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Baseball Splits with St. John's

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Tyrone Wayne’s big hits and Keith Stamler’s four hitter led St. John’s in the 3-0 opener while freshmen Alec Porzel and Aaron Heilman again came through for Notre Dame in the 2-1 nightcap, as the teams split a BIG EAST Conference doubleheader Saturday at Eck Stadium, in a fitting showcase of two of the nation’s top pitching staffs.

Three St. John’s pitchers and four Notre Dame hurlers combined to allow just four earned runs in the doubleheader. The Red Storm entered the day ranked fifth in the nation with a 3.74 team ERA, a number which it lowered Saturday to 3.61. The Irish entered the day with the nation’s ninth-best ERA (3.91), cutting that number to 3.83.

The loss dropped Notre Dame (38-14, 15-3 BIG EAST) into 2nd place in the BIG EAST while clinching the regular-season title for Rutgers (17-3) Notre Dame’s win–coupled with West Virginia’s home split vs. Villanova (8-2, 10-15)–ensures that the #2 Irish will face #5 WVU (35-15-1, 12-9) in the second BIG EAST Tournament first-round game (3:30 PM eastern) on Wed., May 13 at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn. It will be the 12th game between the teams in the last three seasons, with the previous 11 matchups producing two 1-run games, five 2-run games and three 3-run games.

The winner of ND-WVU will face the winner of Wednesday’s late game (St. John’s-Providence) in the May 14 second round (7:00) while the loser will play May 14 at noon vs. the loser of the 1st-round opener (Rutgers vs. #6 seed Seton Hall, which finished 12-10). St. John’s can claim the #3 seed with a win over Notre Dame tomorrow while PC (14-8-1) will be #3 if the Irish win Sunday. WVU-which plays Villanova again on Sunday-is assured of the #5 seed based on a tiebreaker edge on SHU. Those teams were rained out and can’t compare records vs. Rutgers (WVU didn’t play RU). The next tiebreaker–record vs. ND–extends the tie (both were 1-2) and. SHU did not play SJU, nullifying that tiebreaker. The tie would be broken based on WVU’s 2-0 sweep of PC (SHU was 1-2 vs. PC).

St. John’s (26-15-1, 13-7) handed Notre Dame its first home shutout in five seasons and 143 games at Eck Stadium. It was the first home shutout for the Irish in 159 home games, since a 2-0 loss to Indiana State at Covaleski Stadium on April 28, 1993. The scoreless effort was the first by a Notre Dame team in 91 games, stretching back to a 16-0 loss at Seton Hall on March 23, 1997, while the five Irish errors in the first game are the team’s most in the last 31 games.

Stamler (4-1) scattered four hits, five strikeouts and 11 groundouts over 90 pitches. Fellow freshman righthander Kevin McGerry had no decision in the nightcap, allowing one run on six hits over five innings (two K’s). Junior lefty Ron Marietta (1-5)–who allowed one hit and four walks over three innings, with four K’s–took the loss thanks to an unearned run in the seventh.

Alex Shilliday (9-4) lost the opener, falling to 10-2 in his career vs. BIG EAST teams, while fellow junior righthander Brad Lidge had no decision in the nightcap. Shilliday allowed two runs (one earned) on seven hits over five innings, with three K’s. Junior lefty Chris McKeown pitched the final two innings, allowing Wayne’s solo home run and a walk while striking out four of the nine batters he faced.

Lidge allowed one run on six hits and two walks while his five strikeouts give him 88 for the season, moving into fifth on the Irish single season list and within range of the totals by David Sinnes in 1991 (89), Rick Rutseck in ’63 (89) and Sinnes in ’93 (90). Frank Carpin’s 102 K’s in 1958 have stood as the Irish record for 30 years.

Heilman’s win in the nightcap gives him the distinction of owning a 6-1 record and seven saves, over 26 appearances (one start). Heilman–who entered the day ranked second in the nation for ERA (1.44)–faced just 10 batters over the final three innings, allowing a walk in the ninth while striking our four SJU batters. The outing dropped Heilman’s ERA to 1.37 and his opponent batting avg. to .199.

Dan Leatherman got the winning rally going in the nightcap with a leadoff walk in the seventh. Todd Frye attempted a sacrifice bunt to the right side but Marietta pounced on the ball and threw out Leatherman at second. Mike Knecht’s hard-hit grounder down the line then bounced out of the glove of first baseman Chris Fallon, with Frye moving to third on the error. Marietta walked J.J. Brock to load the bases but Porzel–who has come through with several clutch hits in the last month–delivered once again, driving a 1-2 pitch through the left side of the infield to score Frye while Knecht was thrown out trying to score from second.

Heilman issued a full-count walk to Gary Villacres to open the ninth and John Aramento bunted the runner to second. But Fallon was caught looking at a strike on a 1-2 count before pinch-hitter Eric Potts went down swinging on a 1-2 offering, ending the game. Notre Dame scored first in the second inning of the nightcap, as Allen Greene stroked a leadoff single to left and stole second before scoring on consecutive groundouts to the second baseman by Leatherman and Frye.

Wayne tied the game by sending a 1-0 pitch from Lidge over the fence in left-center field, extending his team-record season home run total to 15. The Irish had a chance in the fourth, after Greene sent a one-out single to right-center and Leatherman pulled a double into the rightfied corner, with Greene holding at third. But Frye fouled out to the third baseman and Knecht flew out to center field.

The Irish threw out three baserunners in the first two innings of the opener to keep within striking distance but Stamler did not allow a baserunner past first base until the final inning. St. John’s opened the day with a run in the first. Giancarlo DiPrima stroked a one-out single to center and stole second. Mike Dzurilla then singled to right field and Jeff Felker’s throw was up the first-base line, bouncing off the catcher Knecht to allow DiPrima to score. But Shilliday threw out Dzurilla trying to advance to third, taking away an RBI from Wayne, who followed with a double. Villacres then singled to right but first baseman Dan Leatherman cut off the throw and caught Villacres in a rundown. Aramento hit an infield single to lead off the second inning but Shilliday erased him with a perfect pickoff throw.

SJU added an unearned run in the fifth, after Matt Galante reached on a two-out fielding error by third baseman Brant Ust. Galante broke for second on Shilliday’s wild pitch, took third on Knecht’s errant throw and scored when Leatherman dropped a toss from Shilliday on Lewis’ grounder to the right side. Wayne padded the lead with a sixth-inning home run to left vs. McKeown.

Felker singled with one out in the sixth bit Stamler induced Jeff Wagner into an inning-ending double play. The Irish put two runners on base with two outs in the seventh but Knecht hit into a game-ending groundout.

Notre Dame put the leadoff man on base in only one inning of the opener–when Stamler hit Wagner with a pitch in the second. The Irish gained a two-out baserunner in the third through sixth innings but Stamler pitched out of trouble.

The doubleheader featured the BIG EAST’s top-two leading hitters in conference games. Ust’s 0-for-8 day dropped his conference avg. from .530 to .486 while the other sophomore third baseman, Dzurilla, went 1-for-7 to drop from .500 to .468 in conference play.

ST. JOHN'S              1-0-0   0-1-1   0     3   7   0NOTRE DAME              0-0-0   0-0-0   0     0   4   5   Stamler and Fierro.  Shilliday, McKeown (6) and Knecht.
ST. JOHN'S (26-15-1, 13-7 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 1-0-0 0-0-0 1 4 1NOTRE DAME (38-14, 15-3 BIG EAST) 0-1-0 0-0-0 1-0-0 2 7 0McGerry, Marietta (6) and Fierro. Lidge, Heilman (7) and Knecht.