Feb. 27, 2003
The Notre Dame baseball team (2-2) – ranked as high as 14th in the national polls – faces another early-season challenge this week at Minnesota’s Dairy Queen Classic, with games on deck at the Metrodome vs. #16 Nebraska (Friday, Feb. 28; 12;15 p.m. CST), Minnesota (Sat., 2:00 p.m.) and #7 Wake Forest (Sun., 11:00 a.m.) … the Irish are coming off a landmark 2002 season that ended with a trip to the College World Series (the program’s first CWS appearance since ’57) … ND opened last week in Tempe, Ariz., beating Dayton (10-9) and Newman (15-5) before losing twice to #4 Arizona State (3-16, 8-14) … the Irish held mid-game leads in both games vs. ASU.
FOLLOWING THE ACTION – ESPN Radio 1620 (WDND) and its sister station WDNV 1490 AM again will provide commercial broadcasts of the entire ND season … former ND great and current Minnesota resident Dan Peltier is expected to provide guest color commentary for the broadcasts … subscribers to the College Sports Pass also can listen via the internet (see main page of www.und.com) while live-stats will be available for the ASU games (and possibly the UD and Newman games) … Fox Sports Net North (DirectTV channel 641) will provide a live telecast of Saturday’s ND-Minnesota game … links to live stats also will be available at www.und.com and www.gophersports.com … a video feed of the ND-Nebraska game is available at www.huskersNside.com (15-day trial option).
ND QUICK NOTES – Junior 2B Steve Sollmann was named BIG EAST player of the week after hitting 8-for-17 in last week’s four games … the seven freshman position players combined to hit .389 (21-for-54) last week while the offense enjoyed one its most productive opening weeks in recent memory (.367 batting, 36 runs; compared to .273, 22 R in first four games of ’02) … ND’s starting pitchers posted a 4.35 ERA last week (7 Ks, 12 BB, 22 H in 20.2 IP) but the bullpen allowed a 19.06 ERA (4 Ks, 16 BB, 24 H in 11.1 IP.
DQ CLASSIC TEAM WEBSITES
Notre Dame – www.und.com (links to audio broadcasts and live stats) Minnesota – www.gophersports.com (links to live stats for all six games) Nebraska – www.huskers.com (links to video for all three NU games) Wake Forest – www.wakeforestsports.com
SCOUTING THE OPPONENTS (see above websites for in-depth info.) – Nebraska returns 17 of 28 letterwinners from its 2002 team that went 47-21 and advanced to the College World Series for the second consecutive seasons … NU is off to a 4-2 start, after posting wins over Southwest Texas (9-6), Texas Pan American (9-1) and losing to California (8-7) – all at the Round Rock (Texas) Express Classic – before taking two of three at Louisiana Tech (5-6, 14-3, 13-8) … Minnesota returns 24 of 29 letterwinnners from its ’02 team (32-26) that was runner-up at the Big Ten Tournament … the Gophers (2-2) opened last week in Tucson, winning one of three games vs. Arizona (13-10, 5-11, 2-7) and posting a 7-6 win over Oklahoma State … Wake Forest returns 20 of 25 letterwinners from its 2002 squad (47-13-1) that finished second in the ACC regular season (17-6) and earned one of eight national top seeds for the NCAAs (before being upset by Richmond in the regional round) … WFU has started 4-1, with wins over Appalachian State (26-0), West Virginia (10-2) and James Madison (15-6, 13-2) and a 4-1 loss at Elon.
SCOUTING THE IRISH – Notre Dame returns the bulk of its pitching staff and several position starters (see p. 1), led by senior RF Kris Billmaier, junior 2B Steve Sollmann, junior 1B Joe Thaman and junior Javi Sanchez (who is slated to shift from shortstop to catcher) … highly-touted sophomore SS Matt Macri also is on schedule to make his debut at that position with the Irish, after missing most of his sophomore season due to injury (he was limited to 14 starts at DH and two at 2B in ’02).
GAME NOTES FROM OPENING WEEK
- The first game vs. Arizona State marked the 500th game at Notre Dame for ninth-year head coach Paul Mainieri (he’s now 356-143-1), who also is nearing his 700th career coaching win (688-422-1).
- Kris Billmaier’s 8th-inning solo home run thwarted Dayton’s upset bid (10-9) … ND took a 9-4 lead into the 7th before seeing UD rally to tie the game … the Irish offense – despite losing five starters from the 2002 CWS team – pounded out 18 hits for one of the most productive openers in the program’s history (the ’02 squad managed just eight hits in its 7-6 opening win over Missouri) … the 10 runs equal the most by ND in a season opener since the ’93 squad posted an 11-3 win at ASU … the ’95 Irish team also scored 10 runs in its opener, vs. Florida State at the ACC Disney Blast in Orlando (10-1).
- In the first game vs. ASU (16-3 loss), ND took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the 5th before ASU cashed in a pair of defensive miscues to claim the lead … sophomore SS Matt Macri allowed a routine double-play ball grounder to skip under his glove, setting up a 2-out grand slam (all four runs were unearned) … senior RHP Peter Ogilvie (5 IP, 5 R/4 UER, 4 H, 2 BB, 2 Ks) suffered the tough-luck loss, which also included a wind-blown ball that fell in shallow left field (would have been third out) and an 0-2 count vs. Jeff Larish before the grand slam.
- In the second ASU game, ND used a 7-run top of the 6th to claim an 8-4 lead but ASU answered with a 2-out, 9-run rally (the inning took 53 minutes, the game 3:24) … three ND errors led to six unearned runs and provided the margin of defeat … freshman CF Cody Rizzo hit an early home run for the Irish while Macri capped the top of the 6th with a 2-run shot.
THREE NAMED PRESEASON ALL-AMERICANS – An unprecedented three Notre Dame baseball players – junior 2B Steve Sollmann, sophomore SS Matt Macri and sophomore RHP Grant Johnson – were tabbed for preseason All-America honors, with Sollmann and Macri earning preseason BIG EAST player-of-the-year recognition from different sources (see listings below).
STRONG UP THE MIDDLE – Notre Dame boasts the only pair of middle infielders who each received 2003 preseason All-America honors, with junior 2B Steve Sollmann earning a second-team nod from the National College Baseball Writers Association while sophomore SS Matt Macri (who saw most of his freshman season cut short by an elbow injury that ultimately required “Tommy John” reconstructive surgery) was a Baseball America third team preseason All-American … BA and the BIG EAST coaches forecasted Sollmann as the 2003 BIG EAST player of the year while Collegiate Baseball magazine predicted Macri for that honor … three other second basemen and five shortstops were named to at least one of the three major preseason All-America teams (which featured 10 total middle infielders) … Southern University 2B Rickie Weeks and Florida State SS Stephen Drew were unanimous first-team picks (also Collegiate Baseball) while Texas 2B Tim Moss was the only other middle infielder named to all three teams … middle infielders cited on two of the preseason teams also included Georgia Tech SS Eric Patterson, Eastern Michigan 2B Brian Bixler and Louisiana State SS Aaron Hill … two other shortstops – Richmond’s David Reaver and USC’s Anthony Lunetta – also received preseason All-America honors.
PROSPECTS-A-PLENTY – Six Irish players also have been listed among national college prospect rankings, as compiled by Baseball America/Perfect Game and Team One Baseball … the Dec. 15 BA/PG list forecasting the top-100 prospects for the 2004 draft included four ND sophomore RHPs: Grant Johnson (5th), John Axford (19th), Chris Niesel (49th) and Martin Vergara (78th) … no other school had more than three pitchers among that top-100 prospects list (Rice had three, Texas and Old Dominion two) … Macri (a draft-eligible sophomore) was listed 40th (second among shortstops) on the BA/PG prospects list for the 2003 draft while Sollman was 124th on that list … two other sophomores from BIG EAST teams – Boston College RHP Chris Lambert (12th) and Rutgers OF Jeff Frazier (17th) – also are among the top prospects on the BA/PG top-100 prospects list for the 2004 draft … the BIG EAST is the only conference with four-plus schools represented on that top-100 prospect list while the six total BIG EAST players matches the ACC for the most from one conference among the BA/PG top 100 prospects for the ’04 draft.
NIESEL HIGHLY-REGARDED – Sophomore RHP Chris Niesel impressively was forecasted by the Major League Scouting Bureau’s 2002 fall rankings as the No. 1 overall college prospect for the 2004 draft, followed by Florida State SS Stephen Drew, Ohio State LHP Scott Lewis, Vanderbilt LHP Jeremy Sowers and Clemson LHP Tyler Lumsden … the Irish saw Lewis and Drew up-close during the 2002 NCAAs (posting a pair of wins over both OSU and FSU) and could face Sowers at next week’s Kennel Club Classic in Jacksonville (Lumsden and his Clemson teammates joined Niesel and the Irish at the 2002 CWS).
FUTURE STARS AND DILLY BARS – In addition to Notre Dame’s highly-rated prospects in the junior and sophomore class, the Dairy Queen Classic will feature 10 other players who were listed among the Perfect Game/Baseball America top-200 prospects list for the 2003 draft (as of Dec. 15) … those players include five from Wake Forest, led by ace RHP Kyle Sleeth (the No. 2 prospect), plus 3B Jamie D’Antonia (34th), OFs Ryan Johnson (111th) and Adam Bourassa (132nd) and RHP Adam Hanson (178th) … others included Nebraska LHP Adam Marsden (69th), OF Jeff Leise (85th) and 1B Matt Hopper (180th), and Minnesota RHP C.J. Woodrow (192nd) and 2B Luke Appert (197th) – with the Irish slated to face both Marsden and Woodrow … Appert and ND’s Steve Sollmann (124th) are two of the top-rated 2B for the 2003 draft while the DQ Classic also will feature several top OF prospects for ’03 (Johnson, Bourassa and Leise).
NOTRE DAME BASEBALL 2003 PRESEASON HONORS AND RANKINGS (as of Feb. 16)
John Axford (So., RHP) – Nation’s #19 college prospect (11th pitcher) for 2004 draft (Baseball America/Perfect Game, 12/15/02), BIG EAST’s #5 overall prospect (BA)
Craig Cooper (Fr., CF) – BIG EAST’s #2 newcomer (BA)
Matt Macri (So., SS) – Preseason third team All-American (BA), preseason BIG EAST player of the year (Collegiate Baseball), nation’s #40 college prospect (#2 among SS) for 2003 draft (BA/Perfect Game, 12/15/02), preseason all-BE (BA), BE’s #3 overall prospect and best IF arm (BA)
Chris Niesel (So. RHP) – Preseason all-BIG EAST (BA), nation’s #49 college prospect for 2004 draft (BA/Perfect Game, 12/15/02), preseason all-BIG EAST (BA), BE’s #6 overall prospect, best breaking ball (BA)
Steve Sollmann (Jr., 2B) – preseason second team All-American (National College Baseball Writers), preseason BIG EAST player of the year (BIG EAST coaches and BA), #124 college prospect for 2003 draft (BA Prospects Plus, 12/15/02), preseason all-BIG EAST (coaches; BA), BE’s #7 overall prospect (BA), best defensive 2B (BA)
Joe Thaman (Jr., 1B) – BIG EAST’s best defensive 1B (Baseball America)
Martin Vergara (So., RHP) – Nation’s #78 college prospect for 2004 draft (BA/Perfect Game, 12/15/02), BIG EAST’s #8 overall prospect (BA)
Grant Johnson (So., RHP; inj.) – Nation’s #5 college prospect for 2004 draft (BA/PG, 12/15/02), preseason third team All-American (Collegiate Baseball magazine, NCBWA), preseason all-BIG EAST (coaches, BA), BE’s #1 prospect and best control pitcher (BA)
THE RIGHT STUFF – ND’s lineup – predominantly lefthanded the past four seasons – will take on a decidedly lefthanded slant in 2003, following the graduation of four lefthanded starters (CF and leadoff batter Steve Stanley, 3B/cleanup/#5 hitter Andrew Bushey, C Paul O’Toole and DH Matt Bok) and the pro signing of junior LF/3-hole hitter Brian Stavisky … those five players were among the teams’s top hitters from 2000-02, with Stanley, Bushey and O’Toole also playing in 1999 alongside fellow lefthanded hitters Jeff Felker (1B, ’97-’00), Ben Cooke (IF/OF, ’98-’01) and Jeff Perconte (IF/OF, ’97-’00) … junior 1B Joe Thaman is the only lefthanded hitter among the returning starters, with 2B Steve Sollmann, RF Kris Billmaier and C Javi Sanchez (the ’02 SS) all hitting from the right side … the spots held by Stanley and Bushey both have been filled by righthanded hitters (freshmen CF Craig Cooper/Cody Rizzo and sophomore 3B Matt Edwards) while O’Toole’s spot essentially has been filled by sophomore righthanded-hitting SS Matt Macri (after Sanchez’ switch to C) … freshman LF Brennan Grogan gives the Irish another lefthanded bat at that position while his classmate Steve Andres is available to fill the lefthanded DH role.
ACADEMIC ALL-AMERICA CANDIDATES – Several Notre Dame players will be under consideration for Academic All-America honors in 2003, with an unmatched two ND baseball players earning that honor in each of the past three seasons … top Academic All-America candidates in 2003 include senior RHPs Brandon Viloria (3.63, electrical engineering), J.P. Gagne (3.35, finance) and Peter Ogilvie (3.21, product design), plus junior 2B Steve Sollmann (3.26, marketing).
KEY PIECE OF THE PUZZLE – The Irish were 45-11 in 2002 games started by 2B Steve Sollmann, compared to just 5-7 in games when he was out of the starting lineup (due to a quad pull).
BIG SHADOWS – Notre Dame’s 2003 roster includes some big bodies, with eight players 6-4 or taller – led by freshman RHP Ryan Doherty (7-1, 230), senior 1B Mike Holba (6-8, 240), freshman LHP Tom Thornton (6-6, 205), sophomore RHPs Grant Johnson (6-6, 220) and John Axford (6-5, 180), and sophomore 1B Joe Thaman (6-4, 215).
INJURY UPDATE: Sophomore RHP Grant Johnson and sophomore DH Brent Weiss both are slated to miss the 2003 season after undergoing preseason shoulder surgery.
TRI-CAPTAINS SET TO LEAD IRISH – Notre Dame embarks on its 2003 season led by its team tri-captains: senior RF Kris Billmaier (Woodinville, Wash.), senior RHP J.P. Gagne (Bloomington, Minn.) and junior 2B Steve Sollmann (Cincinnati, Ohio) … Gagne is just the fourth pitcher in the last 27 seasons (since Bob Stratta in 1976) to serve as a captain of the Irish baseball program, with others including Craig Allen (’96), Alex Shilliday (’99) and Aaron Heilman (’00, ’01) … Sollmann is just the third junior in the last nine seasons to serve as an ND baseball captain, with the others recently including 3B Andrew Bushey (’01), Heilman, SS Brant Ust (’99), catcher Bob Lisanti (’94) and 1B Joe Binkiewicz (’91) … Gagne – who made a key move to the bullpen midway through the ’02 season – first joined the ND program as a walk-on before excelling in several roles during the 2000-02 seasons (21-10, 6 SV, 64 GP, 238 IP) … he could join former greats Chris Michalak (’93) and Heilman (’01) as the third ND pitcher ever to post 20-plus wins and 10-plus saves … Billmaier has been a classic prime-time performer during his ND career, batting .471 in 2000-02 NCAA Tournament games (33-for-70), a full 200 points higher than his batting average in the other ’00-’02 games (.271) … Sollmann hit .362 in 2001 and again in ’02, overcoming a nagging quad injury to play a key role in the 2002 postseason push … the former prep CF has developed into a steady 2B (just 8 Es in ’02) and earned national player-of-the-week honors after batting 13-for-16 in the 2002 NCAA South Bend Regional .
OPENING NIGHT DINNER AGAIN A SMASH HIT – Nearly 1,000 area baseball fans were on hand Feb. 4 in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse for the Notre Dame baseball program’s second annual Opening Night Dinner, with Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry serving as the keynote speaker … the night included a ballpark-style dinner and also featured two videos, one recapping ND’s 2002 College World Series season and the other previewing the Cubs’ 2003 campaign … admission price included becoming members of the second season-ticket-holder base in the history of the Notre Dame baseball program (for season tickets, call 574-631-7356) … attendees also had the chance to receive autographs from the current Notre Dame players prior to the dinner and each of the 33 players sat with the fans at individual tables after being introduced to the group … more than 100 pieces of sports memorabilia were awarded as door prizes … the evening was played out against a backdrop of two largescreen televisions showing the televised broadcasts of Notre Dame’s 3-1 win at Florida State that sent the Irish on to the 2003 CWS (the final inning of the CWS win over Rice also was shown on the bigscreens as the event concluded) … Hendry is a longtime friend of ND head coach Paul Mainieri (they coached together at Miami’s Columbus High School) and Hendry also was a successful coach at Creighton University, with current ND associate head coach Brian O’Connor playing on Creighton’s 1991 squad that advanced to the CWS.
CWS REUNION – This weekend’s action features two of the fan favorites from the 2002 College World Series – Notre Dame and Nebraska – who helped attract record-setting crowds to Rosenblatt Stadium for the CWS … Wake Forest was a likely 2002 CWS participant (as one of the nation’s eight top seeds) but the Demon Deacons were knocked off by Richmond in the NCAA regional round.
OLD NCAA RIVALS – Some of the first NCAA Tournament games in Notre Dame history came vs. Wake Forest and Minnesota … ND made its NCAA debut in 1949, playing host to WFU for a three-game series (the Demon Deacons advanced, 4-1 and 10-7, and went on to finish second at the CWS) … the Irish also played NCAA games vs. Minnesota in five seasons (seven total games) from 1956-70 … the Gophers claimed CWS titles in 1956 (12-1 vs. Arizona) and 1960 (2-1 vs. USC) after posting home NCAA district-round wins over ND (3-4, 15-5, 10-1 in ’56 and 15-6 in ’60) … the Irish eliminated the Gophers in 1958 (11-7, at Western Michigan) and 1970 (6-2, at Ohio State) NCAA district-round action … ND also posted a 12-4 home win over UM in the 1959 NCAAs (WMU then eliminated the Gophers).
THE ND-NU SERIES (10-1) – Notre Dame holds a 10-1 series edge vs. Nebraska, including a 5-3, 11-inning win in 1995 at San Antonio’s Wolff Stadium (for the Irish Baseball Classic) … the Irish also beat NU at the 1991 Oakland A’s tournament in Phoenix (8-5) … the first nine games of the season came during a span from 1897-1907 (all at ND), with NU claiming its only win of the series in 1904 (5-4).
THE ND-MINNESOTA SERIES (22-17) – Notre Dame holds a 22-17 series edge vs. Minnesota, including 9-8 at UM (the Gophers have won two previous meetings at the Metrodome) … Saturday’s game will be just the third in the series in the last 19 seasons, with each of those games coming at the Metrodome (the Gophers won 9-5 in 1991 and 9-7 in 2000, see below) … the series dates back to 1894 (the third season of varsity baseball at Notre Dame), with the teams playing 19 times from 1894-1909, then six times in the 1920s (with a pair of games in both 1949 and ’50) … the next seven games of the series came in the NCAAs, with the Gophers besting the Irish in a 1956 three-game NCAA series at UM (3-4, 15-5, 10-1) while Irish posted NCAA wins over the Gophers in 1958 (11-7, at Western Michigan) and 1959 (12-4, at ND) … Minnesota then posted a 15-6 win over ND in the 1960 NCAAs, with the Irish notching a 6-2 win over UM in 1970 NCAA action (at Ohio State).
THE ND-WFU SERIES (1-4) – Wake Forest beat the Irish twice in 1949 and twice more in 1988 but the Irish won the most recent meeting, 8-5 at the Hormel Foods Classic (also at the Metrodome, see notes below) … ND made its NCAA debut in 1949, losing a three-game series at home vs. WFU (1-4, 7-10), with the Deacons going on the finish as the 1949 CWS runner-up (losing 15-1 to Arizona) … the Irish then dropped a pair of games at WFU in 1988 (10-17, 5-12).
FRIEND OR FOE? – Several players from this week’s opponents are former teammates of current ND players … ND senior RHP J.P. Gagne (ND) has past ties to Minnesota senior 2B Luke Appert (’99 Lions All Stars), senior RHP/likely starter vs. ND C.J. Woodrow (’95, ’96 AAU Nationals) and sophomore OF Tony Leseman (Cretin-Derham Hall HS) … ND junior 2B Steve Sollmann played alongside WFU senior OF Adam Bourassa with the 2001 and ’02 Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod summer wood-bat league … three DQ Classic players formerly starred with the Cherry Creek (Colo.) Connie Mack summer team: WFU ace junior RHP Kyle Sleeth, ND freshman OF Matt Bransfield and Nebraska freshman RHP Tim Sheoniger … two freshman OFs – ND’s Alex Nettey and NU’s Kevin Belcher – played with the Chicago White Sox 2001 Fall Development Team.
ND BASEBALL’S MINNESOTA NATIVES
- The 2003 Notre Dame baseball includes players from 19 states, with two from Minnesota: senior RHP J.P. Gagne (Bloomington, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall HS) and freshman walk-on catcher Sam Richey (Minneapolis/DeLaSalle HS).
- The Notre Dame baseball program has produced letterwinners from 43 home states, including 21 from Minnesota – led by two-time All-America catcher Elmer Kohorst (Albany HS), who led the 1957 team to the College World Series.
- Several players who prepped at St. Thomas Academy have gone on to letter with the ND baseball program, including: three-sport star and LHP/OF Paul Castner (’21-’23), OF Andy Chlebeck (’40-’42), OF/C Pat O’Brien (’86-’88), OF Pat Eilers (’89) and OF Tom Murray (’90) … Castner (who threw a no-hitter in 1922) also was a star running back and hockey star at Notre Dame while Eilers was a key offensive player on ND’s 1988 national championship football team.
- Other recent ND baseball letterwinners from Minnesota have included: C/1B George Restovich (Rochester/Mayo HS; ’94-’96), 1B/LHP David Legus (Edina HS; ’89), brothers and Edina West HS products John (IF/OF, ’82-’83) and RHP Mike (’78-’81) Deasey, 3B Pat Coleman (’73-’75; Anoka/Benilde HS) and LHPs Dick Eich (Little Falls; ’70-’72) and Jim Phelps (Wayzata; ’68-’70).
- Four other Minnesotans joined Kohorst in the 1940s/’50s era: LHP Jim Dalton (’54; Minneapolis), 3Bs Tom Jaeb (Claremont; ’56) and Steve Johnson (Robbinsdale; ’57) and RHP Bill Sherman (St. Paul; ’47)
- Several old-time ND baseball players also hailed from Minnesota: 1B John Flannigan (Minneapolis; 1894), OF Alphonse Becker (1899; Adrian), OF/C Charles Mottz (St. Cloud; ’15-’16) and C George Murphy (St. Cloud; ’20, ’22).
VS. THE BIG 12 – Notre Dame owns a 17-12 all-time record vs. teams that currently comprise the Big 12 Conference (including 2-4 in the Paul Mainieri era) … ND’s most-common Big 12 opponents have included Nebraska (10-1), Texas (3-3) and Baylor (2-3), plus games vs. Texas A&M (1-1), Missouri (1-1), Kansas State (0-2) and Oklahoma (0-1) … the Irish baseball team never has faced Kansas State, Oklahoma State or Texas Tech … the six games vs. Big 12 teams in the Mainieri era include: a 10-6 loss to Texas in his first game with the Irish (at the 1995 Anaheim Classic), two losses to Baylor (1-2, 4-10) and a 5-3 win over Nebraska (all at the 1995 Irish Baseball Classic in San Antonio), a 13-1 loss to Missouri at the 1999 New Orleans Invitational and a 7-6 win over the Tigers at the 2002 UNO Classic.
VS. THE BIG TEN – Notre Dame naturally has played teams from the Big Ten more than any conference (912 all-time games, prior to 2002), including five of the top six most-common opponents in the program’s history: Northwestern (71-58-1), Michigan State (53-72), Wisconsin (62-53-3), Michigan (41-74) and Purdue (74-37-3) … other ND series marks vs. Big Ten teams are as follows: Indiana (68-30-1), Iowa (36-23-1), Illinois (22-37), Ohio State (26-18), Minnesota (22-17) and Penn State (6-3) … PSU is the only Big Ten team that has faced ND fewer times than Minnesota.
VS. THE ACC – Notre Dame owns a 16-23 all-time record vs. current teams from the ACC (5-6 in the Mainieri era) … ND’s most common all-time ACC opponents have included Georgia Tech (4-6), Duke (4-5), Florida State (4-4), Virginia (2-3) and Wake Forest (1-4), plus single games vs. Clemson (1-0) and North Carolina State (0-1) and none vs. North Carolina or Maryland … the Mainieri-era games vs. ACC teams include: a pair of season-opening games at GT in 1996 (4-12, 4-19), two games vs. UVa (12-1, 1-7) at the 1996 NCAA Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., three early games (Jan. 30-Feb. 1) in Orlando at the 1998 ACC Disney Blast (10-1 vs. FSU, 8-10 vs. NCSU, 1-3 vs. Duke), an 8-5 win over WFU at Minnesota’s 2000 Hormel Foods Classic and the 2002 NCAA Super Regional Series at FSU (10-4, 5-12, 3-1).
CLOSING THE DEAL – Notre Dame’s starters combined for a 4.35 ERA and .336 opponent batting avg. in last week’s action (20.2 IP, 7 Ks, 12 BB, 22 H) but the bullpen was touched for a 19.06 ERA and .400 opponent batting in 11.1 IP (4 Ks, 16 BB, 24 H).
PUT AWAY THE BB’s – The ND pitching staff had an uncharacteristically high walk total in last week’s action (28 BB in 32 IP, or 7.9 BB per 9 IP) – after averaging just 3.6 walks per 9 IP in 2002 … the ND pitchers averaged 3.47 BB per 9 IP in the first eight seasons of the Mainieri era (led by a team-record 2.5 in ’01 and 3.0 in ’00)
ELITE E.R.A. – Notre Dame has finished in the top-16 of the national charts for team ERA in four of the previous five seasons, owning the nation’s best team ERA during portions of 2000 and ’01 … the 2000 staff surged atop the national ERA charts in late April (2.72) and finished 16th (3.93) … the Irish then returned to the top spot among the 2001 team ERA leaders for three weeks in April, finishing fifth at 3.22 (best at ND since ’92, third-best since ’75) … ND went on to finish 13th in the 2002 ERA rankings (3.57), joining Texas and Rice as the only teams ranked among the nation’s top-20 ERA leaders in 2000, ’01 and ’02 … the Irish also finished 12th in the final 1998 team ERA rankings (4.02) while the first eight ND staffs led by pitching coach Brian O’Connor (’95-’02) averaged a 4.10 team ERA.
JOHNSON LOST FOR SEASON – Notre Dame sophomore RHP Grant Johnson (Burr Ridge, Ill.) underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery in late December and is slated to miss the 2003 season … Johnson – a preseason All-American who was tabbed by Collegiate Baseball magazine as the preseason BIG EAST Conference pitcher of the year – enjoyed a stellar 2002 season in which he earned Freshman All-America honors and was selected to pitch with Team USA during the summer of ’02 … Johnson posted a 3.46 ERA in 18 appearances as a freshman, ranking second among BIG EAST pitchers in overall wins (9-5), third in starts (14, with nine “game-one” starts) and sixth in Ks (86) … the 6-6, 220-pounder’s other ’02 stats included 44 walks, 94 hits allowed, a .249 opponent batting average, five wild pitches and nine hit batters … CB named Johnson national pitcher of the week after his 1-hit, 1-walk masterpiece in the 25-1 NCAA win over South Alabama – becoming just the 13th pitcher (fourth since ’81) ever to toss a no-hitter or 1-hitter in NCAA tournament action … he posted an opening-game win in the NCAA Super Regional at top-ranked Florida State and started the opening-game vs. Stanford at the CWS … Johnson logged 20 IP with Team USA in the summer of ’02, helping the staff post a team-record 1.48 ERA (his personal stats included a 1.80 ERA and 2-1 record in 5 GP/3 GS, 25 Ks, 13 BB and 11 hits allowed).
PLENTY OF EXPERIENCE ON THE HILL – Despite the loss of Grant Johnson, Notre Dame’s other 11 returning pitchers combined to log 77 percent of the team’s innings in the 2002 season (449 of 584), in addition to posting 39 of the 50 victories, making 54 of the 68 starts and combining for 358 strikeouts in 2002.
SOPHOMORE SURGE? – Hard-throwing sophomore RHP John Axford (6 IP, 2 BB, K last week vs. Newman) is looking for more consistent pitch location in 2003, after totaling the same number of walks and strikeouts (89) in his combined 2002 Notre Dame (59 BB/64 Ks) and Cape Cod League seasons (with the Hyannis Mets, 30 BB/25 Ks) … Axford’s .231 opponent batting average was best among the 2002 Irish staff (also 10th-best by an ND pitcher, since ’91) while he served up a team-high 18 double-play balls … Axford actually turned in some of the best numbers ever by an ND freshman pitcher in the eight-year Paul Mainieri era (notably his 3.95 ERA, 70.2 IP and 64 Ks) but his season was somewhat overshadowed by the dominating postseasons turned in by his classmates Grant Johnson and Chris Niesel.
THREE AMIGOS – Three senior RHPs could be key parts of ND’s 2003 success, as starters Peter Ogilvie (3.50, 12-7, 136.1 IP, 90 Ks/39 BB, 138 H, 26 GP/22 CS, 5 CG) and Ryan Kalita (3.24, 7-0, 58.1 IP, 49 Ks/30 BB, 59 H, 22 GP/6 GS, CG) have combined with former weekend starter/current closer J.P. Gagne (4.32, 21-11, 7 SV, 239.2 IP, 161 Ks/65 BB, 270 H, 66 GP/33 GS, 2 CG) for the following combined career stats: 3.92, 40-18, 7 saves, 434.1 IP, 300 Ks/134 BB, 467 H, 110 GP/62 GS and 8 CG.
READY FOR THE OUTDOORS – Notre Dame benefits from use of one of the nation’s premier indoor college baseball facilities, at the indoor hitting and pitching facility located adjacent to Frank Eck Stadium … the 2000 addition, donated by alumnus Eck, includes wall-to-wall artificial turf floor, four full-length batting tunnels, two regulation clay pitching mounds, a clay home plate area and an “Iron Mike” pitching machine.
ROOKIE RARITY – Notre Dame’s first 24 all-time BIG EAST Tournament games featured just three freshman starters on the mound – with the Irish equaling that number in 2002 alone, when freshmen Grant Johnson and Chris Niesel started the first two games of the BIG EAST Tournament and their classmate John Axford started ND’s decisive fourth game, a 3-2 win over Rutgers … ND then started two freshman pitchers in all three rounds of the NCAAs, with Johnson drawing Game-1 starts in the Regional (vs. Ohio State), Super Regional (vs. Florida State) and College World Series (vs. Stanford) while Niesel won the clinching third games in the Regional (also a short relief stint) and Super Regional – followed by a strong start in the CWS elimination-game win over Rice (Axford added impressive relief outings vs. FSU and Stanford) … the trio’s combined 2002 postseason stats included a 5-1 record, 2.71 ERA and .229 opponent batting average in 12 appearances (nine starts), with 50 Ks, 27 walks and 53 hits allowed in 63 innings.
TOP TOOLS (pitching) – Baseball America rated several Notre Dame players among its “top tools” list for the 2003 BIG EAST Conference … ND sophomore RHPs Chris Niesel (“best breaking ball”) and Grant Johnson (“best control”) joined Boston College sophomore RHP Chris Lambert (“best fastball”) as the pitchers cited on BA’s list for BIG EAST top tools.
CLOSING WITH THE CLOSER – Current senior RHP and closer J.P. Gagne had some rocky moments early in the 2002 postseason but he still managed to post an amazing ratio of strikeouts (15) to walks (1) during 18 innings of 2002 postseason action … his best two outings came at key times, retiring nine straight to close the 10-4 opening win at Florida State before coming on to strike out the side in the 9th inning of the 3-1 clincher in that three-game NCAA Super-Regional series.
SENIOR SAVERS – Notre Dame’s senior class includes three righthanders – J.P. Gagne (6), Brandon Viloria (5) and Matt Laird (5) – who each have totaled five-plus saves in their ND careers … Laird and his 3/4 delivery produced four saves in the closing role with the 2001 team that climbed to the No. 1 national ranking … his more noteworthy saves that season included the first of two wins on opening week at Mississippi State (7-5, 0.2 IP) and the final two innings to cap a 3-0 shutout of Cleveland State … he also went 7-2 in his final nine decisions of the 2002 season.
MR. CONTROL – Senior RHP Brandon Viloria has averaged just 1.56 walks per 9 IP during his career (11/63.1) – which would best the ND record of 1.64 set by RHP Alan Walania from 1990-93 (59/324) … Viloria posted a 2.45 season ERA in 2002 (second-best on the staff), plus a 2-1 record and three saves, with just five walks in 21 IP (no wild pitches and one hit batter) and an eye-popping .203 opponent batting avg. (16-for-79) … he has yet to throw a wild pitch in 63.2 career innings, with just one hit batter … several other ND pitchers also have low career walk ratios, including sophomore Chris Niesel (2.30) and seniors J.P. Gagne (2.44) and Peter Ogilvie (2.58).
PITCHING WITH CLASS – Notre Dame’s current group of six sophomore pitchers – which led the way in helping ND earn top recruiting class honors from Baseball America in 2002 – combined for a 3.64 ERA, 25-8 record and four saves during the 2002 season (also 263 Ks, 148 walks and 273 hits allowed in 299.1 innings. 71 appearances and 43 starts) … the five active members of the sophomore pitching group (minus injured ace Grant Johnson) combined for the following 2002 numbers: 3.73 ERA, 16-3, 4 SV, 53 GP/29 GS, 198.0 IP, 177 Ks/104 BB and 179 H
Three of the above pitchers also pitched last week, with Niesel (6 IP, no decision, 4 R, K, 2 BB, 6 H) and Axford (6 IP, win, 2 R, K, 2 BB, 8 H) logging strong starts while Vergara had a rocky relief stint vs. ASU (2 IP, 7 R, 5 BB, 4 H) … those outings give the five active sophomore pitchers a 4.03 combined career ERA, a 17-3 record, four saves, 56 GP/31 GS, 214 IP, 179 Ks/113 BB and 197 H).
LINEUP TAKING SHAPE – Notre Dame’s lineup continues to evolve as the Irish replace five starters from the 2002 CWS team … the versatile talents of sophomore SS Matt Macri have allowed him to hit in the leadoff spot (after entering 2003 as the likely 3-hole hitter) while Cody Rizzo’s hot-hitting start (5-for-8, 5 RBI, HR, 2B) has placed him in the CF mix, along with fellow freshmen Craig Cooper and Brennan Grogan … senior RF Kris Billmaier has been shifted from the cleanup to No. 3 spot and responded last week by batting 8-for-19 (.421) with nine RBI and three home runs (equaling his 2002 HR total, with 10 career HRs prior to ’03).
FRESHMAN FORCE – ND’s seven freshman position players completed an impressive debut week, batting a combined .389 (21-for-54) – including home runs from DH Steve Andres and CF Cody Rizzo (a rarity in recent years for ND freshmen in the opening week).
LONG-BALL LONGING – Notre Dame – which hit 12 home runs in 13 games during the 2002 postseason (after 41 in 55 regular-season games) – is looking to replace several of its top long-ball threats, including C Paul O’Toole (11 HRs in 2002), LF Brian Stavisky (9 HRs in ’02), 3B Andrew Bushey (6 HRs in ’02) and DH Matt Bok (3 HRs in ’02) … all told, ND’s current active players accounted for just 17 of the team’s 53 HRs (32%) in 2002, led by junior 1B Joe Thaman (6), junior C Javi Sanchez (5) and senior RF Kris Billmaier (3; plus two by junior 2B Steve Sollmann and one from sophomore SS Matt Macri, who played just 17 games in ’02 due to injury) … other 2002 HRs came from ’02 graduates Ken Meyer (2), Matt Strickroth (1) and Steve Stanley (1), with current sophomore Brent Weiss (2, out for all of ’03 season due to injury) and former walk-on IF Geoff Milsom (1) rounding out the 2002 HR total.
ANDRES EMERGES – Freshman C/DH Steve Andres (a fourth-generation Notre Dame student) was a pleasant surprise during the 2002 fall workouts, after deciding at the last-minute to attend walk-on trouts … he then delivered last week, batting 6-for-14 (.429) with a home run, triple, double, two RBI and eight runs scored (he also reached on two walks and two times hit-by-pitch) … the smooth-swinging lefty didn’t draw much attention from college recruiters while dominating in several sports at Justin Sienna HS in Napa, Calif. (he also was an option quarterback and came back from a major broken-leg injury) … he could follow former catcher William Andres (’16’-18) as the first great-grandfather/great-grandson combination in the ND baseball all-time letterwinner list … William Andres played as right end on the 1917 football team (during the early days of the Knute Rockne era) and earned three baseball monograms while serving as a teammate of future legendary Irish coach Jake Kline.
UNSUNG HERO – Junior Javi Sanchez (Miami, Fla.) headed into 2002 projected as a utility infielder, with the ability to play 1B vs. LHPs while also filling in at 2B, 3B or SS … a few months later, Sanchez was one of the more pleasantly-surprising stories of the 2002 season … Sanchez served virtually the entire season as the team’s starting shortstop, following injuries to freshmen Matt Macri (elbow strain, “Tommy John” reconstructive surgery on April 9) and Matt Edwards (broken leg in March 9th USC game) … Sanchez was ND’s hottest hitter over the 10 games prior to the ’02 Super Regionals, batting .414 (12-for-29) with 12 runs scored, a home run, a triple, three walks and just three Ks in that span… his 12-game hitting streak was bested in 2002 by just senior CF Steve Stanley (13) … his steady defense included 45 error-free games (plus a hand in most of the team’s 66 double plays, a team record) … Sanchez played a key role in the pivotal 10-inning win at West Virginia, with his two-run double giving ND the lead in extra innings … he hit a team-best .357 at the ’02 BIG EAST Tournament (5-for-14), including a two-run shot for an early lead in the first title game vs. Rutgers (4-3 loss) … Sanchez also made several key plays in the field during the Super Regional at Florida State, including a bases-loaded catch over-his-head in left field (in the 10-4 opening win) and a diving stop that saved an early run in the 3-1 clincher – before stroking a 3-run, gametying shot vs. Stanford in the CWS (4-3 loss).
POWER SURGE – Sophomore 1B Joe Thaman hit only two home runs as a freshman and had totaled just four career HRs in his first 230 career ABs before launching his first of two HRs in the 2002 Mother’s Day doubleheader vs. Villanova (in Philadelphia) … he was not done with his long-ball assault, blasting a pair of grand slams the next weekend, in consecutive games of the season-ending Boston College series … that binge included four HRs in just 14 ABs, well below the total of 230 ABs that Thaman needed for his first four career homers (he did not hit any more HRs in ’02).
SIX FORMER ND PLAYERS HEADED FOR BIG-LEAGUE CAMP – Three former Notre Dame baseball players currently are on 40-man rosters for MLB Spring Training, with those players including IF Craig Counsell (Arizona), RHP Brad Lidge (Houston) and LHP Tim Kalita (Detroit) … three others are non-roster invitees to Big-League Camp: RHPs Aaron Heilman (rated by Baseball America as the No. 3 propsect in the New York Mets organization) and Christian Parker (Yankees) and LHP Chris Michalak (Colorado).
OTHER PRO PLAYERS – Several other former ND players are about to embark on minor-league spring training: catcher Paul O’Toole (Cubs), 3B/C Andrew Bushey (Colorado), OFs Steve Stanley and Brian Stavisky (both with Oakland), IF Brant Ust (Detroit), RHP Danny Tamayo (Kansas City) and OF Matt Bok (Los Angeles).
DEAR DIARY – Several Notre Dame baseball players made internet diary entries during their respective 2002 summer seasons (see baseball page at www.und.com for Summer Diaries link button) … pitchers Grant Johnson (Team USA), J.P. Gagne (Alaska Goldpanners) and Chris Niesel (Falmouth Commodores, of the Cape Cod League) joined infielder Javi Sanchez (Hays, Kan., Larks of the Jayhawk League) in sharing their various – and unique – summer tales.
SCORING STREAKS – Notre Dame saw its team-record scoring streak end on May 15, 2002, in an 11-0 loss to BIG EAST rival Rutgers … the Irish scored in the final 57 games of ’99, in every game of 2000 (64) and ’01 (63), and in the first 46 of 2002 – for a 230-game scoring streak that stretched back to a 12-0 loss at Florida International on Feb. 21, 1999 … the previous record 132-game scoring streak began with the first game of the Paul Mainieri era, a 10-6 loss to Texas at the Anaheim Classic, on Feb. 24, 1995 (the Irish were shut out by Auburn, 8-0, in the ’94 NCAA East Regional at Clemson) … that streak ended vs. another Texas team, 2-0 vs. Texas Pan-American in a seven-inning game on March 10, 1997 (in San Antonio) … ND has scored in 98.8 pct. of its games in the Mainieri era (495 of 501), with the other shutouts vs. BIG EAST teams: at Seton Hall (16-0; 3/22/97), vs. St. John’s (3-0; 5/9/98) and vs. Rutgers in the BIG EAST Tournament (12-0; 5/16/98) … the Irish have scored in 299 of 301 non-conference games during the Mainieri era (99.3%), including 141 straight … prior to the Mainieri era, the longest ND scoring streaks were: 121 (April 23, 1930-May 26, 1937) and 103-games (May 25, 1907-May 17, 1912) … ND’s five shutout losses under Mainieri have included just two on the opponent’s field (also at FIU in 1999), plus one at Eck Stadium and two on neutral fields.
GOOD FOR 40 – Notre Dame owns 14 straight seasons with 40-plus wins, led by the 50-18 season in 2002, 49 wins in ’01, 48 in ’89 and ’92, 46 in four seasons (’90, ’93 ’94, ’00), 45 in ’91 and 44 in ’95 … that’s the fourth-longest active 40-win streak in Div. I baseball, behind Florida State (25), Wichita State (25) and Clemson (17).
GOING THE DISTANCE – Prior to its heartbreaking 2001 NCAA Tournament loss to Florida International (7-6, 10 inn.), Notre Dame had gone unbeaten in its previous 10 extra-inning games (9-0-1) – including three consecutive extended games at the 2001 Fresno State Classic and clutch 11-inning wins at Mississippi State (4-2) and Rutgers (5-4) in that ’01 season … the Irish quickly rebounded from the FIU loss, winning a 10-inning game later that day vs. UC Santa Barbara (11-10), and went 4-1 in 2002 extra-inning games … ND heads into 2003 with a 14-2-1 mark in its previous 17 extra-inning games, dating back to ’97.
FAR & WIDE – The Notre Dame list of all-time baseball monogram winners includes players from 43 home states … current senior RHP Brandon Viloria (Wailuku, Hawaii) in 2000 became the program’s first letterwinner from the island state while current junior LHP Cody Wilkins (Hudson, N.C.) could become the first from the Tar Heel state … the only other states that have not produced ND baseball letterwinners include Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Vermont … the nine-year Paul Mainieri era has featured players from 34 states/provinces (see p. 33 of media guide), including 19 states represented on the 2003 squad: California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Ontario, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washignton
TWO-YEAR TEAR – Notre Dame’s combined victory total from the 2001 (49-13-1) and 2002 (50-18) seasons represented the third-most wins (99) in Division I baseball during that two-year span, trailing only Florida State (107) and South Carolina (106).
BOOMERANG SEASON – It was a long and winding road, but the sixth-ranked Notre Dame baseball team ended up in the 2002 College World Series and the NCAA “final six” – ultimately living up to its billing as the nation’s No. 5-ranked team in the Baseball America preseason poll (ND was 13th in the USA Today/ESPN preseason coaches poll and 19th in the Collegiate Baseball poll) … the eight CWS teams all were in the top-14 of the BA preseason poll: Stanford (1), Clemson (2), ND (5), Nebraska (8), Texas (9), Rice (11), Georgia Tech (13) and South Carolina (14) … others in the BA preseason top 10 included Miami (3), USC (4), Florida State (6), LSU (7) and Tulane (10).
HOSTS WITH THE MOST – Notre Dame is one of nine schools to serve as a Regional host team three-plus times since the NCAA field expanded to 64 teams in 1999 (Florida State, Stanford and LSU are the only teams to be a host all four years) … the others included fellow 2002 hosts USC, Rice, Clemson and South Carolina (plus Miami, which was a host team from 1999-2001).
CLASSY CLASS – Notre Dame’s eight-member 2002 senior class – DH Matt Bok, 3B Andrew Bushey, C Paul O’Toole and CF Steve Stanley, plus DH Ken Meyer, OF Matt Strickroth and RHPs Matt Buchmeier and Drew Duff – helped ND compile a four-year record of 188-67-1 (.736) from 1999-2002 … that ranks as the most wins ever by an ND graduating class and is the fourth-best four-year winning pct. in the last 87 seasons of ND baseball.
1-0 GAME A RARITY – The 2002 narrow win over BYU marked just the fourth 1-0 game in the eight-year Paul Mainieri era at Notre Dame – with one of those coming in a seven-inning game (vs. Navy, at the 1998 Service Academies Classic in Millington, Tenn.) … the Irish then posted a 1-0 win over Valparaiso on April 22, 1998 (7-inning game extended to 9) before the memorable 1-0 win over the Miami Hurricanes, on May 12, 1999, at Eck Stadium (Alex Shilliday, Chris McKeown and Aaron Heilman combined on a near-no-hitter).
HOMEBODIES – Several 2002 ND players hit significantly higher at Eck Stadium than on the road, including current junior 1B Joe Thaman (148 points higher, .206-.354) and current senior RF Kris Billmaier (+83, .279-.362) … as a team, the 2002 ND team hit 54 points higher at home (.290-.344) while the staff ERA was more than one run smaller (3.99 – 2.84).
ROAD-TESTED – Current junior C Javi Sanchez (Miami) was ND’s only 2002 starter who hit better on the road (.299, 40-for-134, including neutral-site games) than at Eck Stadium (.263, 25-for-95) … Sanchez hit four of his five 2002 home runs on the road, including a 2-run blast (after an RBI single) at Third Fifth Ballpark vs. Michigan (a rare HR in the ND-UM series at the minor-league park) and postseason HRs in minor-league parks vs. Rutgers (BIG EAST Tournament, Commerce Bank Ballpark) and vs. Stanford (at the CWS) … his other top road performances including a key role in the pivotal comeback at West Virginia (10-4, in 10 inn.), with his 2-for-4, 2-RBI, 2-run day including the go-ahead double in the 10th
DOGPILES – After coming up short in previous seasons, Notre Dame finally broke through with four major postseason celebrations in 2002 (see p. 81) – winning the BIG EAST Tournament, the NCAA South Bend Regional and the Super Regional at Florida State (plus a 9th-inning rally vs. Rice in the College World Series) … just two of those celebrations featured the traditional dogpile as the BIG EAST title game vs. Rutgers (3-2, 10 inn.) and the 5-3 CWS elimination-game win over Rice ended on Brian Stavisky hits.
HOMESTANDERS – Notre Dame’s impressive home record during the 2002 season (26-3, .897) ranks as the third-best home winning pct. in the program’s history (min. 15 home games) … the 1997 squad went 25-2 at Eck Stadium while the 1980 team won 19 of its 20 home games at Jake Kline Field … ND’s all-time home record in 110 seasons is 1,062-330 (.763), well above the program’s overall win pct. of .623.