NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In Friday’s postgame press conference at the NCAA Baseball South Bend Regional, Notre Dame junior rightfielder Kris Billmaier proclaimed that “hitting is contagious on our team.”
If that’s the case, then a full-fledged epidemic broke out on Saturday afternoon – as the Irish offense erupted in record-setting fashion to defeat the Regional’s top seed South Alabama, 25-1, in the pivotal winners bracket game of the four-team, double-elimination tournament.
Second-seeded Notre Dame (46-15) rapped out 32 hits, one shy of tying the NCAA tournament record, while blowing away the tournament record for total bases (with 59), including a season-high five home runs, plus three triples and six doubles.
Third-seeded Ohio State (38-19-1) eliminated South Alabama (42-19) later Saturday night, 6-4, but the Buckeyes now must defeat the Irish twice on Sunday (first game at 1:05) in order to advance to the Super-Regional round. Notre Dame is expected to start freshman Chris Niesel (3.83 ERA, 2-0, 46 Ks, 11 BB, 51 H in 51.2 IP) or junior Ryan Kalita (3.29, 5-0, 35 Ks, 13 BB, 44 H in 41 IP) versus the Buckeyes.
The slew of offensive records made the game one of the more unique in Notre Dame and NCAA tournament history – but the game had an added dimension to make it stand alone in the 56-year history of the NCAA Baseball Championship : the pitching performance by Irish freshman righthander Grant Johnson (Burr Ridge, Ill.).
Johnson faced only 30 batters while allowing one hit and one walk (plus two hit batters), becoming just the 13th pitcher ever to post a no-hitter or one-hitter in the NCAAs, with Johnson recording just the fourth such pitching gem since 1981.
Johnson’s one-hitter – coupled with sophomore second baseman Steve Sollmann’s record-setting day (6-for-7, 7 RBI, 6 R) – made the game particularly unique due to the combination of NCAA rarities on the mound and at the plate. No previous team in NCAA tournament history had produced a no-hitter/one-hitter and a player with six hits (or five-plus runs) during the same game.
In fact, Oklahoma is the only school that can lay claim to players who are included – at some point – in both the pitching and offensive categories listed above (with a one-hitter in 1974 and a five-run player in 1986).
When Billmaier tripled and doubled in his first two at-bats – good for a 5-for-5 start in the Regional – he appeared destined to be the player of the game … but his efforts were among several that were overshadowed by the avalanche of record-setting performances.
Here’s a rundown of the game’s highlights:
* Sollmann (Cincinnati, Ohio) became the first player ever to score six runs in an NCAA Tournament game while also tying Notre Dame records for hits (6-for-7, also tied NCAA Tournament record), RBI (7) and runs in a game … his 13 total bases included back-to-back RBI triples (tying the record for triples in an NCAA Tournament game) and a three-run home run.
* Senior catcher Paul O’Toole – who collected the only four-hit game of his career earlier this season vs. Pittsburgh – hit 5-for-5 vs. the Jaguars, with two doubles and a home run … it marked just the second time that Notre Dame teammates have posted five-plus hits in the same game – and the first in 99 years, since Ed Ruelbach, Anton Stephan and Roy Gage each had five hits in a 24-0 win over Hillsdale on April 23, 1903.
* The 32 hits are the highest in recorded Notre Dame history and came one shy of the NCAA Tournament record set by Rice in its 1999 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee (27-1).
* The 25 runs rank sixth in Notre Dame’s 110-year history and are the most since a 28-7 win over Northwestern in 1982 … the ND program’s 3,171 all-time games have seen just one larger margin of victory: a 34-7 win over Indiana in 1900.
* The 59 total bases broke the NCAA tournament record (51) set by Tulane during a 16-6 win over Eastern Kentucky in 1986.
* Johnson became the first ND pitcher to throw a nine-inning one-hitter since 1993 (ND’s last no-hitter came in ’88 ) while the last 21 years of NCAA Tournament baseball have seen just one no-hitter and two other one-hitters (more below).
And on any other day, these items might have grabbed the headlines:
* Senior centerfielder Steve Stanley (4-for-5, 4 R) moved into a tie for fourth place on the NCAA Division I career hits list (with 373) while claiming yet another ND career record, with 250 runs scored.
* Junior shortstop Javier Sanchez continued to produce from the 8th spot in the lineup, batting 2-for-6 while extending his hitting streak to 12 games (one shy of matching Stanley’s earlier 13-game streak for the longest by an ND player in 2002) … Sanchez is batting 18-for-42 (.427) in his current streak.
* Billmaier improved his career batting average in the NCAAs to .476 (20-for-42, in 12 games), more than 200 points higher than his career average (.275) in his 135 other games with the Irish.
* Sophomore first baseman Joe Thaman added to his lateseason surge from the No. 9 spot, batting 3-for-5 with an RBI and three runs scored.
* The Irish combined to hit .522 in Friday’s game versus Ohio State (15-for-34) and Saturday vs. USA (32-for-56) – just one week removed from a dismal .208 team batting average at the BIG EAST Tournament. Sollmann is batting 9-for-11 n the Regional, with 16 total bases (a 1.455 slugging pct.).
* Johnson’s eight strikeouts give him 82 for the season, besting the ND freshman record (78, in 1998) set by eventual four-year All-American Aaron Heilman … Johnson’s sixth straight winning decision pushed his record to 8-4, just one shy of the ND mark for wins by a freshman.
* The team’s three most veteran players – Stanley, O’Toole and senior third baseman Andrew Bushey – bounced back from a 1-for-12 combined showing vs. OSU to hit 12-for-15 vs. USA (8 RBI, 7 extra-base hits).
* Bushey (3-for-5, 3 RBI) halted his 0-for-15 postseason by stroking a three-run homer in the first inning while O’Toole’s five-hit day nearly matched his total from 16 previous games in the month of May (7-for-41, .171).
* Freshman reserve player Brent Weiss smacked a double and his second grand-slam home run of the season, giving him four extra-base hits (also a triple) and just two singles after starting the season 0-for-21 in spot at-bats.
* After making just one error in both games of the BIG EAST Tournament championship-round showdown vs. Rutgers, the Irish have yet to make an error in the NCAAs.
South Alabama became the first No. 1 seed to be eliminated, with Wichita State exiting later Saturday night after its second loss to Oral Roberts.
Sunday’s championship rounds feature nine matchups between the top seeds, plus four 1-3 matchups, one 1-4, one 2-3 (ND-OSU) and one 3-4 game (Arkansas-Oral Roberts ). Four No. 1 seeds must win twice tomorrow to advance: LSU (vs. La.-Lafayette), Wake Forest (vs. Richmond), Florida (vs. Miami) and Alabama (vs. Florida Atlantic).
Notre Dame’s four-run first inning (its fourth-biggest first inning of ’02) chased sophomore righthander Clark Girardeau – the 2001 Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year – from the game after just 25 pitches. The Irish then tacked on two runs in the second and six more in the third for an early 12-1 lead.
Johnson hit T.J. Touchstone with his first pitch of the game and then served up an RBI double from Eric Smallwood. But the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder faced just one batter over the minimum the rest of the way (27 outs in 28 batters). Johnson set down nine straight batters after Smallwood’s double, before plunking Jansen Rayborn to start the fourth. He then retired seven in a row prior to walking Smallwood in the sixth – followed by a double-play ball and three 1-2-3 innings to end the game.
Johnson’s 97-pitch outing included 64 strikes, with one hit, one walk, two hit batters and eight Ks. His other 19 outs included five infield popups and five outs via groundballs.
More postgame notes and quotes follow below.
(2) NOTRE DAME 4-2-6 0-1-0 2-4-6 – 25 32 0
(1) SOUTH ALABAMA 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 1 1 1
Grant Johnson (W, 8-4) and Paul O’Toole, Brent Weiss (8).
Clark Girardeau (L, 8-6), Mel Spivey (2), Adam Wood (3), Scott Mularz (3), Eric Thomas (6), Adam Parnell (8) and Shane Scoville, Kyle Stanky (6).
Home Runs (all ND): Andrew Bushey (2 on in 1st; 6th of season, 11th of career), Brian Stavisky (1 on in 3rd; 7th of season, 31st of career), Paul O’Toole (1 on in 7th; 11th of season, 31st of career), Steve Sollmann (2 on in 8th; 2nd of season, 7th of career), Brent Weiss (grand slam in 9th; 2nd of season).
Triples: Sollmann 2 (ND). Kris Billmaier (ND).
Doubles: Weiss (ND), Bushey (ND; 19th of season, 54th of career), O’Toole 2 (ND; 49th career), Billmaier (ND), Matt Strickroth (ND), Eric Smallwood (USA).
POSTGAME NOTES & QUOTES (Notre Dame baseball vs. South Alabama; June 1, 2002)
* Stanley’s 373 hits tie him with former Wichita State great Jim Thomas (’79-’82) for 4th on the NCAA Division I career hits list, behind John Fishel’s 379 (Cal State Fullerton, ’82-’85), current Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene’s 389 and the 418 amassed by Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson from 1979-82 … Stanley’s four-hit day had moved him up from 6th place, passing yet another former Wichita State player (Tim Raley, 370 from ’84-’87) in the process.
* Johnson dropped his season ERA to 3.11, good for third among ND pitchers with 20-plus innings, while his .240 opponent batting average is fifth-best among the ND regulars.
* David Sinnes was the last ND pitcher to log a nine-inning one-hitter, doing so in a 6-0 win over Evansville in the second game of a doubleheader on April 24, 1993 (31 batters faced, with 5 Ks, a walk, a hit batter and a batter reached on error) …. Brian Piotrowicz tossed ND’s last no-hitter, in a seven-inning game vs. Ball State during the 1988 season … ND’s last nine-inning no-hitter came in 1949, when Bob Nemes, Dick Smullen and Tony Lipton each logged three innings in a 12-0 win over Pensacola (Mike Mandjiak is the last ND pitcher to toss a solo nine-inning no-hitter, in a 5-0 game vs. the University of Chicago in 1938).
* Johnson’s one-hitter ranks among ND’s best pitching performances in 64 all-time NCAA games … since 1989, nine ND pitches have logged complete games in the NCAAs – with the previous low hit total in those games being Danny Tamayo’s three-hitter in the 7-0 win at Mississippi State in 2000 (with the Irish facing elimination, in the midst of more than 10,000 raucous fans) … Tamayo took a no-hitter into the 7th inning of that game , with his 105-pitch gem including just 30 batters faced, one walk, one K, a double-play ball and eight other groundouts … other noteworthy complete-game efforts by ND pitchers in the NCAAs (since ’89) include Tim Kraus in the 8-1 win at Clemson in 1994 (5 H, 2 BB, 2 K, 3 HB, 2 DPs) – while Chuck Symeon’s shutout win over Texas in the 1957 College World Series (9-0; 5 H, 5 BB, 7 Ks, 3 DPs) likewise takes its place alongside the above outings.
* ND has posted two of its top-six hit totals of the season in the South Bend Regional (15 vs. OSU).
* Only one of ND’s 32 runs vs. USA was unearned.
* Sinnes holds the ND record for wins by a freshman (9-2, in `92) while his classmate and fellow RHP Pat Leahy (8-1) joins Johnson (8-4) as the only other ND freshmen ever to reach eight wins in their rookie season.
* Bushey’s six home runs in 2002 are more than he hit in the previous three season combined (5).
* Stanley posted his fifth four-hit game of the 2002 season (the rest of the team has totaled eight games with four-plus hits) … his 119 career multi-hit games (36 in 2002) include one five-hit game, 12 with four hits and 29 three-hit games.
* The 25 runs scored by Notre Dame is the highest total by the Irish in an NCAA game … ND took a 23-3 decision versus Colorado State in the 1957 College World Series.
* Johnson is the first ND freshman to post a nine-inning complete game since RHP Dan Stavisky – cousin of the current Irish leftfielder – posted a 12-3 win at Indiana on March 28, 1995 (8 H, BB, 9 Ks).
* The ND players with whom Sollmann now shares records include former middle-infielder partner Alec Porzel (6-for-6 vs. Pittsburgh in 2000), turn-of-the-century player Bobby Lynch (who scored six runs in the 34-7 win over Indiana in 1900) and six others who had 7-RBI games (including Bushey, 17 days earlier vs. Detroit).
* O’Toole has homered in all four Regionals he’s played in during his ND career and now has six home runs in NCAA Regional play.
* The 25-1 loss was the largest margin of defeat for South Alabama … the previous margin was 21 in a 26-5 loss to Missouri in 1996 … the 25 runs against are the second-most ever given up by the Jaguars.
* South Alabama was held to one hit for just the second time in school history.
* Girardeau had lasted at least 3.2 innings in each of his previous starts this season.
* South Alabama 2B Josh Touchstone had his team and Sun Belt Conference record hitting streak snapped at 30 games … Touchstone was 45-for-115 (.391) during the streak.
* Bushey played in his 216th career game (one shy of the ND top-10) while making his 210th start (passing ’93 grad Eric Danapilis into 9th on that ND list) … Bushey’s 748 at-bats also moved him past Mike Amrhein (’97) into 8th on that list while his 54 career doubles rank 6th, four behind Amrhein … his 19 doubles in 2002 are one shy of cracking the ND top-10 list for doubles in a season.
* O’Toole’s 222 career starts rank 5th in ND history, one behind Craig Counsel (’92) and two ahead of former teammate Jeff Felker (’00) – one of several former ND players in attendance at the Regional, with others including Porzel and current law students Jeff Perconte (ND) and Ben Cooke (Dayton) … O’Toole also moved past Sollmann’s brother Scott (’94-’96) into 10th on the ND career hits list (240) … O’Toole’s 161 career RBI leave him five shy of cracking that ND top-10 list … his 49 doubles move O’Toole past Joe Binkiewicz (’92) into 10th on that list, just one behind Counsell and Jeff Wagner (’99) and two back of Brant Ust (’97-’99).
* Stanley’s 446 career total bases are tied with Ust for 4th in ND history, just one behind Amrhein and 13 back of Danapilis (Porzel holds the record with 487 TBs) … Stanley executed his 30th career sacrifice bunt, tying Mike Coss (’91) and Mike Moshier (’89) for 2nd in ND history … his season batting avg. rose to .444, just shy of the ND record set in 1993 by Edwin Hartwell (.447, besting Dan Peltier’s .446 from 1989) … Stanley’s 107 hits in 2002 are eight shy of Peltier’s 1989 record total (115) … his .518 season on-base pct. now ranks 5th in ND history while his 71 runs in ’02 rank 8th (five shy of 4th).
* ND’s double play was its 59th of the season, one shy of matching the team record set in 1998.
* Eight ND teams now have won 46-plus games since 1989 (led by 49 in 2001 and 48 in both ’89 and ’92, with 46-win seasons in ’90, ’93, ’94 and ’00).
* ND’s team batting avg. jumped from .314 to .321, with the season avg. of 10.72 hits per game ranking 3rd in team history (the ’97 team averaged 11.35 and the ’58 team 10.92).
* Sollmann’s early-season quad injury contributed to his slow start (he was hitting .205 in late March) but he went on to hit .368 in April while his 11-for-16 streak in the last three games has pushed his season average to .344 (up from .314 prior to the NCAAs).
* Sollmann now shares the record for hits in an NCAA Tournament game with six others: Jimmy Barragan (Oklahoma State vs. Richmond, 1986), Brian Bark (N.C. State vs. Florida, ’88), Burke Masters (Mississippi State vs. Florida State, ’90), Joe Dillon (Texas Tech vs. USC, ’96), Brian Cox (Florida State vs. Oklahoma, ’98) and Will Ford (Rice vs. UWM, ’99). Barragan and Ford were among the 17 players who previously had shared the NCAA Tournament record for runs in a game (5).
* Johnson is one of four pitchers to toss a no-hitter or one-hitter in the last 21 years of the NCAA Tournament … Florida’s John Burke tossed a no-hitter vs. Furman in 1991 (2-0) while Georgia Tech’s Kris Wilson (5-0 vs. Tenn. Tech, ’97) and Texas A&M’s Chance Caple (6-0 vs. Monmouth, ’99) posted one-hitters in NCAA action.
* The other three pitchers who have thrown a no-hitter in an NCAA game are Penn State’s Bob Fenton (3-0 vs. Rider, 1963), Air Force’s Jim Hogarty (5-0 vs. Idaho, ’67), Miami of Ohio’s Jack Kucek (3-0 vs. Cincinnati, ’74) … the other six who have tossed a one-hitter include California’s Nino Barnise (3-1 vs. Denver, ’47), Ithaca’s Walter Judd (5-0 vs. Lafayette, ’55), Mississippi’s Cecil Buford (3-2 vs. Tenn. Tech, ’56), Trinity’s Mike Bacsik (6-0 vs. Arkansas, ’73), Oklahoma’s Stan Meek (6-2 vs. Tulsa, ’74) and Yale’s Ron Darling (1-0 loss to St. John’s in ’81, with Darling logging 11 one-hit innings).
NOTRE DAME HEAD COACH PAUL MAINIERI: “That was probably the most complete game by a team that I have ever coached. Obviously the hitting was tremendous, we got 32 hits, we played errorless ball and had some really great plays on defense, and Grant Johnson just pitched an outstanding game for us. .. (Our players) were so focused during batting practice that I could just tell there was no way that they were going to be denied. And the one thing I know after being around these kids for two years is that the bigger the game the better the play. … This is a game that we needed to get over the hump. The last couple years in the regional we’ve won the opening game of the tournament and then have that pivotal game for the winner’s bracket and come up on the short end.”
NOTRE DAME FRESHMAN RHP GRANT JOHNSON: “I came in and I was a little nervous, I mean I drilled that first dude. After that, I settled down, got in my rhythm, and it felt good.”
NOTRE DAME SENIOR C PAUL O’TOOLE: “I got hot in April, and I just hit a slump in May. Today was just one of those days when I was seeing the ball well… I was just happy to get a couple hits in there. I probably take more pride in my defense today. Hitting well is just a bonus, but I take more pride in commanding this young pitching staff. … Being a senior on the team I can speak for Steve Stanley, Andrew Bushey, Matt Strickroth and all the other seniors on the team. There’s something different- we know what it takes. You get that feeling as a team that we’re just not gonna lose, we’re not gonna give up. We just have to go out there and do it tomorrow.”
SOUTH ALABAMA HEAD COACH STEVE KITRELL: “We ran into a buzzsaw. Notre Dame was really focused. They pitched well and hit well. A one-hitter with 32 hits, I don’t think you can ask for a better game than that. Our guys looked ready to play before the game, but it was just their day and they crushed the ball. They didn’t have any cheap hits and Johnson did a great job. I thought maybe in the first inning that we could bounce back and change momentum back and get in the game, but he just shut us down and they kept extending their lead. …25-1 is hard to conceive, especially in a game like this between a one and two seed. The fans were hoping to see a good game and we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.”