tournaments during the Paul Mainieri era, including a 1998 win over Florida State, wins in 2000 over Wake Forest, Georgia and Illinois (2) and this season’s wins over Mississippi State (2) and Fresno State … the Irish are 17-3-1 in their last 21 regular-season tournament games, dating back to a 9-7 loss to Minnesota on March 4 of last season.
EARLY CHALLENGES: Today’s game marks the seventh time that Notre Dame has faced a team that participated in the 2000 NCAAs, with the other opponents including New Orleans, Mississippi State (2), Florida Atlantic, Fresno State and Miami (Ohio).
THE ND-ILLINOIS SERIES: Today’s game will mark the 59th meeting in an ND-Illinois series that dates back to 1895, with the Illini holding a 37-21 series edge … the Irish have won three of the last four, including a pair of games last season in Jacksonville, Fla. (played at North Florida’s Harmon Stadium, as part of the Kennel Clubs Classic) … the series includes 10 one-run games, with the Irish winning six of those close finishes … today’s game will mark just the third series meeting on neutral ground … Illinois became the sixth all-time opponent in Notre Dame baseball history, during the program’s third varsity season (1895) … game recaps and boxscores from ND’s 2000 wins over Illinois (5-1, 12-3) can be found in the pressbox copies of these game notes and at the following website links:
STRONG STARTERS: Notre Dame’s starting pitchers have combined for a 1.79 ERA through the first 14 games (18 earned runs in 90.1 innings) … the bulk of those starts (12 of 14) have come from the regular three-man rotation-seniors Aaron Heilman and Danny Tamayo and junior Matt Buchmeier-who have combined for a 1.61 ERA in 78 innings … sophomores Peter Ogilvie (5 IP, UER) and J.P. Gagne (7.1 IP, 4 ER) have turned in the other solid starts … the other combined stats for ND starting pitchers in 2001 include a 7-1 record, 74 Ks, 21 walks ad 66 hits allowed (for nine-inning averages of 7.4 Ks, 2.1 BBs and 6.6 hits) … Tamayo’s shutout of UNM gives him a 1.00 season ERA, plus 22 Ks, five walks and 16 hits allowed in 27 innings … Heilman has a 1.24 ERA and 4-0 record, plus 30 Ks, 7 BB and 20 H allowed in 29 IP … Buchmeier is 1-0, 2.86, with 15 Ks/5 BB/22 H in 22 IP … ND’s overall 2.66 team ERA includes a 4.54 ERA by the bullpen.
NO SPRING CHICKENS: Freshman 2B Steve Sollmann has surged to the team batting lead (.412), thanks to a .476 average during the six Spring Break games (7-for-15 in Fresno) while the other Steve S.-junior CF Steve Stanley-is hitting .400 during the past week and 9-for-18 during the PJQ Classic.
FIT TO BE TIED: The 4-4 game with Navy was the 17th tie in the 109-year history of Notre Dame baseball and the first since 1989, when the Irish played a 5-5 game at Northwestern (that season ended with a trip to Fresno State for NCAA regional action) … the tie also was the first in Paul Mainieri’s 19-year coaching career, coming in the 990th game he has coached on the college level.
HITTING IN THE CLUTCH: ND’s team batting average has dipped to .295 but is 21 points lower with runners in scoring position (.274), including just 9-for-36 (.250) in the first four tournament games … by contrast, the Irish batted .299 overall in the 2000 season but hit 14 points higher (.313) with runners in scoring position … the lack of clutch hitting has seen the Irish total just 28 runs in the last eight games, with no more than five runs in any game … sophomores Brian Stavisky and Kris Billmaier have been ND’s top hitters with runners in scoring position, both at .438 (7-for-16)-with the rest of the team hitting just .232 with RBI chances.
CLEARING THE COBWEBS: ND has totaled just six runs in the first two innings this season (three in the 1st, three in the 2nd) while totaling nine in both the 3rd and 4th and eight in the 5th … the 7th inning continues to be ND’s most dominant (18-3, including 4-0 in Fresno) while ND’s second-most productive inning has been the 8th (10) … the Irish have yielded 15 runs in the 9th inning, compared to just 36 in the first eight innings combined, with the 8th inning (10 runs allowed) also being trouble for the ND pitchers.
AN EASIER ROAD: Despite the fact that the Irish baseball team is wrapping up a first month of the season that will have spanned more than 10,000 miles, the team’s path to Fresno was much easier than the program’s previous trip to Fresno … at the end of the 1989 season, the Midwestern Collegiate Conference Tournament at South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium was pushed back to torrential rains and the Irish were forced to win four games in a 23-hour span in order to claim the MCC’s automatic berth in the NCAAs … that marked ND’s first trip to the NCAAs since 1970, with the Irish dropping a pair to host Fresno State (9-8, 11-4) while beating Portland (8-6) at that NCAA West II Regional … Wichita State won that regional en route to capturing the 1989 national title.
SCORING STREAK: By scoring vs. Navy, Notre Dame set the team record for consecutive games with at least one run scored (now 136), dating back to a 12-0 loss at Florida International on Feb. 21, 1999 … ND scored in the each of the first 133 games of the Paul Mainieri era (Feb. 24, 1995-March 9, 1997) and has scored in of 375 of 380 total games during the Mainieri era (98.7 percent).
SHUTOUT CITY: ND’s last 16 games have including three shutout performances by Irish pitchers … Danny Tamayo tossed a three-hit shutout at Mississippi State in the 2000 NCAA Regional (3-0) before duplicating that feat in Monday’s 3-0 win over New Mexico … Aaron Heilman blanked Florida Atlantic on five hits to lead ND’s 3-0 win over the Blue Wave on March 2.
STAVISKY “CLOTHESLINES” BULLDOGS: Sophomore Brian Stavisky has been limited to DH duty as he returns from a hamstring injury, with his batting average “falling” to .400 as he gets back to full speed … Stavisky showed plenty of bat speed in the win over Fresno State, picking up the first grand slam of his ND career on a linedrive ball that quickly disappeared over the rightfield fence.
TAMAYO MUFFLES LOBOS: Senior RHP Danny Tamayo (Miami, Fla.)-who missed the ’99 season before undergoing “Tommy John” reconstructive elbow surgery-continued his stellar start to 2001 with a three-hit shutout of New Mexico (3-0) in Monday’s opening action … Tamayo (2-1) reprised the three-hit shutout that he turned in at Mississippi State in the 2000 NCAA Starkville Regional, allowing two other baserunners to reach via walks while striking out five UNM batters … his 122-pitch outing included eight groundouts and 13 flyouts, with a single through the left side in the first inning, a single to right in the third and an infield single in the seventh … Tamayo retired nine straight batters from the third through sixth innings, highlighted by four straight strikeouts of the No. 5-8 batters.
ONE RUN PER NINE: The shutout of New Mexico dropped Danny Tamayo’s season ERA to 1.00, with 22 Ks, five walks and 16 hits allowed in 27 innings … Tamayo has allowed just one earned run in his last 22 innings (by South Florida), after allowing two fifth-inning earned runs in the opener vs. New Orleans.
PRIME-TIME PLAYER: ND freshman 2B Steve Sollmann (Cincinnati, Ohio) used his bat and his glove to turn in two of the biggest plays in the win over UNM before collecting two hits and two runs scored in the 5-4, 10-inning win over Fresno State (he scored the game-winner) and singling home ND’s first two runs in the 3-2, 11-inning win over Miami … in the UNM game, the Irish failed to plate any of their six baserunners during the first six innings before breaking through with a pair of runs in the 7th … the Lobos then loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning but Sollmann saved the day with a lunging stab of a linedrive that nearly tied the game … Andrew Bushey ignited the ND rally with a one-out single to left before Ben Cooke executed the hit-and-run with a single down the leftfield line … Sollmann then fouled off three pitches with two strikes before ultimately slapping a full-count groundball to the left side (on the ninth pitch of the AB) … with the infield playing in, SS Dusty Young couldn’t stop the hard-hit grounder from skidding into left field … UNM then sent lefty Josh Love to the mound (replacing Jason Bengert) but Steve Stanley hit a first-pitch sacrifice fly to center for the 2-0 lead … UNM was poised to tie the game moments later, after an infield single and a pair of errors loaded the bases with one out .. .Danny Tamayo then induced Young into a first-pitch infield popup before leadoff batter Troy Cairns ripped a full-count pitch towards Sollmann’s right-with the converted outfielder quickly leaping into the air and extending nearly horizontal to the ground before snaring the ball to end the threat.
30-30: Senior SS Alec Porzel is on the verge of becoming the first Irish player ever to reach 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in his career … Porzel has 29 HRs and 27 SBs in 189 GP, leaving him on the doorstep of the 30-30 plateau … junior C Paul O’Toole (17 HR, 32 SB, 128 GP) likewise has a shot at the 30-30 distinction.
IRISH MOVE UP: ND edged up a spot in both the Baseball America (9th) and USA Today/ESPN coaches polls (10th) while jumping 11th to 8th in the Collegiate Baseball poll … BA dropped Auburn from 7th to 13th, with the top eight teams in that poll including Rice (18-4), South Carolina (16-2), Georgia Tech (13-5), Nebraska (12-3), Arizona State (17-4), Miami (17-5), LSU (13-6), Pepperdine (15-4) and USC (12-8) … CB’s top seven teams include Rice, South Carolina, Stanford, ASU, Nebraska, Pepperdine and Georgia Tech, with LSU dropping from 2nd to 11th, USC falling from 4th to 13th and Auburn slipping from 8th to 15th … the top 10 teams in the coaches poll include Rice (997 voting points), South Carolina (965), Stanford (927), ASU (875), Georgia Tech (772), LSU (698), Miami (678), Nebraska (634, making the jump from 12th), Pepperdine (613) and ND (582), with Auburn dropping from 7th to 12th and USC from 4th to 13th … ND’s BIG EAST rival Rutgers checks in at 23rd in the BA poll, 24th in the coaches poll and 25th in the CB poll while Mississippi State (another ND opponent) is 21st in the CB poll and received the 26th-most votes in the coaches poll.
INSURANCE BLAST: Junior rightfielder Paul O’Toole (Lakewood, Ohio) smacked his second home run of the season and 17th of his career to open the eighth inning of the UNM game, sending a 2-1 pitch over the rightfield fence … O’Toole also hit a sharp single up the middle earlier in the game for a 2-for-4 game that could signal an end to his season-opening slump.
STATE PRIDE: With eight Ohio natives on the 2001 Irish baseball squad, Notre Dame could field an all-Ohio squad that also would include second-year assistant coach Dusty Lepper at SS (he is a native of Findlay and played at Toledo) while the team’s student managers-Ken Kleppel and Katie Furman-would split time in left field (both hail from the Cleveland area) … here’s how the rest of the all-Ohio squad would be aligned: junior C Andrew Bushey (Boardman), junior 1B Paul O’Toole (Lakewood), freshman 2B Steve Sollmann (Cincinnati), senior 3B Ben Cooke (Bay Village), junior CF Steve Stanley (Upper Arlington) and junior RF Matt Bok (Akron) … two freshman RHPs would share pitching duties: Mike Morgalis (Cincinnati) and Nick Colagiovanni (Garfield Heights).
BIG SHADOWS: Several members of the Notre Dame baseball team bring big frames to the ballpark, including All-America RHP Aaron Heilman (6-5, 225 pounds) and two everyday starters: sophomore RF Brian Stavisky (6-3, 220) and freshman 1B Joe Thaman (6-4, 205) … sophomore 1B Mike Holba (6-7, 225) is the tallest member of the Irish squad and was an all-state quarterback as a prep while junior OF Matt Strickroth (6-5, 230) was an all-state football lineman during his high school days.
LOBOS JOIN ALL-TIME OPPONENT LIST: Notre Dame has faced 272 all-time opponents in 109 varsity baseball seasons, including five first-time opponents during the 2001 season: Sam Houston State, Florida Atlantic, South Florida, the University of the Pacific and New Mexico.
ROOKIE SENSATIONS: Irish freshman 2B Steve Sollmann (.team-best 412 season avg.) and rookie 1B Joe Thaman (fourth on team at .340, including eight of ND’s 26 doubles) continue to produce as members of a veteran Irish offense that is hitting just .295 as a team … their strong starts are all the more noteworthy considering the early-season struggles of recent Irish players during their freshman seasons, including Alec Porzel in 1998, Steve Stanley in 1999 (he opened 0-for-17) and Brian Stavisky in 2000.
ROAD WARRIORS: The current Spring Break trip will complete a first month that will see ND traverse more than 10,000 miles while playing in four parts of the country (also Starkville, Miss., San Antonio, Texas, St. Petersburg, Fla.) …the well-traveled Irish spent 13 of 17 days on the road from Feb. 16-March 4 (all but Feb. 19-20, 26-27) and will be away from home during 19 of 27 days from Feb. 16-March 17 (ND will spend the first six weekends away from home, before a March 31-April 1 series with Seton Hall at Eck Stadium).
THE FIRST 10: ND opened play at the Bank of Commerce Classic, losing a tough 7-6 game to New Orleans before twice knocking off the host team and 16th-ranked Mississippi St. (7-5, 4-2 in 11) … the Irish then swept all three games in San Antonio at the Alamo Invitational, beating Texas-San Antonio (8-3), Texas-Pan American (14-9) and Sam Houston State (7-4) … ND then blanked Florida Atlantic (3-0) behind Aaron Heilman’s first career nine-inning shutout before losing to South Florida, 6-1 (both games were played at Florida Power Park, the spring training home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) … Notre Dame also played an exhibition vs. the Devil Rays, losing 17-4 while saving its top pitchers (a third game versus Western Michigan was rained out) … Heilman’s strong eight innings then powered ND past UOP on March 10 (5-2, in Stockton) and the Irish then survived a scare from Eastern Michigan, 4-3.
HEILMAN PICKS UP NINTH WEEKLY HONOR: Senior RHP Aaron Heilman (Logansport, Ind.) received his ninth career BIG EAST Conference pitcher-of-the-week award, after tossing the first nine-inning shutout of his career on March 2 versus Florida Atlantic (3-0), in St. Petersburg, Fla .. since the BIG EAST awards began in 1985, Heilman is the only individual to amass more than four player or pitcher-of-the-week awards in his career (including one in 1998, three in 1999 and four in 2000) … with plenty of pro scouts in attendance for the swing through spring training territory-and with FAU ace Petersen Benjamin going for the Blue Wave-Heilman fashioned shutout in often dominating fashion (he owns three previous seven-inning shutouts), scattering five hits and one walk over the nine innings while striking out nine batters in his economical 110-pitch outing, versus a Blue Wave offense that already had posted wins over the Miami Hurricanes and Oklahoma State … he faced just five batters over the minimum (32), thanks to a double play in the fifth inning and an earlier rundown play (FAU’s seventh baserunner reached on an error) … after working out of a fifth-inning jam (runners on 1st and 2nd, no outs, followed by the double-play ball and a popup), the 6-5, 225-pounder retired 13 of the next 14 batters before second baseman fielding error with two outs in the ninth (the next batter recorded the fifth hit off Heilman, who then ended the game with his ninth K) … Heilman kept his pitches down, as just six balls left the infield (nine Ks, 11 groundball outs, two flyouts, two infield popups, two infield lineouts and a rundown).