April 6, 2002
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame baseball team rode the strong pitching of freshman righthander John Axford and some timely hitting in the 4-1 opener but the Irish failed to capitalize on 16 baserunners in the 4-3 nightcap, as Notre Dame and St. John’s split a BIG EAST Conference doubleheader at Eck Stadium.
(Schedule note: Sunday’s series finale between ND and SJU has been moved up one hour due to weather concerns, with an 11:00 a.m. EST start. As of Sunday, South Bend now is equivalent to Chicago time.)
Notre Dame (16-11, 4-5 BIG EAST) pushed its winning streak to seven games before ending the day with the tying run on third and the winning run on second. St. John’s (12-13, 5-4) stayed near the top of the jampacked BIG EAST standings which feature four teams at 6-3, two at 5-4, two at 4-5 and another at 3-4.
Axford’s debut in the series-opening role yielding six and one-third solid innings, with three hits and six walks leading to the lone run. His 109-pitch outing included five strikeouts and nine groundouts – with his record improving to 3-2 while his ERA dropped to 3.09.
Senior righthander Matt Buchmeier inherited a bases-loaded jam in the seventh and final inning before registering his third save of the season, allowing a sacrifice fly and single while recording the final two outs for the 4-1 win.
Seniors Paul O’Toole and Andrew Bushey delivered a pair of key back-to-back RBI singles in the third inning for a 2-0 lead and the Irish tacked on a pair of runs in the fourth, highlighted by Steve Sollmann’s leadoff double and Kris Billmaier’s single up the middle. Billmaier provided the biggest hit of the nightcap, with his three-run home run representing one of just three extra-base hits in the doubleheader (in addition to doubles from Sollmann and O’Toole).
Junior righthander J.P. Gagne (2-3) took the loss after a rocky first inning that included a leadoff infield single, two walks (one with the bases loaded) and a hit batter – plus Josh Young’s two-run single that gave SJU its early 3-0 lead.
A fourth-inning sacrifice fly from Charlie Bilezikjian added what proved to be a valuable insurance (and unearned) run for the Red Storm, as the Irish continued to put on the pressure before ultimately leaving 13 runners on base.
Sollmann’s one-out single and a SJU fielding error set the stage for Billmaier’s first home run of the season, with the junior rightfielder lifting a first-pitch offering from junior righthander Greg Holmes (3-1) over the leftfield fence for a 4-3 game.
Notre Dame’s final rally saw runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but righthander Mike Tamulionis closed out his 2.1-inning stint with a pair of strikeouts for his first save of the season.
NOTES: Notre Dame senior CF Steve Stanley hit 4-for-6 in the doubleheader, raising his BIG EAST-leading season batting average to .445 (he has hits in 25 of 27 games this season) … Stanley moved into a tie for third place on the BIG EAST list for career hits in BIG EAST games (126), trailing only former Rutgers players Pete Zocolillo (130, ’96-’99) and Darren Fenster (138, ’97-’00) … more than half of ND’s losses (6 of 11) have seen unearned runs account for the margin of defeat (including Saturday’s 4-3 game) … ND’s five BIG EAST losses include three by one run and a two-run loss … SJU had lost five straight to ND before holding on for the 4-3 win … the nine ND-SJU games at Eck Stadium have included five with for the Irish and four Red Storm wins … ND outhit SJU .279 to .192 in the doubleheader.
ST. JOHN’S 0-0-0 0-0-0 1 – 1 4 1
NOTRE DAME 0-0-2 2-0-0 X – 4 8 1
Jim Wladyka (L, 1-4), Jeff Ford (5) and Asa Grunewald.
John Axford (W, 3-2), Matt Buchmeier (7, SV, 3) and Paul O’Toole.
Double: Steve Sollmann (ND).
ST. JOHN’S 3-0-0 1-0-0 0-0-0 – 4 6 3
NOTRE DAME 0-0-0 0-0-3 0-0-0 – 3 9 3
Greg Holmes (W, 3-1), Tom Klemm (6), Mike Tamulionis (7) and Josh Young.
J.P. Gagne (L, 2-3), Brandon Viloria (6), Grant Johnson (7) and Andrew Bushey, Paul O’Toole (7).
Home Run: Kris Billmaier, ND (2 on in 6th, 1st of season).
Double: O’Toole (ND).