April 25, 2002

The Notre Dame baseball program has signed 6-foot-7, 210-pound lefthanded pitcher Tom Thornton (Middleboro, Mass.) to a national letter of intent during the spring period, head coach Paul Mainieri announced today.

Thornton joins six signees from the 2001 fall period to complete a promising seven-member class of 2006 that includes 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/righthander Matt Bransfield (Englewood, Colo.) .

Baseball America magazine rates Thornton 165th among high school prospects while Team One Baseball ranks him 21st among prep lefthanded pitchers. Team One also rated Thornton as the 7th-best prospect at its recent Perfect Game World Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla. (Dec., 2001).

“We felt it was very important to sign a pitcher in the late period and we were very fortunate to find a pitcher of Tom’s caliber,” said Mainieri, whose current freshman class was ranked first in the nation by Baseball America.

“Tom fills a big need for us, as we only have two lefthanders on our staff, and he has all the tools to be a dominant college pitcher. He throws a fastball in the upper 80s, has good command of his curveball and changeup, and really has impressed our coaching staff with his dedication and commitment to improving as a pitcher. It will be very exciting to watch his development over the next few years.”

Thornton’s three-year varsity career at Middleboro High School includes a 16-3 record and 1.11 seven-inning ERA in 19 starts, with 152 career strikeouts, just 36 walks and 59 hits allowed in 107.2 innings pitched (equating to nine-inning averages of 12.7 strikeouts, 3.0 walks and 4.9 hits).

The eight-year Mainieri era has seen Notre Dame sign several quality additions during the late period, including current freshman righthanders John Axford (a leading member of the weekend rotation) and Tyler Jones, who both were selected in the 2001 Major League draft. Other late-period signees during the Mainieri era have included righthander Brad Lidge (a 1998 first-round draft pick who recently was called up to the Houston Astros), catcher Jeff Wagner, outfielder Allen Greene, lefthander Tim Kalita (the top starter with the triple-A Toledo Mud Hens) and infielder Brant Ust, plus three other current members of the Irish squad: DH Ken Meyer, outfielder Kris Billmaier and infielder Javier Sanchez.

The 7-foot-1 Doherty and the 6-7 Thornton could become two of the tallest players in recorded Notre Dame baseball history, with the all-time list of letterwinners including just two players over 6-6 (data incomplete for some earlier years): 6-8 righthander Larry Mohs (Nutley, N.J., ’94-’97) and 6-7 righthander Pat Leahy (Yakima, Wash., ’90-’92). Current junior first baseman Mike Holba (6-8) has yet to letter with the Irish.

Thornton has led Middleboro High School to a three-year record of 39-13 (as of April 22), including a 6-1 start for the team in 2002. He has won all three of his starts this season, with an 0.35 ERA, 35 strikeouts, six walks and just five hits allowed in 20 innings. His junior-year totals included a 7-2 record and conference-best 0.77 ERA in 54.1 innings, with 76 Ks, 14 walks and 29 hits allowed – after posting a 4-1 record and 2.10 ERA in 2000 (33.1 IP, 51 Ks, 16 BB, 25 H).

Thornton’s career highlights include tossing a nine-inning, 2-1 win versus conference co-champion Sciuate and former AAU teammate Jesse Cole, with Thornton and Cole combining for 18 Ks and no walks. Thornton logged a stretch of 8.1 innings without allowing a hit while going on to fashion a streak of 18 innings without a walk. He played three AAU seasons with the New England Mariners (1997), the Bay State Tides (1999) and the South Shore Seadogs (2000), hurling a no-hit shutout win over the Colorado Bulldogs at the AAU-16 Nationals. Thornton also posted three 17-strikeout, no-hit efforts during the 1999 season (during his high school freshman season and Babe Ruth play).

Notre Dame’s seven signees hail from seven different states – California, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Ohio – touching various areas of the country, with that geographical diversity matching the current Irish roster that includes players from 21 different states.

THORNTON ON HIS DECISION: “I’ve always looked for the best combination of academics and athletics and Notre Dame was the best choice. I had a chance to pitch at the Notre Dame baseball camp last September and then made my official visit in January. It was just a win-win situation for me. … I enjoyed meeting the team and the coaches were very helpful in showing me around campus and telling me about the school. Notre Dame has a great environment and it was a good experience that showed me that was where I wanted to go. … By going to Notre Dame, I will have the chance to work with a pitching coach (Brian O’Connor) who is so well-respected and knowledgeable about the game, particularly in the areas of mechanics and situational pitching. Those are important for pitching at the next level and I’m just looking forward to soaking up all that knowledge. … My newest pitch is the changeup and the hardest thing is situationally knowing when to throw it. It’s the hardest to adapt to but I’m really focusing on mastering the three pitches.”

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 Chaparral HS
Tom Thornton LHP 6-7 210 Middleboro, MA Middleboro HS