May 4, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame’s Steve Sollmann steadily has waited his turn this season, looking for the opportunity to join the group of players who have delivered big hits in a recent run of success that includes 16 straight wins and a 25-2 streak over the last 27 games. His wait is now over, as the sophomore second baseman enjoyed his best day of the season – both in quantity and quality – while the Notre Dame baseball team matched the third-longest winning streak (16) in the program’s 110-year history with a 6-5, 7-2 BIG EAST doubleheader sweep of visiting Rutgers, in sunny Saturday afternoon action at Eck Stadium.
Following a wild first game that saw the Irish rally for four runs in their final at-bat, Notre Dame (34-12, 13-6 BIG EAST) then won the nightcap to reclaim a share of the BIG EAST lead, with Virginia Tech also moving to 13-6 after posting a pair of wins over fifth-place Connecticut (12-9) while idle Boston College (13-7) now occupies third place and Rutgers (13-9, 28-18 overall) fell into fourth.
Most observers would not have believed how the opener ended, if not for seeing it with their own eyes. With the nation’s top college prospect on the mound in the form of junior righthander Bobby Brownlie and the tying run stepping to the plate in the unlikely No. 9 spot of the batting order, Brownlie jumped ahead in the count (0-2) versus sophomore first baseman Joe Thaman and was one strike away from the win.
But Thaman went the other way with the next pitch, slapping it through the left side of the infield to plate Matt Bok for a 5-3 game. Leadoff hitter Steve Stanley then loaded the bases with an 0-1 single that fell in front of leftfielder Jeff Frazier, whose bobble was not enough to send Kris Billmaier home from third.
That’s when Sollmann – who later collected four RBI in the nightcap – strode to the plate … and one of the most unusual finishes played itself out, to the thrill of the nearly 2,000 fans in attendance.
Sollmann’s previous three at-bats versus Brownlie included a sacrifice bunt to the third baseman and a pair of opposite-field flyouts to right field. This time around, Brownlie jumped ahead in the count for the third straight batter and Sollmann took the next pitch, evening things at 2-2, before drilling a game-tying single into center field (scoring Billmaier and pinch-runner Brent Weiss).
Stanley was blazing from corner-to-corner as the centerfielder allowed the ball to bounce off his glove. The confused outfielder reportedly thought that Weiss was the winning run and proceeded to walk away from the ball, striding to his left towards the first-base dugout.
Irish coach Paul Mainieri quickly changed his “stop sign” into a churning windmill as Stanley – considered one of the fastest baserunners in all of college baseball – sprinted home to cap the bizarre finish.
Brownlie (6-4), who entered the game with a conference-best 2.14 ERA and 8.6 Ks per 9 IP, did not strike out a single Irish batter while often being hit hard in his 96-pitch outing (with nine hits and one walk leading to the six runs, five of them earned).
Senior righthander Drew Duff (2-0) picked up the opening win, after 2 1/3 solid innings in relief of freshman John Axford. Duff faced just one batter over the minimum (8) while allowing two hits in his 35-pitch stint, with his season ERA dropping once again (from 2.25 to 1.96).
Freshman righthander Grant Johnson (5-4) won the nightcap, thanks to some long-overdue run support. Johnson’s hard luck this season had included seven previous starts in which the Irish averaged just 3.7 runs (for the entire game), with ND failing to post more than five runs in any of those games.
Johnson pitched into the seventh inning and was credited with an unearned run, after junior righthander Brandon Viloria picked up the first out of the inning on bases-loaded sacrifice fly. Johnson’s 104-pitch outing included five hit, four walks and five strikeouts while dropping his season ERA by 36 points to 3.34.
Viloria’s three effective innings of relief yielded his third save of the season and the fifth of his career. He allowed two total hits, a pair of rare walks (his career average was just 1.3 walks per 9 IP) and an unearned run in the ninth, with two Ks (his ERA dipped 36 points, to a team-best 1.89)
Senior lefthander Tom Crohan (5-4) – who brought a 2.80 conference ERA into the series – was roughed up by the Irish in the second game, lasting just 1 2/3 innings while allowing four runs on three hits and five walks.
See postgame notes below linescores.
Rutgers 1-4-0 0-0-0 0 – 5 6 2
#19 Notre Dame 1-1-0 0-0-0 4 – 6 9 0
Bobby Brownlie (L, 6-4) and Mike Popowski.
John Axford, Drew Duff (5; W, 2-0) and Paul O’Toole.
Doubles: Steve Stanley (ND), Paul O’Toole (ND), Val Majewski (RU).
Rutgers 0-0-0 0-0-0 1-0-1 – 2 7 1
#19 Notre Dame 0-4-0 0-0-3 0-0-X – 7 8 3
Tom Crohan (L, 5-4), Sean Atchison (2), Ryan Molchan (6), Jason Bergman (8) and Alberto Vasquez.
Grant Johnson (W, 5-4), Brandon Viloria (7; SV, 3) and Paul O’Toole.
Triple: Steve Sollmann (ND).
Double: Vinny Esposito (RU).
POSTGAME BASEBALL NOTES
(Notre Dame vs. Rutgers; May 4, 2002)
SOLLMANN SOARING – With his brother and former Irish CF Scott Sollmann in attendance, the younger Sollmann hit 3-for-7 in the doubleheader, boosting his career average versus ND’s top BIG EAST rival to .400 (8-for-20) … the 2001 BIG EAST rookie of the year and a first team all-BIG EAST selection in ’01, Sollmann appears to be hitting his stride as he inches back to 100 percent following a nagging quadriceps injury … his season average has risen to .322 but the preseason All-American is batting .389 in the 16-game winning streak, with 14 RBI and 14 runs scored in that stretch … Sollmann had a hand in five of ND’s seven runs in the nightcap, scoring once while collecting four RBI (he had a two-run single up the middle in the four-run 2nd inning and a two-run triple to right-center as the Irish added three in the 6th) … Sollmann’s 10-game hitting streak is the longest this season by an ND player other than Stanley (13, 11).
SERIES UPDATE – Notre Dame now holds a 12-7 series edge, with eight straight wins over the Scarlet Knights … prior to Saturday, the home team had managed just a 5-9 record in the series (with three neutral-site games) and the home team in the ND-RU series had yet to win Game 1 before Stanley’s mad dash secured the opening win for the host team.
ROLLING – The 16-game winning streak (dating back to the 12-2 win over Pittsburgh on April 11) matches an April 4-25 run in the 2001 season as the longest of the eight-year Paul Mainieri era (no previous ND baseball teams ever had combined for winning streaks of even 14-plus games in back-to-back seasons) … only two previous single-season winning streaks by an ND baseball team have been longer: 18 games from April 7-28, 1991, and 17 games way back on April 20-May 21, 1907 – meaning that only one ND team (’91) in the previous 94 seasons has owned a longer winning streak … ND’s 16-game winning streak includes a .333 team batting average, a 131-55 scoring edge and a 2.78 staff ERA (.233 opp. batting) … top hitters in the streak include Stanley (.500, 11 RBI, 26 R), Brian Stavisky (.407, 20 RBI, 14 R), Sollmann (.389, 14 RBI, 14 R), Bok (.382) and Billmaier .346.
EFFICIENCY EXPERTS – ND again totaled more runs (13) than runners left on base (10) during the doubleheader, with the last 11 games featuring a +19 ratio for the Irish (93 R, 74 LOB).
ON THE DEFENSE – ND played error-free in the first game – the 32nd error-free game of the season for sophomore SS Javier Sanchez (E in Game 2) and the 37th for senior 3B Andrew Bushey, who has no errors in the last 24 games … Sollmann’s error in the nightcap was just his second E in the last 19 games.
RECORD BOOK UPDATE – Stanley’s 4-for-6 day landed him squarely on the 350 career hits plateau … his 234 consecutive starts now rank 2nd in NCAA Division I history (Arizona’s Chip Hale started 255 straight from 1984-87) … only J.J. Brock (238; ’94’98) has started more games at ND than Stanley … Stanley’s three walks give him 116 for his career (tied with Ed Lund ’90 for 7th in ND history) … O’Toole now is tied for 8th in the ND record book for career games played (218, also Pat Pesavento ’89), games started (209, also Eric Danapilis ’93) and runs scored (183, also Porzel) … in ND’s 2000 and ’02 games vs. Brownlie, O’Toole hit a combined 4-for-5 vs. the RU ace, with a home run, double (47th career, 10th at ND) and a walk … Bushey joined Stanley and O’Toole in becoming the 11th ND player ever to start 200-plus games (they are the only ND classmates ever to reach that mark).
CONFERENCE COMMAND – ND’s all-time BIG EAST series success now includes 48 series wins, just six series losses and eight series ties (31 series wins in the last 37, with three ties and three series losses) … the Irish have swept 35 of 60 all-time BIG EAST doubleheaders, with 21 splits and just four sweeps by the opponent … ND has not dropped a series at Eck Stadium in the last 18 (one tied), with an all-time BIG EAST series record at Eck Stadium of 27 series wins, two ties and three series losses … the Irish have won 13 of their last 15 BIG EAST games, after opening 0-4 in conference play.