April 23, 2001
Comments on the New Rankings:
Head Coach Mainieri
It’s only fitting that the Notre Dame baseball team is preparing for its annual “Turn Back The Clock” game on the day that the Irish earned an honor unprecedented in the program’s 109-year history-as Collegiate Baseball magazine has elevated Notre Dame to the No. 1 ranking in its weekly Division I poll.
Notre Dame (35-5-1) joins Stanford-last week’s consensus No. 1 in all three major national polls-as the only teams currently ranked in the top four spots of all three polls, with the Irish checking in at No. 2 in the Baseball America poll and No. 4 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll. The Cardinal (32-10) are ranked 2nd in the CB poll and 3rd in the BA poll while maintaining the top spot in the coaches poll, after losing once to the University of San Francisco and twice at USC last week.
Each of the rankings is the highest ever for Notre Dame in each poll. Another Midwest team-Nebraska (34-9)-sits atop the BA poll and narrowly trails Stanford in the coaches poll, which awarded 11 of 41 first-place votes to Stanford, nine to Nebraska, seven to third-place Miami and four to the Irish.
Notre Dame-which owns the nation’s fourth-longest active streak of consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins (12)-currently leads the Division I ranks in team ERA (2.52), winning percentage (.866) and active winning streak (14). The Irish have won 19 of their last 20 games while batting .354 as a team during that 20-game stretch. The lone blemish in that pan is a 4-3 loss to Ball State, one of four one-run losses for the Irish this season.
The baseball team becomes the fourth Notre Dame sport to earn a No. 1 national ranking in 2000-01, with the others including the women’s soccer team, the men’s fencing squad and the national championship women’s basketball team.
Notre Dame has been led all season by its pitching, with senior righthanders Aaron Heilman (10-0, 1.32 ERA) and Danny Tamayo (6-1, 1.60) ranking as one of the nation’s top pitching tandems. Heilman is nearing the end of his storied career that has included All-America honors each of his first three seasons and a spot in the USA national team while his 38-7 career record includes wins in 20 of his last 21 decisions.
With Heilman and Tamayo leading the way, Notre Dame’s starting pitchers have combined for a 1.91 ERA during the first 41 games of the 2001 season while sophomore righthander Matt Laird has developed into a quality closer, with his 0.92 ERA including a current 12.2-inning shutout streak spanning his last nine appearances (he has not allowed a run in 14 of his 15 outings).
The surging Irish offense includes seven starters who are hitting .295 or higher, led by the team’s first two batters in the lineup: leadoff batter and junior centerfielder Steve Stanley (.399, 22 SB, 47 R) and freshman second baseman Steve Sollmann (.411, 27 RBI, 4 HR, 14 SB). Defensively, the Irish have totaled just 59 errors in 41 games-leading to just 29 unearned runs for the opponents.
A win over Bowling Green in Tuesday night’s “Turn Back The Clock Night” (6:05 p.m. at Eck Stadium) would give Notre Dame its longest winning streak (15) since the 1991 Irish won 18 in a row. The current Notre Dame squad is just the fourth Irish team ever to reach 30 games over .500 and the first to do so before the month of May.
The Falcons could pose a big challenge to Notre Dame, as Bowling Green (28-10 overall) currently ranks among the nation’s top offensive squads with a .359 team batting average, 74 home runs and an average of 10.9 runs per game.
The Collegiate Baseball poll is the nation’s oldest college baseball poll (dating back to 1959) and utilizes a 600-point system, with one-third of the point total based on voting from a 105-person panel (comprised mostly of college coaches). Other factors that determine the point totals in the CB poll include strength of schedule, conference standings, winning streaks, victories away from home and NCAA statistical rankings.
Tuesday’s “Turn Back The Clock Night” will include a variety of promotions to create an old-time baseball atmosphere, with the Irish decked out in “throwback” uniforms while admission will be 50 cents and hot dogs, popcorn and soda will be 75 cents each. The first 500 fans will receive a Notre Dame pennant while 100 lucky fans will receive an authentic throwback-style cap. Additional prizes will be presented to fans who attend in old-time attire (1960s or earlier) … while rumors have it that Elvis will be in the building!