June 3, 2002
The Notre Dame baseball team – ranked 11th in today’s Collegiate Baseball magazine poll – will travel to Tallahassee, Fla., this weekend to take on top-ranked and No. 1 national seed Florida State in the Super-Regional round of the NCAA Championship. The nation’s eight Super-Regionals feature a best-of-3 series on Fri.-Sun., June 7-9, with the eight winners advancing to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series (June 14-22).
The first two games at FSU’s Dick Howser Stadium will begin at 7:00 p.m., while Sunday’s “if-necessary” game will be played at 1:30 p.m.
Tentative plans are in the works to televise the first and third games live in Florida, on the Sunshine Network (also available via satellite). The telecast schedule will formally be announced on Wednesday, June 5, with the possibility of the games also being picked up locally in South Bend (check back to und.com later in the week for confirmed details on the television arrangements).
Florida State (59-12) and Notre Dame (47-15) are two of the hottest teams in the nation, with the Seminoles riding a 25-game winning streak while the Irish have won 13 of their last 14 and are 29-3 since mid-April.
FSU owns a 3-2 series edge but Notre Dame won the last meeting, 10-1 at the 1998 season-opening ACC/Disney Blast in Orlando.
Notre Dame’s last visit to Tallahassee saw the Irish nearly advance from the NCAA East Regional to the College World Series (under the old six-team regional format). Current Texas Rangers lefthander Chris Michalak served up a game-ending grand slam home run by Ty Mueller in the 11th inning of a 7-3 loss to FSU, but Michalak – who also hit 8-for-18 in the regional, as a late defensive addition at first base – bounced back the next day with a gutsy complete-game effort that eliminated the Seminoles, 4-3 (Long Beach State then beat ND, 13-3, in the championship round).
The FSU and ND programs both own long streaks of 40-plus-victory seasons, with Florida State posting 40-plus wins in each of the past 25 seasons (matching Wichita State for the nation’s longest active streak) while Notre Dame’s 14 consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins ranks as the fourth-longest active streak (behind Clemson, with 16).
The squads have comparable team statistics, with the Irish owning a slight edge in team batting average (.322-.318) and staff ERA (3.46 – 3.89) while the Seminoles have the edge in fielding percentage (.965 – .959). FSU has hit 83 home runs, 20 triples and 174 doubles for a .503 team slugging pct., compared to ND’s .475 (50-24-120).
The Seminoles (81-of-11 stolen bases) are more of the running team (ND is 59-for-87) while the Irish have executed a team-record 64 sacrifice bunts in 2002. The FSU batters are more prone to striking out, with 452 Ks and 362 walks (to ND’s 298/239).
On the mound, the Irish pitchers own the better opponent batting average (.254 – .262) while the staffs have similar strikeout averages per nine innings (ND 7.54, FSU 7.19). The Seminole pitchers are averaging just 2.45 walks per 9 IP (to ND’s 3.47), with the Irish owning the edge in K-to-walk ratio (2.18 – 1.95). The FSU pitchers have been touched for 54 home runs, nearly double the total surrendered by the ND staff (25).
FSU has announced that junior lefthander Matt Lynch – named a second team All-American last week by Collegiate Baseball – will be the starter in Game 1. Lynch owns a 3.34 ERA and 13-1 record in 19 appearances (all starts), with 94 strikeouts, 28 walks and 122 hits allowed in 124 innings (with a .255 opponent batting average and 10 home runs allowed).
The rest of FSU’s rotation will include senior RHP Blair Varnes (3.88, 9-3, 18 GP/17 GS, 74 K, 18 BB, 99 H in 99.2 IP, .256 opp. avg., 8 HR) in Game 2, followed by sophomore RHP Marc LaMacchia (3.41, 11-1, 17 GP/13 GS, 73 K, 19 BB, 95 H in 89.2 IP, .272 opp. avg., 7 HR).
Notre Dame has yet to announce its rotation, with its top three starters including freshman righthanders Grant Johnson (3.11, 8-4, 16 GP/12 GS, 82 K, 36 BB, 80 H in 89.2 IP, .240 opp. avg., 3 HR) and Chris Niesel (3.75, 3-0, 12 GP/9 GS, 50 K, 13 BB, 57 H in 57.2 IP, .249 opp. avg., 6 HR) and junior righthander Peter Ogilvie (3.68, 7-3, 15 GP/12 GS, 50 K, 13 BB, 57 H in 57.2 IP, .249 opp. avg., 6 HR).
Johnson was named national co-player of the week after tossing a one-hit, one-walk masterpiece in Saturday’s 25-1 win over top-seeded South Alabama at the South Bend Regional. Niesel (Plantation/Aquinas HS) – who missed five weeks due to a bout with mononucleosis – is one of three Florida natives on the current Irish squad, with the others including junior shortstop Javier Sanchez (Miami/Columbus HS) and senior DH Ken Meyer (Fort Myers/Bishop Verot HS).
The FSU offense is led by lefthanded-hitting freshman shortstop Stephen Drew – the brother of former Seminole start J.D. Drew – with the No. 3-hole hitter batting .395 with 82 RBI, 16 home runs, 12 stolen bases and just nine errors (.958 fielding pct.). Switch-hitting sophomore leftfielder Tony McQuade owns a .375 batting average with 44 RBI, six home runs, 24 doubles and 44 walks while yet another lefthanded hitter, senior third baseman and first-team All-American Ryan Barthelemy, is batting .367 with 19 RBI, 17 home runs and 24 doubles.
Notre Dame’s offense – which hit .480 as a team in the South Bend Regional, just one week after batting .208 at the BIG EAST Tournament – is led by national player-of-the-year candidate Steve Stanley, the only repeat baseball Player of the Year in BIG EAST Conference history. The senior centerfielder entered last week ranked seventh in the nation for batting average (now up to .445), with 72 runs scored, 35 RBI, 16 doubles, 31 stolen bases, 37 walks and only 10 strikeouts in 294 plate appearances (plus just one error, countered by a wide array of dazzling defensive plays).
Junior leftfielder and No. 3 hitter Brian Stavisky – who missed 18 games in the first half of the season, due to a pair of injuries – is batting at a .404 clip with 49 RBI, seven home runs, 13 doubles and 23 walks. Sophomore second baseman Steve Sollmann – who joined Johnson with national player-of-the-week honors, after batting 13-for-16 in the Regional – is riding a lateseason surge, after being slowed by a quad injury. The 2-hole hitter has seen his batting average climb to .356, with 43 RBI, two home runs, four triples, seven doubles and just seven errors (with a .970 fielding pct.).