May 25, 2002
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – Notre Dame’s first BIG EAST Conference baseball tournament title took on an added twist Saturday afternoon and evening at Commerce Bank Ballpark, as Rutgers forced the action by rallying to win the 4-3 opener before the Irish pulled off the rally in the 3-2, winner-take-all title game – with ND tying the game on Matt Bok’s sixth-inning double before winning in the 10th when Brian Stavisky doubled home Steve Sollmann.
The Irish receive the BIG EAST’s automatic bid the NCAA Championship, which begins next Friday with 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals.
(Check back to und.com on Sunday night for final updates, quotes, etc. from the BIG EAST Championship, including a comprehensive photo gallery).
Despite the offensive heroics of the above three players, the night truly belonged to junior righthander Ryan Kalita (5-0), who also had an earlier strong outing as ND tried to match up with Virginia Tech lefthander Joe Saunders in the first game of an April 12 doubleheader at Eck Stadium (the Irish won 2-1 in 11 innings).
Notre Dame (45-14) – which will head into the NCAAs after winning 10 of its last 11 games – now awaits Monday’s announcement of the NCAA Tournament field, pairings and host sites (to be broadcast live on ESPN2, at 11:30 EST/South Bend time on Monday the 27th).
Rutgers (35-22) stayed alive in the first game, plating the decisive run in the bottom of the eighth, but the Scarlet Knights failed to cash in their chances in the second game, stranding 11 baserunners while hitting into a pair of double plays.
Kalita (5-0) was masterful in the longest outing of this Notre Dame career, tossing the final seven shutout innings in relief of freshman John Axford while allowing just six hits and three walks – plus six strikeouts and seven groundouts.
Kalita’s outing nearly was one of his shortest instead of the longest, after a scare with two outs in the top of the fifth. RU’s Val Majewski ripped a 1-1 pitch back towards the mound and the ball glanced off Kalita’s glove before plunking him on the right side of the welt.
Two hours later, as he met with the media, Kalita still sported the welt left from the stunning hit – but he didn’t seem to mind taking home such a personal memento from one of the landmark victories of the eight-year Paul Mainieri era.
Junior righthander Peter Ogilvie (7-3) was the hard-luck loser in the first game, after logging his third complete game of the season. Ogilvie allowed the four runs on 10 hits and three walks, with six strikeouts in his 120-pich outing.
Lefthanded reliever Ryan Molchan (3-3) picked up both decisions for RU, combining for 5.2 innings in the two games while allowing an unearned run, two hits and one walk (with five Ks).
Notre Dame’s winning rally nearly began one batter earlier, when senior centerfielder Steve Stanley (named the tournament’s MVP) narrowly missed on a triple that fell inches wide of the rightfield line. But sophomore second baseman Sollmann delivered on a 1-2 count, driving the ball to tight center, and junior leftfielder Stavisky battled to a full count before slapping his 46th career double down the leftfield line.
Rutger’s leftfielder Jeff Frazier was chasing the ball down in the corner as Sollmann raced for third base and Mainieri waved him home – with Frazier’s fumbling of the ball allowing Sollmann to score without a play at the plate for the rapid end to a tense day.
Rutgers posted a first-inning run versus Axford, who rolled up a double play to negate a leadoff walk before issuing a second full-count walk to Frazier. Steve Normane and Ryan Lillis then followed with two-strike singles, for the early 1-0 lead.
Notre Dame forged a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the second, thanks to Andrew Bushey’s leadoff walk (on a full count), Paul O’Toole’s single to left field and a rightside groundball off the bat of Bok (who was credited with an RBI and reached when shortstop Tim Sweeney misplayed the ball).
RU edged back into the lead (2-1) with a run in the third, as Frazier drew a two-out walk and scored on Normane’s double.
Stavisky’s leadoff single appeared to spark the Irish in the sixth, with the lefthander smacking a full-count offering through the right side of the infield. Bushey then flew out to left field and Stavisky was ruled to be out on the unusual double play (he stepped on second base but did not step on the bag again before retreating to first).
But O’Toole provided another chance by walking on four pitches before scoring all the way from first on Bok’s 2-2 double to the left-center gap, for a 2-2 game.
O’Toole scored the first Irish run of the day, after reaching in the top of the third on a leadoff error by second baseman Graig Badger. Junior shortstop Javier Sanchez – who made several key defensive plays during the two games – then tried to execute the sacrifice bunt, fouled off a 2-2 pitch and took the next for a full count before launching his fourth home run of the season over the leftield wall.
Majewski scored RU’s first run in the fourth, after a leadoff single and stolen base, followed by Lillis’ RBI single.
The Irish restored their two-run cushion (3-1) in the fifth inning, when Sanchez pulled off a first-pitch, one-out bunt single, before stealing second, taking third on Stanley’s infield single and scoring on a wild pitch.
Rutgers again had an answer in the sixth, using singles from Majewski, Mormane and Lillis, plus a walk to Mike Popowski, to forge another tie (3-3). The decisive rally saw Normane walk on four pitches and move up on Lillis’ bunt before scoring on a two-out, 0-2 single to right-center off the bat of Rodriguez.
NOTES: ND now leads the RU series 14-8, with nine of the games decided by one run (ND owns six of those close wins) …ND dropped its team ERA to 3.41 while Kalita (3.29) now ranks second among Irish regulars (25-plus innings) … ND’s pre-NCAA record (44-16) is not too far off of the team’s 2001 pre-NCAA mark (46;11) … Kalita’s brother Tim was the starter (no decision) in the first of two 1998 BIG EAST Tournament matchups between ND and RU (winners’ bracket championship), with the Knights winning that game 7-6 in 10 innings … the 3-2 game marked just the eighth extra-inning game in 18 years of playing the BIG EAST tournament (second in the title game) … ND and RU became the first schools to face each other in more than one extra-inning BET game (also ’98).
NOTRE DAME 0-0-2 0-1-0 0-0-0 – 3 4 1
RUTGERS 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 4 10 1
Peter Ogilvie (L, 7-3) and Paul O’Toole.
Tom Crohan, Ryan Molchan (7; W, 3-2) and Mike Popowski.
Home Run: Javier Sanchez (1 on in 3rd; 4th of season).
Double: Cory Rodriguez (RU).
RUTGERS 1-0-1 0-0-0 0-0-0 0 – 2 9 2
NOTRE DAME 0-1-0 0-0-1 0-0-0 1 – 3 7 1
Jack Egbert, Jason Bergman (6), Ryan Molchan (8; L, 3-3) and Alberto Vasquez.
John Axford, Ryan Kalita (4; W, 5-0).
Doubles: Brian Stavisky (ND), Matt Bok (ND), Steve Normane (RU), Tim Sweeney (RU).