April 10, 1999
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Sophomore righthander Aaron Heilman turned in another impressive performance while freshman leftfielder Matt Strickroth became the latest Notre Dame hero, as the Irish baseball team downed visiting Pittsburgh, 4-1 and 3-2, in a Saturday afternoon battle for first place atop the BIG EAST Conference.
Notre Dame (24-8, 11-1 BIG EAST), which has won nine of its last 10 games and 20 of the last 22, rode Heilman’s complete game in the opener before playing a tense second game, when the Irish scored single runs in the sixth and eighth only to see Pittsburgh score twice in the ninth. Strickrotha late defensive substitution who was hitting just .159 in 63 at-batsthen delivered a two-out, first-pitch single through the right side for just his fourth RBI of the season.
Pittsburgh (18-13, 7-4) continued to show why it is the surprise of the BIG EAST this season, battling the Irish for the full 16 innings. The losses dropped the Panthers a game behind Rutgers into third in the BIG EAST standings.
Heilman (7-1) faced just 25 batters (four over the minimum) while posting his fifth complete game of the season and seventh straight victory. He allowed one run on two hits and one walk while posting eight strikeouts and nine groundouts in the efficient 86-pitch outing.
Irish senior Alex Shilliday had no decision in the nightcap despite six shutout innings, allowing three hits and one walk while posting six Ks and seven groundouts. Freshman Drew Duff set down Pitt in the seventh before junior John Corbin (4-1) picked up the blown-save victory. Corbin worked out of a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the eighth but served up a two-run, game-tying home run to senior first baseman Steve Dickinson in the ninth.
Pittsburgh senior John Schultz (2-4) dropped the opener, allowing four runs on 11 hits and no walks, with six strikeouts. Junior Jory Coughenour (2-4) was the hard-luck loser in the nightcap, going the distance while allowing the three runs on nine hits and three walks (with two Ks).
Sophomore second baseman Alec Porzel opened the bottom of the ninth with a first-pitch single to left before junior shortstop Brant Ust battled back to earn a full-count walk. Jeff Wagner then hit a groundball to the third baseman but Porzel alertly backed away from the tag, eliminating any chance at a double play. Junior first baseman Jeff Felker moved Ust to third on a groundball to the shortstop, with Wagner forced out, before Strickroth’s game-winning hit.
Notre Dame continued its amazing streak of winning close games. In addition to posting 10 come-from-behind victories this season, the Irish have scored the winning run in the final inning five times this season (while also scoring the game-winner three times in the second-to-last inning). The 24 Irish victories have included six by one run, five by two runs and six by three runs. In its last 10 games alone, the Irish have posted four comeback victories and three others where the winning run was scored in the final inning.
Every Irish starter collected a hit in the opener, with Felker going 3-for-3 with an RBI double. Seven Irish starters then collected hits in the nightcap.
GAME ONE: Notre Dame opened the scoring in the third. Freshman centerfielder Steve Stanley converted a one-out bunt single, stole second and took third when catcher Doug Caraway’s throw skipped into center field. Paul O’Toole then singled up the middle past a drawn-in infield. The Irish added a run in the fourth, when Ben Cooke sent a two-out single past diving second baseman Lou Melucci, stole second base and scored on Jeff Perconte’s 1-0 single to center. Consecutive doubles from O’Toole, Wagner and Felker produced two more Irish runs in the fifth. Heilman’s shutout bid ended in the fifth, when Stanley misjudged a sharply-hit fly ball from Chris Delsignore, who hustled to a triple before scoring on Stuart Rykaceski’s sacrifice bunt to the right side.
GAME TWO: The Irish ended the scoreless game in the sixth, behind Perconte’s double down the leftfield line, Stanley’s perfect bunt single to the second baseman Melucci and O’Toole’s double-play ball. Notre Dame added an insurance run in the eighth, after Cooke’s single up the middle, Perconte’s single through the right side and Stanley’s team-leading sixth sacrifice fly of the season. Pittsburgh threatened in the eighth, after Delsignore’s leadoff single to right, a muffed catch by Felker at first base and a controversial hit-by-pitch call on Rykaceski (Irish head coach Paul Mainieri argued that the batter’s attempt to bunt led to the hit-by-pitch). But Corbin struck out Mike Pokrzywinski and Melucci on three straight pitches (both swinging) before inducing a groundout by Joe Lydic. The Panthers cashed in their ninth-inning chance, when Brad Rea drew a leadoff, full-count walk and Dickinson launched his 11th home run of the season into the gusting wind and over the fence in left-center field.
NOTES: In other BIG EAST action, Connecticut (3-8) kept alive its slim chances at a spot in the six-team BIG EAST Tournament with a 2-11, 19-11 split at Rutgers (8-3) St. John’s (5-5) moved into a tie for fifth after pulling off the 4-1, 8-3 sweep at eighth-place West Virginia (5-8) Villanova (6-5) stayed in fourth place with a 3-2 (12 inn.), 4-14 split at home vs. fifth-place Seton Hall (5-5) Providence (5-6) moved into seventh place with a 7-2, 6-2 sweep at Georgetown (2-9) Heilman’s updated season totals: 2.52 ERA, 63 Ks, 12 walks and 39 hits in 60.2 innings (9.3 Ks, 12.3 groundouts, 1.8 walks and 5.8 hits per 9 IP, plus a 5.3 K-to-BB ratio) Heilman’s .176 opponent batting avg. is second-best by an Irish pitcher in the last nine seasons, trailing David Sinnes .163 in 1992 Heilman lowered his career ERA to 2.04, well below the Irish record of 2.36 set by Nick Palihnich from 1959-61 Wagner collected his 49th career double in the opener, moving past Joe Binkiewicz (’92) into fourth on the Irish all-time list (one behind Craig Counsell) Ust’s double in the second game was the 43rd of his career, pushing him past former teammate J.J. Brock into sixth in the Irish record book Ust’s run scored ties him with Ryan Topham (1993-95) for ninth on the Irish career list (154) Shilliday’s six strikeouts give him 231 for his career, five behind Al Walania (’93) for fourth all-time at Notre Dame Shilliday’s 36 career starts are tied with Keith Chenail (’88) for eighth in the Irish record book Notre Dame is 134-27 (.832) all-time at Eck Stadium, including 101-18 (.849) during the five-year Mainieri era and 64-8 in the last 72 home games the Irish are 46-11 in their last 57 BIG EAST regular-season games while owning the best BIG EAST regular-season winning percentage over the past four seasons (54-18, .750).
PITTSBURGH 0-0-0 0-1-0 0 1 2 3NOTRE DAME 0-0-1 1-2-0 X 4 11 1J. Schultz and Caraway. Heilman and O'Toole. PITTSBURGH 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0 2 7 0NOTRE DAME 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-1-1 3 9 2Coughenour and Hoopes. Shilliday, Duff (7), Corbin (8) and O'Toole.