The Notre Dame baseball team stared elimination in the face-with a three-run deficit and just five outs left-before staging a stunning eighth-inning rally that saw eight straight batters reach base and produced 11 runs, as the second-seeded Irish stayed alive while ending sixth-seeded Pittsburgh’s season, 15-7, in second-day action Thursday afternoon at the double-elimination BIG EAST Baseball Tournament.
Notre Dame (43-15) is scheduled to play next on Friday at 4:30 p.m. eastern (pushed back from 3:30 due to rain delays), versus the loser of Thursday night’s Boston College-Seton Hall game (that game did not begin until 8:45 p.m.-due to lengthy games earlier in the day and four rain delays-and Seton Hall held a 3-2 lead after three innings when the game was suspended, to be resumed Friday morning at 11:00 a.m.).
The victory provided a long overdue breakthrough for the Notre Dame offense, which had averaged just five runs and nine hits in 19 previous BIG EAST Tournament games. The team’s previous high for runs and hits in a BIG EAST Tournament game was in the `98 win over Providence (9-7, 14 hits).
Notre Dame’s big eighth inning set a BIG EAST Tournament record for most runs in an inning, besting the nine runs scored by Villanova in the seventh inning of a 1989 win over Providence. The 11 runs also are the most ever scored in one inning by an Irish team during the six-year tenure of Irish head coach Paul Mainieri.
Top seed Rutgers-which held on to eliminate Connecticut, 8-7-will face the BC-SHU winner in Friday’s early game (tentative new start time of 1:00). The winner of that game then will advance to Saturday’s championship round (and will have to be beaten twice) while the loser of Friday’s opening game will play the winner of Friday’s second game on Friday night (tentatively at 8:00 p.m.), with the winner of that game then advancing to the title round.
Due to the tournament rule that no team can play three times in one day, it’s likely that Friday’s third full game (the tournament’s “Game 9”) may not be played until Saturday at noon. The only scenario in which Game 9 could be played on Friday is if Rutgers loses to the SHU-BC winner and Notre Dame beats the SHU-BC loser. If Game 9 is pushed back to Saturday, it then will be followed by the championship-round games (two, if necessary).
Friday’s forecast called for significant rain throughout the day, thus increasing the possibility that the tournament will have to use Sunday as a catch-up day (the NCAA Tournament field will be announced on Monday).
Notre Dame freshman rightfielder Brian Stavisky had two RBI and scored two other runs in the win while collecting the most hits (4-for-5) ever posted by an Irish player in the BIG EAST Tournament. Junior shortstop Alec Porzel hit the first grand slam home run of his Irish career-pushing the Irish to an 11-7 lead in the eighth.
Irish junior righthander Aaron Heilman suffered one of the roughest outings of his All-America career, yielding a career-high seven earned runs in 6.1 innings, plus two walks and 11 hits (second-highest in his 67 career appearances). The Irish offense bailed out their ace with the big eighth inning while senior righthander Scott Cavey (6-2) logged 1.2 strong innings to minimize the damage and help set up the winning rally.
Junior righthander Matt Irvin had no decision for Pittsburgh (31-24), despite allowing just four runs and six hits during the first six innings (he ultimately was credited for seven runs, five of them earned, on eighth hits and four walks over 7.1 innings, with one K).
Sophomore righthander Jeremy Rossi (2-2) then failed to stop the Irish, serving up three hits and a walk in four batters faced, while senior lefty Kevin Lazeski let in the final four runs on four hits in five batters faced.
A pair of outs by Matt Nussbaum bookended the decisive string of eight straight Irish batters that reached base in the eighth, with the one-out string including a double, single, walk, pinch-hit single, single, walk, home run and double. Stavisky pulled a 1-1 double down the rightfield line and scored on Paul O’Toole’s 1-2 single up the middle. Andrew Bushey then walked and freshman pinch-hitter Kris Billmaier worked to a 3-0 count versus Rossi before loading the bases with a single to left.
The Irish forged a 7-7 tie thanks to a pair of clutch at-bats, as Ken Meyer sent an 0-2 single to left before Steve Stanley drew a bases-loaded walk on a full count. Porzel then ended Rossi’s brief stint, jumping all over the first-pitch and sending the ball over the leftfield fence for his ninth home run of the season and the 29th of his career.
Felker greeted Lazeski with a double to left-center and the rally then concluded with four two-out hits. Stavisky collected his second hit of the inning with an RBI single to left field and advanced on the throw (O’Toole then did the same) while Bushey sent an RBI double to left. Ben Cooke-who pinch-ran for Billmaier earlier in the inning-capped the big inning with an RBI single to left, versus junior righthander Steve Vickroy.
Fans should be aware of the real-time stat offerings on the BIG EAST website, at www.BIGEAST.org (including pitch charts, boxscores, play-by-play and 25-30 in-game photos, with each game archived on the BIG EAST website).
EARLY SCORING RECAP
* Meyer jumped all over the first pitch of the game and drove it over the leftfield fence for his third home run of the season … Pitt’s Stuart Rykaceski then led off the bottom of the 1st with a 1-2 single before Joe Lydic launched a 2-0 pitch to left-center for his BIG EAST-leading 19th home run of the season.
* The Irish tied the game in the 2nd, with Nussbaum sending a 2-0 leadoff single to center, followed by Stavisky’s first-pitch single up the middle, a double steal and O’Toole’s RBI groundball to the left side.
* Pitt surged to a 5-2 lead with three runs in the 3rd … Lydic sparked the outburst with a 10-pitch, full-count walk and stole second before moving up on Brant Colamarino’s one-out single to the SS Porzel … Brad Rea followed with an RBI single down the leftfield line and Darren Lenhart stroked an RBI double to left-center before Erik Katchur drew an intentional walk and Charis Britt capped the inning with a run-scoring single to right.
* ND sliced the lead to 5-4 with a pair of unearned runs in the 5th … SS Chris Happ let Stanley’s leadoff groundball go through his legs, followed by Porzel’s fielder’s choice and Felker’s walk on four pitches … Pitt then tried to turn a double play but Happ threw wide of first, with Porzel scoring on the play … Stavisky plated Nussbaum with a 1-2 single to left.
* Pitt stretched to 7-4 in the 6th, with Lydic singling home Britt while the Panthers’ final run came on a wild pitch.
NOTES: The surging O’Toole had a hand in five Irish runs (2-for-5, 3 RBI, 2 R) … the last two ND-Pitt games have featured a combined 62 runs and 70 hits … ND is 8-2 BIG EAST Tournament play when facing elimination (not including championship game) … the Irish own an all-time record of 11-9 in the BIG EAST Tournament and have defeated six different teams in elimination games (Villanova, PC twice, St. John’s, Seton Hall, West Virginia and Pitt) … ND’s 43 wins are one shy of equaling the most in the Mainieri era (the `96 team went 44-18) … the Irish have hit home runs in nine of the last 10 games and have totaled 26 HRs in the last 18 games (for a season total of 48) … ND improved to 26-4 this season when scoring six-plus runs … the Irish posted their 18th error-free game of the season and are 32-5 this season when making 1-2 errors … ND has matched its 1999 total with 19 come-from-behind wins, with five of the team’s last 11 wins featuring comebacks by the Irish … the Irish now have totaled 17 wins this season by five-plus runs (just 11 in `99) … Felker collected his 236th career hit, moving past Craig Counsell (`92) into 8th on the ND all-time list … Porzel’s 29 career home runs are tied with Eric Danapilis (`93) for 7th in ND history … Felker picked up his 56th career double, two shy of Mike Amrhein (`97) for 3rd on the ND career list … Heilman’s five Ks vs. Pitt give him 309 for his career, six shy of David Sinnes’ ND career record (`93) … Heilman’s 113 Ks this season are five shy of his own ND record (set in `99) … his 67 career appearance are tied for 7th in ND history … ND’s 117 doubles this season rank 4th in ND history (10 shy of the record total from `97) … Porzel has hit four career HRs in the BIG EAST Tournament, one shy of tying the tournament record … O’Toole’s impressive career stats in May now include: a .392 batting avg. (38-for-97), 29 RBI, 28 runs and 6-9 SBs … the Irish own a 48-22 scoring edge in the 8th inning this season … top ND hitters in the BIG EAST Tournament have included: Stavisky (5-for-9, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 2B, 2-2 SB), Meyer (4-for-10, 2 RBI, 2 R, HR) and O’Toole (3-for-9, 4 RBI, 3 R) … the IRish are hitting .308 in the tournament and have yet to make an error … during the last 10 games, Porzel has collected five home runs and is hitting .395 during the last 10 games (17-for-43, 16 RBI) while O’Toole is batting .395 with three HRs in the last 10 games (12-for-31, 13 RBI).
NOTRE DAME 1-1-0 0-2-0 0-11-0 15 16 0
PITTSBURGH 2-0-3 0-0-2 0-0-0 7 15 6
Heilman, Cavey (7), Naumann (9) and O’Toole. Irvin, Rossi (8), Lazeski (8), Vickroy (8) and Britt.