May 18, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – If the journey truly is more valuable than the end reward, the Notre Dame baseball team has accumulated plenty of value-added moments during its 2002 season – capped by Saturday’s doubleheader sweep of fellow BIG EAST title contender Boston College (10-6, 5-2), clinching the No. 1 seed for the Irish in the upcoming BIG EAST Championship.
Notre Dame (41-14, 18-8 BIG EAST) now heads into the postseason riding a seven-week streak that has seen the Irish win 32 of their last 36 games, after enduring a 9-10 start that was accompanied by a series of devastating injuries, including the ultimate loss of freshman shortstops Matt Macri and Matt Edwards.
Virginia Tech (17-8), which is locked into the No. 2 seed, could earn a share of the BIG EAST regular-season title by beating West Virginia on Sunday, but Notre Dame would earn the No. 1 seed due to a 2-0 head-to-head edge with the Hokies.
The Irish will play in Thursday’s first game (3:30) of the four-team BIG EAST Tournament at Commerce Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, N.J., versus the No. 4 seed. Notre Dame’s opening opponent still could be any one of four teams, including Rutgers (14-10), Boston College (15-11, 30-23 overall), Pittsburgh (14-10) and St. John’s (13-11), pending Sunday’s action (which includes an RU at SJU doubleheader and UConn’s series finale at Pittsburgh).
The final BIG EAST standings are based on winning percentage, with ties broken by head-to-head record, followed by record vs. Notre Dame, then versus VT and then vs. the third seed (if determined). BC holds the head-to-head edge vs. the other three contenders while Rutgers would win a tie with Pittsburgh, which split a two-game series with SJU. Any games not played on Sunday will be lost from the standings, as there are no makeup dates for the final weekend.
Saturday’s most stunning moment came in the fourth inning of the seven-inning game, with BC freshman righthander Chris Lambert cruising along on a no-hitter. The Irish strode to the plate staring at a 6-0 deficit but proceeded to snatch a 7-6 lead behind three hits, three walks and a costly error that led to five unearned runs.
Sophomore first baseman Joe Thaman – who again made a handful of stellar defensive plays – provided the biggest hit of the day, launching a grand-slam home run for the second time in roughly 17 hours (his four-run blast capped Friday night’s 8-2 win).
Notre Dame reached the 40-win mark for the 14th consecutive season, trailing only perennial powers Florida State (25), Wichita State (25) and Clemson (17) as the fourth-longest active streak of 40-win seasons in all of Division I baseball.
Saturday’s sweep completed an 18-4 turnaround in the conference standings for Notre Dame (after an 0-4 start), bringing back memories of the 1997 campaign in which the Irish were swept in the first weekend at Seton Hall before winning 15 of the final 18 to claim (with several rainouts) to claim the top seed at 15-6.
The Irish have qualified for all seven BIG EAST baseball championships since beginning BIG EAST play in 1996, also earning the top seed in 1997, 1999 and 2001 (Villanova was the top seed in ’96, Rutgers in ’98 and ’00). This marks just the third time in the 18-year history of the BIG EAST baseball championship – and the first since 1992 – that a team has repeated as the top seed (also Seton Hall in ’89 and ’90 and St. John’s in ’91 and ’92).
Notre Dame completed a strong seven-year run through BIG EAST regular-season play that has seen the Irish win nearly 77 percent (121-37) of the BIG EAST games while losing just seven of 64 BIG EAST series in that span (with 50 series wins and six series ties). The Irish also now have swept 37 of 62 all-time BIG EAST doubleheaders, with 21 splits and just four doubleheader sweeps by the opponent.
The Irish dominance in the BIG EAST during the past four seasons now includes a 78-24 record (.765; also 20-5 in ’99, 18-7 in ’00 and 22-4 in ’01). BIG EAST teams have posted 18-plus wins 10 times, with the Irish owning four of those seasons (more than any other team).
Saturday’s action saw junior righthanders Ryan Kalita (4-0) and Peter Ogilvie (7-2) pick up the victories, after combining for 13 strong innings in which they allowed just four runs on 13 hits and three walks, with 11 strikeouts.
Kalita, who was called into early relief of freshman righthander John Axford, logged four innings while allowing a pair of runs on five hits and no walks, with three strikeouts in his 57-pitch outing. His last four appearances in BIG EAST games include a 2.21 ERA in 12 2/3 innings, with eight Ks and just two walks – highlighted by six strong innings as the starter in the 2-1, 11-inning win over Virginia Tech (6 H, UER, 5 Ks, BB).
Ogilvie also reprised his effort from the Virginia Tech doubleheader by notching his second complete game of the season. The 6-3, 215-pounder mixed speeds effectively while scattering eight hits, three walks and eight Ks (matching a career high) over the 108-pitch outing, with his season ERA dropping to 3.45.
Ogilvie’s two healthy seasons with the Irish now include a 12-3 career record while all four of his complete-game efforts have come in big games (also in 2001 vs. Michigan and vs. Florida International in the NCAAs). His 2.73 career ERA, spanning 112 innings, would rank 7th in the ND record book and 4th-best by an Irish pitcher in nearly 40 seasons.
Freshman righthander Chris Niesel ?- who started seven games in the first half of the season – closed the 10-6 game to pick up his second save in as many weeks, facing just seven batters over the final two innings (H, K). Since returning from a five-week bout with mononucleosis, Niesel has not allowed a run in 4 1/3 innings (dropping his ERA to 4.11), with five Ks, one walk and one hit allowed.
BC scored in just four of the 16 innings of the doubleheader, with half of the Eagles’ runs coming in the day’s first half-inning. That early 4-0 lead included two hits, a walk and a hit batter, with senior DH Brian Durkin plating three runs on his 13th home run of the season.
Moments after BC tacked on two in the top of the 4th, the host team erupted for the pivotal seven-run bottom of the 4th. Sophomore second baseman Steve Sollmann walked on four pitches with one out and took third when junior leftfielder Brian Stavisky slapped a 1-2 pitch through the right side. Senior third baseman Andrew Bushey then placed an opposite-field double down the leftfield line (on a 1-1 pitch) and senior catcher Paul O’Toole loaded the bases by walking on five pitches.
Senior DH Matt Bok also walked to plate the second Irish run, after winning a full-count battle with Lambert, who then induced a shallow flyout and groundball to the right side. But second baseman Josh DiScipio booted the grounder, allowing Javier Sanchez to reach.
Thaman took the next pitch for a ball and missed on his next two swings before connecting an a 1-2 fastball and driving it over the leftfield fence, for his fourth home run in the last 12 at-bats (including a pair in the Mother’s Day doubleheader vs. Villanova) and fifth overall in 2002.
O’Toole’s sacrifice fly plated Stavisky as an unearned run in the 5th and the Irish stretched to the final 10-6 margin in the 6th, with a leadoff single from Sanchez ending Lambert’s 98-pitch day. Thaman then executed a sacrifice bunt versus senior lefthander Mike Stuart, followed by an intentional walk to senior centerfielder Steve Stanley. Junior righthander Matt Elfeldt then uncorked a wild pitch and catcher Jeff Mackor threw the ball away trying to nail Sanchez at third, with Sollmann’s sacrifice fly adding another unearned run.
Lambert’s sudden reversal of fortune dropped his record to 9-2. Just three of the nine runs charged to him were earned, with six hits, four walks and just one K.
Sanchez’s third triple of the season sparked Notre Dame’s four-run third inning in the series finale. Freshman lefthander Kevin Shephard (5-3) then served up Thamn’s RBI groundout and walked Stanley on five pitches, followed by a balk, stolen base, Sollmann’s walk (on 3-1 count) and an 0-1 pitch that his Stavisky to load the bases.
Billmaier followed by sending an 0-1 pitch through the left side, plating two runs, and Shephard hit Bushey with the next pitch before O’Toole lifted his third sacrifice fly of the series to left field.
NOTES: Thaman joined O’Toole (vs. Toledo and Seton Hall) as the second ND player to hit a grand slam in consecutive games this season … Notre Dame did not make an error in the series, with the team’s top hitters including Sanchez (4-for-9, 5 R, RBI, 3B, HP, SAC), Bok (3-for-7, 2 R, RBI, 2 BB) and Bushey (3-for-8, 2 R, RBI, 2 2B, BB, HP, SAC) … Stanley hit just 1-for-8 vs. BC but still scored three runs and reached on five of 13 plate appearances (4 BB, HP) … the eight-member senior class – Bok, Bushey, O’Toole and Stanley, plus DH Ken Meyer, OF Matt Strickroth and RHPs Matt Buchmeier and Drew Duff – was honored prior to the doubleheader, with senior manager Katie Furman honored on Friday night (she threw out the first pitch) due to the fact that she was serving as valedictorian for Saturday’s graduation ceremony at nearby Saint Mary’s College (she owns a 3.98 GPA as a management and marketing double major) … the class then held a special off-campus dinner to reflect on the past four seasons, with each of the seniors providing heartfelt speeches to some 70 family and friends in attendance … look for a feature story later this week on the senior class (will be posted on und.com) … ND’s four-year record of 179-63-1 (.739) during the career of the 2002 senior class ranks as the fourth-best four-year winning pct. in the last 87 seasons of Notre Dame baseball, trailing only the four-year runs posted concurrently by the classes of 1993 (.758/185-59, from ’90-’93), 1992 (.750/187-62-1) and 1994 (.746/185-63) … Bushey’s pair of doubles on Saturday push his career total to 53, just five back of ’97 grad. Mike Amrhein for 5th in ND history … Bushey’s 209 career starts are tied with Eric Danapilis (’93) for 9th in the ND record book, with O’Toole ranking 7th (216) and Stanley 1st (243) … no previous ND classmates ever had started 200-plus games (much less three classmates doing so) … Bushey’s 728 career at-bats are 10th-most ever by an ND player, one behind Danapilis … O’Toole’s 233 career hits leave him six shy of cracking that ND top-10 list … Stanley (242 runs) crept closer to yet another ND career record (Pat Pesavento scored 246 times, from ’86-’89) … Bushey also ranks 7th in the ND record book for career fielding assists (419), with his .958 season fielding pct. including just eight errors … Stanley’s 96 hits this season rank 3rd in ND history, behind his 102 in 2001 and Dan Peltier’s 115 in 1989 … Bushey’s 18 doubles leave him two shy of that ND top-10 season list … Stanley’s 31 stolen bases match his career-best and rank 4th all-time at ND (Pesavento had 38 in both ’88 and ’89 while Scott Sollmann swiped 88 in 1996) … the ND defense has posted 53 double plays, the 4th-best total in the program’s history (behind 60 in 1998, 58 in ’89 and 57 in 2000) … with Saturday’s first win, the Irish were spared the added pressure of trying to pick up their 40th win at the conference tournament (as five previous ND teams did, in ’93 and ’95-’98).
BOSTON COLLEGE 4-0-0 2-0-0 0 - 6 8 3NOTRE DAME 0-0-0 7-1-2 X - 10 6 0
Chris Lambert (L, 9-2), Mike Stuart (6), Matt Elfeldt (6) and Jeff Mackor.
John Axford, Ryan Kalita (2; W, 4-0), Chris Niesel (6; SV, 2) and Paul O’Toole.
Home Runs: Brian Durkin, BC (2 on in 1st; 13th of season); Joe Thaman, ND (grand slam in 4th; 5th of season).
Doubles: Ryan Morgan (BC), Andrew Bushey (ND).
BOSTON COLLEGE (30-23, 15-11) 0-0-0 0-0-1 1-0-0? - 2 8 1NOTRE DAME (41-14, 18-8) 0-0-4 0-0-0 1-0-X - 5 8 0
Kevin Shephard (L, 5-3), Mike Gauthier (6) and Jeff Mackor.
Peter Ogilvie (W, 7-2) and Paul O’Toole.
Triples: Javier Sanchez (ND; 3rd of season), Jeff Mackor (BC).
Doubles: Andrew Bushey (ND; 53rd of career), Jason Delaney (BC).