May 19, 2002

The Notre Dame baseball team (41-14, 18-8) will open the quest for its first BIG EAST postseason title on Thursday, May 23, at Commerce Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, N.J. The top-seeded Irish will face a familiar foe in that 3:30 EDT game (2:30 South Bend time), as Rutgers (32-20, 15-11) rallied for an 11-10 win in its series finale at St. John’s to claim the fourth and final spot in the double-elimination tournament.

Thursday’s second game (7:00) will feature co-champion and second-seeded Virginia Tech versus Boston College, with the winners then meeting in Friday’s 3:30 game (the first-day losers play on Friday at noon). A second elimination game will be played on Friday night (7:00), with Saturday’s schedule including a 3:30 title game (followed by a 7:00 game, if necessary).

Four teams had a shot at the final spot heading into Sunday’s action, with Pittsburgh coming close to claiming the bid after RU had dropped a 3-1 game to SJU. But the Panthers were knocked off by Connecticut (5-2), leaving Pittsburgh at 14-11.

The Rutgers’ loss also had clinched a spot for Boston College (15-11), which then moved into the No. 3 seed when Pittsburgh lost. Virginia Tech finished its sweep of West Virginia (12-8) to share the regular-season title with the Irish at 18-8 (ND gets the top seed due to a 2-0 head-to-head edge vs. the Hokies).

The final spot was waiting for the winner of the RU-SJU finale and the Scarlet Knights jumped out to a 5-0 lead before the Red Storm roared back for a 6-5 lead. RU then went ahead 8-6 and SJU’s Jason Kane answered with a grand slam (10-8), but RU’s Val Majewski supplied the key two-run shot in the 8th inning for the final 11-10 margin.

Notre Dame holds a 12-8 series edge versus Rutgers and has won nine of the last 10 meetings, including the May 4-5 series at Eck Stadium (6-5, 7-2, 0-11). The teams have played three previous BIG EAST Tournament games, with RU winning both meetings in 1998 (7-6 in 10 innings and 12-0 in the title game) while the Irish eliminated the Knights from last season’s tournament (6-2).

Since joining the BIG EAST concurrently prior to the 1996 season, Notre Dame (121-41, .747) and Rutgers (115-52, .689) have ranked as the winningest teams in BIG EAST regular-season play. ND and RU are the only teams to qualify for each of the last seven BIG EAST Championships, followed by Seton Hall (5), West Virginia (4), St. John’s (4), Providence (3), Villanova (2), Virginia Tech (2), Boston College (2), Pittsburgh (1) and Connecticut (1).

Notre Dame has earned the top seed for the fourth time in the last seven years, with Rutgers earning that distinction in 1998 and 2000 (Villanova was the top seed in 1996).

The Irish have yet to announce their pitching rotation for the BIG EAST Championship. Notre Dame will depart on Tuesday, with the tournament banquet and the announcement of postseason awards to be held Wednesday night.

The 17 previous BIG EAST baseball championships have seen the top seed claim the title just four times: Seton Hall in 1987 and ’90, and Rutgers in ’98 and 2000.

Notre Dame and Virginia Tech are the first teams to share the BIG EAST baseball regular-season title since the conference began sponsoring baseball in 1985.