Nov. 14, 2000

The Notre Dame baseball team signed seven high school seniors to national letters of intent during the 2000 early fall period, head coach Paul Mainieri announced today. The signees include catcher Jay Molina (Moline, Ill.), shortstops Matt Edwards (Mechanicsville, Va.) and Matt Macri (Clive, Iowa) and four pitchers: Grant Johnson (Burr Ridge, Ill.), Chris Niesel (Plantation, Fla.), Martin Vergara (Paterson, N.J.) and lefthander Scott Bickford (Owings, Md.).

“This class ranks up there with the finest in Notre Dame baseball history,” said Mainieri, whose first six Notre Dame teams have extended the program’s streak of consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins to 12 (including a 46-18 mark in 2000). “We’ve filled all our needs with players who have outstanding ability and who will contribute a great deal.

“This was a critical class for us because we could lose so many key players from our 2001 squad. We needed players who can immediately make an impact and our success rate in landing the players we really wanted was phenomenal.”

Notre Dame’s current roster includes just six seniors – namely starting pitchers Aaron Heilman and Danny Tamayo and shortstop Alec Porzel – plus several younger players that could be lost to the 2001 Major League draft, including junior catcher Paul O’Toole and sophomore rightfielder Brian Stavisky.

The seven signees include three high school quarterbacks and they hail from six different states-Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia-while five are rated among the top-10 prep prospects in their respective states, according to Baseball America: Macri (No. 18 nationally, No. 1 in Iowa), Johnson (No. 2 in Illinois, 177th overall), Edwards (No. 3 in Virginia), Bickford (No. 6 in Maryland) and Molina (No. 10 in Illinois). All seven of the Irish signees are included on Team One Baseball’s list of “Tracking the Nation’s Top Baseball Recruits,” including Vergara as one of seven New Jersey players listed and Niesel as one of 50 players listed from talent-rich Florida. As of Nov. 14, Notre Dame’s total of seven signeees on Team One’s list of top players by state ranked eighth among all Division I schools, behind only Georgia Tech, Florida, LSU, Miami, Texas, Stetson and Arizona State.

Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Bats Hometown Previous School
Scott Bickford LHP 6-4 160 Owings, MD Northern HS
Matt Edwards SS/OF 6-2 180 R Mechanicsville, VA Lee-Davis HS
Grant Johnson RHP 6-6 205 Burr Ridge, IL Lyons Township HS
Matt Macri SS/RHP 6-2 195 R Clive, IA Dowling HS
Jay Molina C/RHP 5-11 195 R Moline, IL Moline HS
Chris Niesel RHP 6-0 185 Plantation, FL St. Thomas Aquinas HS
Martin Vergara RHP 6-1 180 Paterson, NJ DePaul Catholic HS

Macri is widely considered to be among the nation’s top-25 high school players, checking in at No. 18 according to Baseball America and No. 21 by Team One Baseball (he ranks among the top-10 position players on both lists and as high as fourth among shortstops). An impressive all-around athlete who could have entertained Division I scholarship offers in football as a quarterback, the 6-2, 195-pound Macri also has promise on the mound due to a fastball that has touched 94 miles-per-hour and a solid breaking ball. In fact, Team One rates Macri second among prep players who are potential “two-way” players in the field and on the mound while also listing Macri second in the nation for arm strength and sixth for defense (third among shortstops).

Macri was one of two USA Baseball players named to the all-tournament team at the Junior Pan American Games, held last spring in Sonora, Mexico. He was the first freshman position player to start at Dowling High School in 30 years and batted .396 or higher in each of the past three seasons, including a junior year that saw him hit .462 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI in 40 games while earning third team All-America honors from the National High School Baseball Coaches Association.

A second-year starting quarterback, Macri is one of five finalists for the Iowa Heisman Award and has led the Dowling football team to a 12-0 record and a spot in the 4A state championship game (Nov. 17). His 2000 season stats include roughly 2,000 passing yards (24 TDs, 3 INTs), a 63.4 completion percentage and 700 rushing yards (8 TDs).

Edwards, who has displayed power hitting to all fields, is a solid shortstop prospect who has the versatility to play anywhere in the infield or outfield. As a 14-year-old, he hit nine home runs and a double in his first 11 at-bats during the AAU State Tournament while playing for the Richmond Virginians. The 6-2, 180-pounder owns a .440 career batting average at Lee-Davis High School, including a junior season in which many teams pitched around him (he walked 22 times in 22 games, with four home runs and 18 RBI). As a sophomore, Edwards played on a team stocked with college prospects and saw more pitches while racking up 37 RBI and seven home runs, plus a .470 batting average.

Molina is known as a hard-nosed competitor behind the plate, on the mound and in the batter’s box (he also is the starting quarterback at Moline High School). As a junior, the 5-11, 195-pounder led his team to a 33-3 record and a third-place finish in the Illinois state tournament, after batting .390 for the season with four home runs and 45 RBI – plus a 9-0 record and 2.50 ERA in 65 innings pitched.

Niesel is known for his control. He totaled just 22 walks in 132 innings during the past two seasons (1.5 BB per 9 IP) and has touched the low 90s on his fastball, with a solid complementary curveball and changeup. The 6-0, 185-pounder earned second team all-county honors as a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, after posting a 6-2 record and 2.91 ERA in 67 innings, with 69 strikeouts and just 11 walks.

Johnson is noted for his prototypical pitcher’s frame (6-6, 205) and is rated 177th on Baseball America’s list of prep prospects. His junior season at Lyons Township High School yielded a 10-2 record, three saves and a 1.57 ERA in 82 innings pitched, plus 95 Ks and just 28 walks.

Vergara, who also is a star quarterback at DePaul Catholic High School, was a USA Today honorable mention All-American as a junior, after posting a 9-2 record and 1.60 ERA in 76 innings pitched, with 147 Ks (1.93 per inning, 17.41 per nine innings) and just 43 hits allowed.

Bickford, known for his projectable body (6-4, 160) and loose arm, pitched just 38 innings (due to illness) during his junior season at Northern High School before turning in a strong 2000 summer season with the Maryland Orioles, when he posted an 8-1 record and 2.71 ERA in 60 innings (with 69 Ks and just 28 walks).

Mainieri on the recruiting process:
“We tried to address three areas. First, we needed quality pitchers with starting potential. The four guys we signed all have great arms and have the potential to make a big impact. Second, with us losing senior shortstop Alec Porzel, we needed to recruit someone that can step in and play shortstop for us as a freshman. Macri and Edwards are the two we rated as the best prospects for us in the country and they both are both great athletes that can play elsewhere if needed. Finally, because there is a strong possibility we will lose junior catcher Paul O’Toole to the pro draft next June, we needed to sign a catcher who has the talent to play right away. Molina was our number one choice and we were able to land him.

“As always, we’ll have to hope the major league draft doesn’t hurt us in June. The early feeling among pro scouts is that a few of our signees have a good chance of being high picks, if they give an indication they would entertain the idea of signing professionally. We’ll have to hope they are committed to coming to Notre Dame and getting their education. I believe they all are.

“For us to receive early commitments from these top players is a real credit to the efforts our assistant coaches and current players. In fact, our best recruiters are our current players, who give of their time to educate the prospects [while the prospects are visiting campus] about the special qualities of our university and our baseball program. Seeing how content our current players are at Notre Dame makes a huge and positive impact on the prospects.”

More Macri Notes:
Hit .396 as a freshman (5 HR), .424 as a sophomore (7 HR) … a three-time Academic All-Conference pick … a 1st team pick on the conference, district and state levels as a junior … led football team to ’99 conference title and state quarterfinals … will lead football team into 2000 state title game vs. Bettendorf on Nov. 17 … one of five finalist for Iowa Heisman Award (to be announced Nov. 15) … hit .353 on USA Baseball team that won bronze medal at 2000 Junior Pan-Am Games (7 RBI, 9 BB, 3B, 2B, 5 SB, 12 R, 0 E in 9 GP) … also throws a decent breaking ball along with his 92-94 mph fastball … was a member of the 2000 White Sox Area Code Team … member of the 2000 Baseball America east all-star team at the Area Code Games, where he was rated by Team One as the No. 8 prospect at the ACG … Team One’s list of the nation’s top players based on arm strength rates Bryan Bass (Westminster Academy, Fla.) 1st and Macri 2nd … Macri is ranked 6th by Team One based on defense (3rd among SS), behind SS Michael Hollimon (Jesuit Prep HS, Texas), C Dorny Lucy (Fallbrook Union HS, Calif.), Bass, 3B/2B Jason Nix (Midland HS, Texas) and C Mike Nickeas (Westlake HS, Calif.) … the only SS ranked ahead of Macri on the overall top prospect lists by Team One and Baseball America are Bass, Hollimon and J.J. Hardy (Sabino HS, Ariz.) … Team One lists Macri 2nd among two-way prospects, behind RHP/OF Mike Jones (Thunderbird HS, Ariz.) … father Michael Macri played college football at Simpson College (in Indianola, Iowa) while his mother Audrey was a high school softball player and cheerleader at Wartburg (Iowa) College … born May 29, 1982.

Mainieri on Macri:
“Never has a player come to the Notre Dame baseball program with more natural athletic ability than Matt. The sky’s the limit and no one will outwork him. He has tremendous arm strength, very good baseball instincts, quickness and agility and is going to be an outstanding hitter as he continues to get stronger. We also are going to work with him on the mound as he throws a fastball in the 90s. He’s just an amazing athlete in every respect. He could have been a Division I quarterback had he chosen that path. He has a very bright future in baseball after his career at Notre Dame and I believe he has the ability to be a first-round pick.”

Macri on his decision:
“When I came on my visit, I realized that Notre Dame was everything I wanted. One big thing for me was how the coaches and I got along and I liked them a lot and could tell the players love playing for them. Coach Mainieri was very personable and easy to talk to and I could tell that I’ll get along well with him. … At first I thought I wanted to go south to school but Notre Dame has similar weather to Iowa and they’ve got great indoor facilities. … I’ve met some people who know coach (Brian) O’Connor (a native of Council Bluffs, Iowa) and they have great things to say about him. I also have some friends whose parents went to Notre Dame and one of my good friend’s brother goes there now. … I’ve followed the Notre Dame baseball program for the last few years and it keeps getting better. I’m excited to be a part of that. … I visited during the weekend of the Stanford game [mid-Oct.] and it was better than I ever expected. The players on the team were similar to me, they had the same interest and attitudes about things and were easy to talk to. I knew it was the right place for me and committed during the visit.”

More Edwards Notes:
Owns a .440 career batting average in three prep seasons, with 16 home runs and 77 RBI … hit .430 as a freshman, with 5 HR and 222 RBI … his 2000 American Legion season included a .592 batting avg., 11 HR and 38 RBI in 20 games … named 1st team all-district each of past three seasons, 2nd team all-region in ’98 and ’99, 1st team all-region in ’00 … a 1996 AAU All-American, AAU all-state in ’98 … named to first team all-region academic team in 1998 and 2000 … attended 2000 Team One National Showcase in Tempe, Ariz. (featuring the nation’s top 100 players) … helped Richmond Virginians finish fourth in the nation in 1996 … hit nine home runs and a double in first 11 at-bats during 1997 AAU state tournament … homered in his first at-bat at 1998 national AAU Tournament, held at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. (the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds) … has homered in three of four high school regional playoff games he has played in … carries a 4.0 GPA into his senior year … father Norman Edwards played baseball at Stetson (the Hatters were ranked as high as 10th during his career) … son of Norman and Diane Edwards … born March 16, 1983.

Mainieri on Edwards:
“Matt is another guy with a lot of athleticism. He’s a very good shortstop but also could play third, second and the outfield. He reminds me of Alec Porzel in a lot of ways, in that he runs pretty decent, has good hands and instincts, has a lot of pop in his bat, and could play other positions besides shortstop if needed. He also reminds me of Alec coming out of high school in that he has a great deal of poise and confidence. He always seems to come up with the big hit when his team needs it most. Matt really hits the ball hard and can possibly be a big home run hitter as his career progresses.”

Edwards on his decision:
“Once I visited, everything seemed to fit for me. I can’t explain it, it just feels right. Since I committed to Notre Dame, all sorts of people keep coming up to me and telling me they know someone who went there. And they all have great things to say about the school. I visited during the weekend of the Purdue football game and the pep rally and game were a lot of fun. It was neat to hear ‘Rudy’ speak. I bonded well with the players I met and stayed with (Kris Billmaier and Javi Sanchez) and I already feel like I’ve got some close friends there. I know the program has been getting better each year and I expect us to keep building that every year to the point where we can get to Omaha. One thing that was a big factor for me was how would I enjoy my life when taking away the baseball. I wanted to go to a high academic school and I was really impressed with the school spirit that everyone had.”

More Molina Notes:
Twice all-conference and all-area … reaches the mid-80s with his fastball while throwing a consistent curveball … also known for strong throwing arm, quick release and consistent linedrive hitting to all fields … rated a top-10 prospect at 2000 Top Gun Showcase (Las Vegas) … led team to American Legion state tournament each of last three years, including state title season as a 16-year-old … a three-year starter in football, playing at QB and defensive back … compiled 1,500 combined yards (passing and rushing) during 2000 football season, on team that went 6-4 and lost in first round of the state playoffs … named academic all-state as a sophomore … member of the National Honor Society … elected homecoming king at Moline … brother Anthony Molina was an infielder and catcher at the University of Evansville … son of Agustin and Carolyn Molina … born Nov. 11, 1982.

Mainieri on Molina:
“Jay will be one of our biggest contributors as a freshman. With the potential loss of Paul O’Toole to the pro draft, it was critical that we signed a catcher who was able to come in and play extensively as a rookie and Jay was our top choice. He actually has pitched and played infield more than he has caught in high school, which says how much we think of him as an athlete. We think he has all the tools to be a great catcher and that’s where we will need him most. He has arm strength, good quickness behind the plate, good hands, and he’s a tough kid. He’s also a tremendous leader, which is really important for our catcher in handling a pitching staff. He will be a force offensively as he can really swing the bat.”

Molina on his decision:
“My visit to Notre Dame was during the weekend of the Nebraska football game and it was pretty overwhelming. I knew it was the place I wanted to go to school. They have a really good team there and have had some impressive success. And that’s what I’m about, I like to win. I like how close the team is, the guys get along real well. I’m looking forward to playing at Notre Dame and will do whatever they need me to do. I’m a hard-nosed player who likes to win and doesn’t back down. I’ll do anything it takes to win.”

More Johnson Notes:
Team MVP, all-conference and all-area as a junior … selected to northwest all-star tournament and a Chicago Tribune special mention all-state pick .. touches low 90s with his fastball … threw no-hitter vs. Hinsdale Central and a one-hitter at Notre Dame 2000 summer Tournament … all-conference and team “ace” award as a sophomore (7-3, 2 SV, 2.65 ERA, 63 Ks/14 BB in 64 IP) … named MVP of freshman team … attended 2000 Area Code Games … one of six Illinois players named to “cream of the crop” for class of 2001 … heading into his fourth season as a staring basketball player (at center/forward) … owns a 4.34 GPA … member of National Honor Society … son of Gary and Charlotte Johnson …born May 26, 1983.

Mainieri on Johnson:
“Grant is an outstanding prospect who has the physical ability to be a dominant power pitcher. He has a great arm with a fastball that already can touch the low 90s. He has the perfect pitchers body at 6-6 and with additional strength should throw even harder. This summer, we had the opportunity to see Grant pitch during a tournament at Eck Stadium and it left you with the same feeling watching him pitch as when we were scouting Aaron Heilman out of high school. He has the similar ability to raise his game to another level during pressure situations. It will be exciting to watch his development.”

Johnson on his decision:
“It really blew my mind what a great atmosphere there was during my visit and how much team unity there was. Paul O’Toole and Andy Bushey were my hosts and they were great. I never knew before my visit that the school was that small. It’s like its own sort of fraternity and is a great atmosphere. I’m looking forward to working with coach O’Connor on improving my off-speed pitches. I’ve heard great things about him as a coach. I just can’t wait to get to Notre Dame and start my college career.”

More Niesel Notes:
Named First team all-county as a sophomore … participated in Team One Midwest Regional during summer of 2000, where he was rated the 5th-best prospect among 180 players … his 2000 summer season (as team’s No. 1 starter) included a 7-0 record, 2.38 ERA and just 8 BB in 51 IP … led team to Connie Mack state title, including a win over Memphis Tigers in regional round … named best pitcher at 1999 Team One tournament (at Notre Dame) … helped team win Tournament of the Americas in 1998 and ’99 and the 2000 Hertz Invitational Tournament … participated in the Premier Baseball Showcase … also attended Notre Dame summer baseball camp in 1998 … father Rudy Niesel played baseball at Spring Hill College … son of Rudy and Laurajean Niesel … born Nov. 18, 1982.

Mainieri on Niesel:
“Chris was highly recruited out of one of the top programs in Florida. He’ll make an immediate impact because he is a tremendous competitor and has a good feel for pitching. It’s been very exciting to watch him develop over the last two years. Chris attended our 1999 summer camp and his fastball was in the 83-85 mph range. In our evaluation of him this past summer, we saw his fastball reach as high as 91 mph. He also has an outstanding curveball and changeup and has shown that he has the ability to win at the major D-I level.”

Niesel on his decision:
“I’d always liked so many things about Notre Dame from my experience at camps and tournaments and I went ahead and committed on my visit during the Purdue football weekend. I’d always liked the coaches and when I met the players, that was the deciding factor. They were really open about everything and that clinched my decision. … I’m not that concerned about the weather change and have talked to some of the other Notre Dame players who are from Florida. The indoor facilities at Notre Dame are very impressive.”

More Vergara Notes:
A first-team selection on the county, area, conference and state levels … named player of the year by the Herald and News and athlete of the year by The Bergen Record … led the country in strikeouts as a junior (147, in 77 IP) … a state finalist for the Wendy’s High School All-America program … helped the N.J. Riptide finish fourth at 1999 AAU Junior Olympic Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, with the last game played at Jacobs Field … attended 2000 Mid-Atlantic Scouts Association Showcase in Harrisburg, Pa. … has led DePaul football team to 7-2 record and third seed in state sectional tournament, highlighted by a pair of 200-yard passing games … received West Point Ward for athletic and academic excellence … has touched 90 on his fastball … owns a 3.7 GPA … son of Martin and Migdalia Vergara … born Feb. 11, 1983.

Mainieri on Vergara:
“Martin was a key recruit. He is one of the top pitchers in the Northeast and we’re very excited to have him in our program. Being from New Jersey, he will have the opportunity to pitch in front of his family and friends when we travel in the BIG EAST Conference. Martin attracted a lot of attention from various colleges across the country and that was well-deserved. He has a live fastball with great movement and has good command of his off-speed pitches. Anytime you get a pitcher that averages two strikeouts an inning, you know he has the ability to dominate. It’s always been our philosophy to recruit pitchers that are good athletes because athletic pitchers get better in our program. I’ve seen Martin play quarterback and he’s a very special athlete. He’ll be one of the top pitchers in the BIG EAST.”

Vergara on his decision:
“Notre Dame had the best balance of academics and athletics. When I went there on my visit, I knew that it was everything I wanted. The baseball program has done real well and I’ll have a chance to contribute right away. … I’ve always liked Notre Dame and followed their football team since I was little kid. The whole school and the atmosphere are great. … Coach O’Connor was different than a lot of others who recruited me. He was serious but very informative. I knew about the successful pitchers he has worked with but he didn’t go out of his way to talk about that. I could tell that the players there have the utmost respect for him and I know he’ll help make me a better pitcher. … There are a lot of schools that don’t have facilities like Notre Dame’s. One big difference is the clay mounds at the indoor facility. That’s a very nice feature and they are located right next to the field.”

More Bickford Notes:
Named all-conference and all-county as a sophomore, after posting a 6-2 record and 1.78 ERA in 51 innings pitched, with 55 Ks and 27 walks … posted 9-2 record in summer of ’99 with Maryland Orioles (3.13, 56 IP, 54 Ks/19 BB) … pitched just 38 innings due to illness as a junior (2-3, 3.90, 51 Ks, 21 BB), earning honorable mention all-conference and all-county honors … also named a 2000 blue chip prospect by Collegiate Baseball Magazine … pitched in 1999 Team One Showcase (Clemson, S.C.) … helped lead Orioles to team titles during summer of 2000 at the 4th of July Tournament (Greensboro, N.C.) and the Bandits Showdown (Bellefonte, Pa.) … also participated in High School World Series during summer of 2000 (in Euclid, Ohio) and the elite East Coast Professional Showcase (Wilmington, N.C.) in August of 2000 … father Mark Bickford played baseball at Salisbury State … son of Mark and Denise Bickford … born Jan. 6, 1983.

Mainieri on Bickford:
” Scott immediately brings something to the table that is needed on our pitching staff. We have been very thin on lefthanded pitching over the last couple of years and it’s very difficult to find 6-4 lefties. Scott’s velocity will increase as he adds strength and weight. That will complement his already effective control and off-speed pitches. Combining these intangibles with his solid mechanics and a loose arm, Scott will develop into something special. We are very excited about Scott and his development.”

Bickford on his decision:
“I visited during the Stanford football weekend and the campus and student body unity were overwhelming. Add in the team and the baseball facilities, it all was real impressive. The coaching staff also was extremely helpful and was very pumped up about their program. I’m hoping to bulk up a little bit and add some velocity to my fastball. I talked to Aaron Heilman and he was very down-to-earth and nice. I talked to him a lot about his major (management information systems) because that’s what I want to major in. He talked to me about how he has been able to balance his schoolwork with baseball. Overall it was a great visit and I’m excited to be a part of Notre Dame baseball.”