Nov. 19, 2001

The Notre Dame baseball team signed six high school seniors to national letters of intent during the 2001 early fall period, head coach Paul Mainieri announced today. The signees include catcher Cody Rizzo (Temecula, Calif.), shortstop Greg Lopez (Upper Arlington, Ohio), outfielders Craig Cooper (Plainview, N.Y.) and Brennan Grogan (Tequesta, Fla.), righthanded pitcher Ryan Doherty (Toms River, N.J.) and third baseman Matt Bransfield (Englewood, Colo.), who also could pitch for the Irish.

“We’re very excited about this class because we filled our needs with players who have outstanding ability and who will contribute a great deal to the future of Notre Dame baseball,” said Mainieri, whose first seven Irish teams extended the program’s streak of consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins to 13 (including a school-record 49-13-1 mark and a No. 1 national ranking in 2001).

“This class was critical because we will lose so many key players from our 2002 squad,” added Mainieri, whose current crop of freshmen was rated No. 1 in the nation by Baseball America. “It was our desire to bring in a group of athletic position players and one pitcher that could contribute immediately. We accomplished those goals and are tremendously excited about this group. It was important for us to identify recruits capable of continuing a winning tradition at Notre Dame and these are those type of players.”

Three of the signees-Cooper, Doherty and Grogan-have been listed among Team One Baseball’s rankings of the nation’s top 200 high school prospects while Cooper, Doherty and Rizzo are ranked among Baseball America’s list of the nation’s top prospects. The six signees hail from six different home states, which falls right in line with a current 36-player Notre Dame roster that includes players from 20 states (plus one from Canada).

Notre Dame’s current 2002 roster includes eight seniors, led by three who have started since their freshman seasons: centerfielder Steve Stanley, third baseman/catcher Andrew Bushey and catcher/third baseman Paul O’Toole. Junior leftfielder Brian Stavisky also could be lost to the 2002 Major League draft, after being selected in the 33rd round of the 2001 draft.

Grogan and Cooper are accomplished outfielders who should add speed to the Irish lineup while Lopez has been rated as the best infield prospect to come out of the talent-rich state of Ohio in five years (according to The Buckeye Scout scouting service). Rizzo is a talented all-around catcher who could make the biggest contributions as a freshman, according to Mainieri, while Bransfield’s versatility as a third baseman and pitcher could prove valuable to the 2002 squad.

Doherty provides an added dimension to the class, due to his 7-1, 235-pound frame that produced plenty of interest from Division I basketball programs. He made the decision to forego playing basketball this season at Toms River East High School, in order to focus solely on baseball, and has been rated as high as the nation’s No. 67 prospect (34th among pitchers) by Baseball America.

Doherty made big strides on the mound between his sophomore and junior seasons, surging from the No. 6 pitcher on his team in 2000 to an all-state performer in 2001 while growing from 6-10 to 7-1 between those 2000 and 2001 seasons. Noted for his athleticism and a fastball that has touched 90 miles-per-hour, Doherty’s junior-year statistics included a 10-0 record and a 1.26 ERA in 72 innings, with 86 strikeouts and just 19 walks while playing for the nation’s 25th-ranked team.

Grogan has the “all-around talent to develop into a legitimate five-tool player,” according to Mainieri, who saw the speedy 6-3, 175-pound outfielder perform during summer all-star events. Known for his hustling play, a rifle arm and aggressive lefthanded hitting, Grogan saw his junior season at The Benjamin School slowed by a hand injury-after hitting .455 as a sophomore centerfielder, with 25 stolen bases and 22 RBI.

Cooper likewise could make a big impact in the Notre Dame outfield, after making no errors in 25 games and batting .472 as the leadoff hitter for Chaminade High School’s 2001 squad (he also hit four home runs, with 18 RBI and eight stolen bases). The 6-2, 180-pound centerfielder is most known for his quickness, in addition to good bat speed to match a quality swing.

Rizzo was a member of the 2000 United States under-16 youth national team that beat Cuba 2-1 to complete an 8-0 gold-medal finish at the Pan Am Championship in Monterrey, Mexico. An all-league performer in both soccer and baseball at Chaparral High School, the 6-1, 180-pound Rizzo has the “arm strength, good hands and excellent quickness, plus strong leadership skills,” that are needed to be a great defensive catcher, according to Mainieri. Also a dangerous righthanded hitter who runs the bases well for his position, Rizzo’s 2001 prep stats included a .393 batting average, 14 RBI, six home runs and 11 stolen bases in 22 games.

Lopez is a gifted shortstop, clutch hitter and scrappy player who is expected to be a leader of future Notre Dame infields. A .367 career hitter at Upper Arlington High School, the 6-1, 180-pounder made just five errors in 29 games as a junior while batting .367 for that 2001 conference championship team. Lopez, whose father Jorge is a 1977 Notre Dame graduate, could add to the Notre Dame baseball program’s growing list of top players from Ohio (a group that includes Stanley, who likewise hails from the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington).

Bransfield is the latest in a long line of Cherry Creek High School baseball prospects, including former Notre Dame pitcher Brad Lidge (1996-98). A record-setting quarterback on the CCHS football team, the 6-1, 195-pounder hit .360 as the starting third baseman while also serving as a member of the pitching rotation for the Bruins 2001 state runner-up squad. He then went on to have a breakthrough season for the Cherry Creek Connie Mack team in the summer of 2001, posting an 8-1 record and 2.93 ERA while batting .434 with 10 home runs in 65 games for a team that advanced to the regional round of the Connie Mack national tournament.

Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Bats Hometown Previous School
Matt Bransfield 3B/RHP 6-1 195 R Englewood, CO Cherry Creek HS
Craig Cooper OF 6-2 180 R Plainview, NY Chaminade HS
Ryan Doherty RHP 7-1 235 Toms River, NJ Toms River East HS
Brennan Grogan OF 6-3 175 L Tequesta, FL Benjamin HS
Greg Lopez SS 6-0 175 R Upper Arlington, OH Upper Arlington HS
Cody Rizzo C 6-1 180 R Temecula, CA

More Doherty Notes:
Led Toms River East to its first baseball state title (2001), earning first team all-state and team pitcher of the year on team that posted 29-3 record … tied school record for wins in a season (10, 2001) … his 10-0 mark included a 7-1 win over Hamilton East in the South Jersey Group IV state title game (5 H, 10 Ks) … he then was the winning pitcher in the 4-3 state title game vs. North Bergen (10 Ks) … pitched six innings in 2001 Carpenter Cup (10 Ks, 1 H) … his other career highlights include complete-game wins vs. Toms River South (6-1, 8Ks) and 13 Ks in 4-1 win over Toms River North (just one hit allowed) … late varsity callup in 2000 (15 IP, 0-1, 13 Ks, 15 H, 4 BB, 1.37 ERA) … played sparingly during summer ball pitching for American Legion Seapost 361 in 2001 … from same hometown that produced the recent Little League world champions (some of those players currently are sophomores at TRS and TRN) … led 2001 basketball team to program’s first conference title since 1984 and second-best record (20-5) in team history … named 2001 team MVP, county player of the year and third team all-shore as a junior, when he averaged 18.6 points and 11.4 rebounds while setting school record for blocks in a season (39) and game (12) … stood 5-8 in 7th grade … a 4.25 honors student … joins current Irish freshman RHP Martin Vergara (Paterson/DePaul HS) as second New Jersey pitcher to sign with Notre Dame during the past two years … born Feb. 2, 1984.

Mainieri on Doherty:
“Ryan is an outstanding prospect who possesses the physical ability to be a dominant power pitcher. We’re very lucky to have him as a baseball recruit because he could easily have been a Division I basketball player had he chosen that path-we heard one report that he was ranked as high as the No. 7 center prospect in basketball. But he followed his love of baseball. He has a very good arm with a fastball that already can touch 90 mph. With his size, athleticism, and additional strength he should throw even harder during his career. As one of the top pitchers in the Northeast, he will have the opportunity to pitch in front of family and friends when we travel in the Big East Conference. It will be exciting to watch his development over the next few years.”

Doherty on his decision:
“People keep telling me to sit back and enjoy my senior year. But I just want to get it over with and I can’t wait to be part of the Fighting Irish. … Baseball and basketball are so completely different. I’ve played baseball since I was a little kid but I’ve only played basketball seriously for the last couple of years. Still, baseball is my hands-down favorite. Notre Dame began to peak my interest and after making my visit, that was all I needed. … A big thing was the people, it seemed like everyone was walking up and asking how you were doing. I don’t think there could be a better place where the coaches, professors and players care about you so much. I’ve heard great things about (pitching coach) Brian O’Connor and am looking forward to working with him. … I’m more of a competitor than anything else. I may not have the best form on the staff, but as long as the team wins, that’s fine for me.”

More Grogan Notes:
Has been noted for good throwing accuracy to go along with his strong arm … was ranked as the No. 2 prospect at the Team One Midwest Showcase (in South Bend) … played for former major leaguer Bob Shaw (White Sox pitcher) with Jupiter Legion Post 271 … first team all-county, first team all-area, most outstanding hitter and a Stetson Camp honor-roll student … his 2000 stats included .455, 25 SB, 22 RBI as CF … grandfather Robert Grogan was three-sport letterman at Knox College (football, basketball and soccer) and played baseball at Indiana State … hit over .400 in summer of 2001, as member of Jupiter Legion Post 271 team that also won the Firecracker State Tournament … made his visit to Notre Dame during weekend of the Oct. 6 ND-Pittsburgh football game … slated to join Notre Dame program that regularly has several Florida natives on the roster, including current senior DH Ken Meyer (Fort Myers), sophomore infielder Javier Sanchez (Miami) and freshman righthander Chris Niesel (Plantation) … born Nov. 28, 1983.

Mainieri on Grogan:
“We saw a lot of players this summer and Brennan Grogan stood out as much as anyone. He hustled all over the field and showed he loves to play the game. He’s a tremendously talented player who can do a lot of things on the baseball field. I firmly believe he can become a legitimate five-tool player during his career at Notre Dame. His aggressive approach at the plate and his speed, combined with a boost in his strength, make him a dangerous offensive weapon.”

Grogan on his decision:
“I always liked Notre Dame, it’s been my favorite school since I was a little kid and my family always has been big fans of Notre Dame. I was raised on the school so it was always where I wanted to go. … The academics are great and the coaches seemed so down-to-earth and credible. The players also are a good bunch of guys and the facilities are exceptional. The program just keeps getting better every year and is going in the right direction. I’m looking forward to having the chance to compete for a starting job.”

More Rizzo Notes:
Captain of soccer and baseball teams as a junior and senior … posted a .421 combined batting average during his first three high school seasons, including .420 as a sophomore (3 2B, 5 3B, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 7 SB) … his freshman stats in 1999 included a .513 batting avg., five doubles, one triple, four home runs, 22 RBI and 10 stolen bases … hit .420 at the 2000 USA Baseball Tournament in Tucson, AZ (5 HR, 12 SB) … also hit .520 with two home runs at 2000 USA national trials in Houston … played on silver-medal team at Junior Sunbelt Classic in Oklahoma (.500, 6 SB) … named first team all-league in 2001 while receiving team’s most enthusiastic award … named to all-tournament team at the 2001 USA Baseball Labor Day Tournament, in Tucson … a two-year all-CIF Academic Athletic Award honoree … holds school record for putouts in a season (109), ranking second for HR in a season (6 in 2001) … 1999 soccer team MVP before earning first team all-league and second team all-CIF in 2000 (when he totaled 20 goals and 15 assists) .. also first team all-league in soccer as a junior in 2001 (school record 21G, plus 13A) … received 2000 Governor’s Scholar Award … grandfather Dean Van Ausdall played football at Los Angeles City College … his academic interests include engineering and architecture … visited Notre Dame during the weekend of the Sept. 22 ND-Michigan State football game … could follow current senior outfielder Matt Strickroth (Mission Viejo) as next California native to play for the Irish baseball program … born Jan. 17, 1984

Mainieri on Rizzo:
“Cody could be one of our biggest contributors as a freshman. It was critical that we sign a catcher who had the attributes to compete right away and Cody was our top choice. He’s an excellent athlete who possesses all the tools we look for in our catchers. He has arm strength, good hands and excellent quickness behind the plate. He also possesses the leadership qualities that are very important in handling a pitching staff. He will be a force offensively and can really swing the bat. He runs well and will be a stolen base threat during his career. Cody’s experience of growing up in talent-rich Southern California has prepared him to compete immediately.”

Rizzo on his decision:
“I wanted to go to a school that offered a lot academically and that put Notre Dame high on my list. When I went on my visit, I couldn’t think of a school where I’d rather go. Even with the distance and the change in weather, I just look at those things as an opportunity and I know there will be so many more positives. The indoor facility is very nice and the whole atmosphere around the baseball program and the campus made it seem like a big family. I really liked the way all of the players and coaches interacted. That’s something which is important for me.”

More Lopez Notes:
Baseball team captain in 2001 and ’02 … his .363 career batting avg. includes .300-plus in his first three years … twice all-league and a three-time Golden Glove award winner … named to American Legion All-star team while playing for Post 443 squad … twice named to all-star team at Top Guns tournament in Las Vegas … played with Chicago White Sox Area Code team that competed in the 2001 Area Code Games in Long Beach, CA … also played with Team Ohio at the wood-bat Sunbelt Classic in Oklahoma City (as one of five total juniors on the eight teams), batting .400 … one of four middle infielders who represented the Midwest at the West Coast Area Code Games (his team posted the best record ever by a Midwest team in the event’s 12-year history) … also invited to attend the East Coast Games, the Perfect Game Showcase and the East Coast Showcase … led 2001 squad to 20-9 record and league title … member of Columbus Cobras team that finished third in the Continental American Baseball Association World Series … team captain of high school water polo team (2001 and ’02) … captained 2001 water polo team to state tournament (south regional champs), as team MVP … member of 2000 state champs in water polo (2nd team all-state) … also lettered in swimming (freestyle, breaststroke) … an honor roll student who was chosen for Career Exploration Program … active in volunteer service, receiving a Presidential Youth Service Award … born Jan. 18, 1984.

Mainieri on Lopez:
“Greg is the kind of scrappy player that every team needs in order to win. When we scouted him this summer, he proved his ability to perform in clutch situations. He has outstanding baseball skills and is an excellent infielder who will be an exciting offensive player as well. His greatest attribute is the leadership he will bring to our team. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to follow into competition.”

Lopez on his decision:
“I’m definitely excited, with my dad having gone to Notre Dame, it’s always somewhere I wanted to go. … I really liked the atmosphere around the team and how they all support each other. Coach Mainieri saw me play at the Area Code Games and it was exciting to know he was there. He is one of the most genuine coaches I’ve ever met. Notre Dame baseball just has so much going for it, with the beautiful facilities and all the success. The program really seems to be on the rise.”

More Cooper Notes:
Good run-and-throw player who makes lot of plays in CF … led freshman and JV teams to state title (for Catholic High School Athletic Association), then hit .472 for varsity team that won 2001 Catholic High School state title … earned gold glove and all-league honors … named the top prospect at 2001 Select Fest Showcase … helped team win Poker All-American Shootout, at Florida Atlantic in 2001 (tossing a four-hitter with 12 Ks in semifinal) … represented Long Island at the 2001 Empire State Games, winning gold medal … participated in the East Coast Showcase in Wilmington, NC (2001), playing for Marlins team … attended Top 96 Showcase in August of 2001 … led 2001 summer team to FABL 17-18-year title (hitting two HR in title game), as team MVP for Oyster Bay Yellow Jackets (summer 01) … his stats with that team included a .431 batting average, 10 HR, 61 RBI, 19 2B, 7 3B, 25-27 SB … played in Perfect Game World Wood Bat Championship in Jupiter, Fla. … selected to represent USA for People to People Sports during World Baseball Tournament in Beijing in Aug. of ’95 (with a stopover in Helsinki) … played on AABC 15-year-old national championship team in 2000 … an honor roll student and member of the National Honor Society with a 3.92 GPA … visited Notre Dame during the weekend of the Nov. 3 ND-Tennessee football game … could become first New York native to play for the Irish baseball program during the Mainieri era (the program’s list of all-time letterwinners includes 30 New York natives, second only to 138 from Illinois) … born Oct. 27, 1984

Mainieri on Cooper:
“We’re really excited about Craig coming to Notre Dame, as he has great makeup. Craig attended our fall camp and stood out to the coaching staff because of his athleticism and his ability to contribute in all areas. One of his greatest assets is speed, along with arm strength that makes him an excellent defensive player. He also has a great swing and good bat speed. With some work in our strength-building program, he will develop into a very good college hitter.”

Cooper on his decision:
“When it came down to it, Notre Dame was the perfect fit for me because it provides a top education and a top Division I baseball program. The biggest thing for me was that the team camaredie. That’s really important because you spend so much time together. The coaches were very straightforward and honest. I just got along with everyone really well. I’m just looking to contribute to the team and hopefully be a part of helping the team make it to the College World Series.”

More Bransfield Notes:
Hit 2-for-4 with two RBI in 2001 state championship game loss to Smoky Hill (8-6) … hit .360 during that junior season … was winning pitcher for Cherry Creek squad during 1999 and 2000 Connie Mack state title games … two-year starting quarterback and 2001 football team captain whose 2,095 passing yards finished two shy of the CCHS single-season record … completed 70-of-162 passes for 11 TDs as a junior, before completing 127-of-242 in 2001 (25 TDs, just three interceptions) … set school records for career passing yards and TD receptions … also heading into his third season as a starting guard/forward in basketball … earned three Varsity Academic Achievement Awards …. made his visit to Notre Dame during the weekend of the Oct. 13 ND-West Virginia football game … many of his family members are Notre Dame graduates, including his great-grandfather Thomas O’Neil (’13), grandfather Charles Bransfield (1940), aunt Maria O’Meara (76), five great uncles and a second cousin … one of his great uncles was Fred Miller, captain of the 1928 ND football team (Miller is a cousin of Bransfield’s father’s dad) … born Oct. 9, 1983

Mainieri on Bransfield:
“Matt is another guy who brings a lot of athleticism to the table. He’s a very good third baseman who also may see time at other positions, including pitcher. He really hits the ball hard and can possibly be a home run hitter. Matt played quarterback in high school and is a very good athlete. He’s a proven winner with tremendous leadership qualities. His overall athletic ability will allow him to make significant contributions in the Irish baseball program.”

Bransfield on his decision:
“I quickly came to realize on my visit what a special place Notre Dame is, especially with the tradition and all the historical displays. From what I’ve seen, the program is on the rise, with a No. 1 recruiting class in the nation and a No. 1 rankings, plus reaching the regional finals. Now, the goal is to compete in the College World Series and I’d love to be a part of that. I really expect to come in and have chance to earn playing time, anywhere I can. I’ve always been told if you can hit, then you’ve got a good chance to be in the lineup.”