May 26, 2000
STARKVILLE, Miss. – The Notre Dame baseball team used a two-out, five-run eighth inning and big contributions from all three Indiana natives on its roster, as the third-seeded Irish rallied for an 8-4 victory over second-seeded Tulane in NCAA Championship opening-round action Friday at the Starkville Regional, in front of 3,596 spectators at Dudy Noble Field.
Notre Dame (44-16) next will face top seed and host team Mississippi State, at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. The Bulldogs (39-17) overcome an early 2-1 deficit on Friday to defeat fourth-seeded South Alabama, 9-2, sending the Jaguars into an elimination game versus Tulane (37-21-1) on Saturday morning (11:00 a.m.).
Several players turned in clutch performances for the Irish, led by righthanders Aaron Heilman (Logansport, Ind.) and Matt Buchmeier (Greenwood, Ind.). The Irish coaches gambled with a rare late-season position shuffle and it paid off, as senior Matt Nussbaum (South Bend, Ind.) made several tough plays in his first career start at second base while also delivering a two-run single that gave the Irish a 6-4 lead in the eighth.
Nussbaum’s shift from left field to second base allowed the Irish to insert freshman Kris Billmaier into the lineup and the hot-hitting rookie responded with three hits from the fifth spot in the batting order while driving in one run and scoring another. His classmate, power-hitting lefty Brian Stavisky, also collected two huge hits (including the game-tying single) despite facing Tulane’s ace lefthander Jared Berkowitz.
Heilman battled through six innings while allowing four runs on five hits and five walks (equaling his season high for BBs). His five strikeouts give Heilman 118 for the season and 314 for his career, tying his own Irish record for K’s in one season (99) and coming up one shy of equaling the ND career mark held by David Sinnes (315, 1990-93).
Buchmeier (4-2) closed the final three innings in solid fashion, facing just 11 batters while yielding walks in the eighth and ninth.
The top of the Irish lineup set up a pair of sacrifice flies in the top of the first but Tulane plated a single run in the fourth on Jake Gautreau’s 16th home run of the season before scoring three times in the sixth for a 4-3 lead.
Notre Dame then faced gut-check time in the eight, with two outs and a one-run deficit on the board. But three straight singles ended the day for the senior Berkowitz (12-4) while senior righthander closer Brandon Belanger served up Nussbaum’s game-winning hit before three infield errors helped produce two unearned runs to cap the big inning.
Berkowitz had four K’s while yielding his six runs on one walk and 11 hits-his third-most hits allowed in 19 outings this season (and second-most since Feb. 19).
* Sophomore DH Ken Meyer again opened the game with a hit, on a ball that appeared to be headed well over the leftfield fence … a shift in the wind kept the ball in the park, with LF James Jurries jumping and banging into the wall in a futile attempt to halt the leadoff double … sophomore CF Steve Stanley pulled off a bunt single back to the mound on an attempted sacrifice (Berkowitz had trouble making the tough fielding play) and junior SS Alec Porzel loaded the bases with a five-pitch walk … senior 1B Jeff Felker then provided his first of three big offensive plays in the game, lifting a 1-0 pitch to center field for the run-producing flyout … Billmaier did the same on a full count, with his flyout to left yielding a 2-0 lead.
* The first of many big ND defensive plays came in the first, after Jay Heintz sent a low grounder to the right side … Felker snagged the ball but his throw to the bag was low, with Heilman adeptly snatching the ball off his shoelaces for a highlight-reel putout … Nussbaum-who played 2B as a prep but had yet to play there in his ND career (his starts the past two seasons have been at LF, DH and 1B)-then made his first big play in the 2nd inning (he finished the day with four putouts and six fielding assists) … Steve Shirley drove the ball to the right of the 2B bag but Nussbaum was moving on the play and completed a full-extension dive before making the successful throw >from his knees.
* Gautreau jumped all over Heilmans one-out, first-pitch slider in the 4th, sending it over the RF fence for a 2-1 game … Tulane tacked on two more singles but Heilman rolled up a groundball from Mickey McKee, with Nussbaum taking the toss from sophomore 3B Andrew Bushey and delivering a perfect throw to Felker for the 5-4-3 double play.
* ND restored the two-run cushion in the 6th, thanks to another two-out rally … Felker sparked the rally with a first-pitch single through the right side and Billmaier sent the next pitch to left before Stavisky scored Felker with a 1-1 single up the middle.
* The Green Wave surged to the lead in the bottom of the 6th, thanks to a pair of hits and three walks … Heintz led off with a full-count walk before Gautreau and Shirley loaded the bases with walks on 3-1 pitches … Matt Groff then tied the game with a first-pitch single to shallow left field and McKee plated the go-ahead run with a sinking single that landed 15 feet inside the RF line (Stavisky dove for the ball, allowing Groff to score from second).
* Felker again sparked the two-out rally in the 7th, with a sharp 2-1 single to right … Billmaier then drilled a 1-0 single through the left side before Stavisky forged a 4-4 tie with a 2-1 single to left-center (he hustled to second when the throw went towards the plate) … Belanger threw a first-pitch ball to Nussbaum, who then sent the next pitch to the left side-with the ball taking a huge bounce over the drawn-in 3B Gautreau for a 6-4 ND lead (Nussbaum took second when the LF Jurries fumbled with the ball) … Paul OToole then reached when the 2B McKee let a routine grounder go under his glove (Nussbaum scored on the play) and Bushey followed with an infield single-but the SS Andy Cannizaro threw the ball away, allowing OToole to score.
* Nussbaum made his final big play in the bottom of the 8th, after Bushey sent the ball to him on a double-play sequence … the throw was low and wide to the 1B side but Nussbaum dove for the ball and alertly reached out with his glove to touch the base for the second out of the inning.
ND HEAD COACH PAUL MAINIERI: “This was a hard-fought victory today. Never in my coaching career have I been prouder of a team, to go out there and give up the lead like we did and then come back with a tremendous rally with two outs and nobody on base. Our kids showed remarkable poise and competed just as hard as any team I’ve ever seen. It was a great victory against a great team. … The players showed great poise and competed real hard, including Aaron. He had one bad inning but I thought he pitched a real courageous game. It was a great victory against a great team. … We really wanted to get Kris Billmaier in the lineup and he had some trouble with his throws at second base, so we put him in left and moved Matt Nussbaum to second base. That’s where Matt played in high school but he’s played other positions in his Notre Dame career, so things sort of came full circle for him. It was a difference maker in how Matt played all-around and how Billmaier hit. … How many pitchers can struggle a bit out there and yet when you take him out of the game it’s just a 4-3 game. Aaron made some big pitches and got the big out in that sixth inning after they had taken the lead, with two runners still on base. … I just knew in my heart that we would come back and win this game. I just knew it. I said before the game that the bullpen would have to perform well if we were going to win this regional and we gave the ball to Buchmeier and he had probably the best outing of his career. … Billmaier made a big difference. He is a tough out and came through with three important hits. Setting up the lineup the way we did made their pitchers work that much harder.”
ND SENIOR SECOND BASEMAN MATT NUSSBAUM: “The coaches always preach to us to avoid 1-2-3 innings and we have a lot of clutch hitters who came through in that eighth inning. We strung some hits together during a clutch situation and came back. Brian Stavisky had a couple huge hits for us with two outs. … We jumped on (Berkowitz) early but he found a rhythm we snapped back onto him quickly.”
ND JUNIOR RIGHTHANDER AARON HEILMAN: “The big thing in the sixth inning was that I got behind early in the count. The heat was not that big of a factor.”
TULANE HEAD COACH RICK JONES: “It was a shame to waste a good effort by Jared. He really gave us an outstanding effort but Heilman was very, very good. We only had five hits and we had a defensive breakdown in the eighth. The combination of those two things was something that we could not overcome. … We’ve been in this situation before. We need to win two ballgames tomorrow, but we have better pitching depth than we did last year. … We’ve had three times in the last three weeks where we made 2-3 errors around some hits and it led to a big inning. … Notre Dame showed us some outstanding defense and great pitching. They really rose to the occasion. We have to be sure to close the deal tomorrow.”
TULANE SENIOR LEFTHANDER JARED BERKOWITZ: “You never get used (to the heat). I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tired. You just keep going. (Stavisky) hit a pretty good pitch. They just got the key hits and that’s what you need to win big ballgames.”
NOTES: The Irish improved to 27-4 this season when scoring six-plus runs and are 33-5 when making 0-1 errors in a game … ND’s 44 wins equal the most in the six-year era of head coach Paul Mainieri (the `96 team was 44-18) … Felker made his 216th career start, just two shy of tying Mike Coss (`91) for 3rd in ND history … Felker’s two hits give him 239 in his career, tied with Scott Sollmann (`94-’96) for 7th in ND history, just four behind former classmate Brant Ust (`97-’99) … Heilman’s season ERA dropped from 3.04 to 3.21 while his career ERA fell from 2.70 to 2.80 (6th-best in ND history) … his 68 career appearances rank 7th in ND history … Heilman’s 103.2 innings in 2000 rank 6th in the ND record book (he threw 109 in `99) … Stavisky’s 232 at-bats are tied for the 5th-highest season total in ND history, three back of Randall Brooks’ 1997 total and 10 behind Stanley’s record for an ND freshman … Stanley’s two hits give him an even 80 for the season … sophomore C Paul O’Toole swiped his 16th base of the season, in 17 attempts … ND’s 51 double plays are tied for 5th in the ND record book … Buchmeier lowered his season ERA from 3.50 to 3.28, with just 48 hits allowed in 49.1 innings (plus 38 Ks and 14 walks) … ND owns a 53-22 scoring edge in the 8th inning this season, including 16-0 in four postseason games … top postseason hitters include Billmaier (.571, 4-for-7, RBI, R), Stavisky (.471, 8-for-17, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 4 R) and Stanley (.438, 7-for-16, RBI, 5 R, 2 BB) … ND’s four-game postseason stats include a .313 team batting avg. and a .981 fielding pct. (3 Es) … Stanley is batting .435 (20-for-46) during the month of May this season, with hits in 21 of the last 23 games … ND now owns a 10-3-1 all-time record vs. Tulane and is 24-29 in all-time NCAA Tournament games, including wins in the last three openers (12-1 vs. Virginia in `96, 8-1 vs. Creighton in `99).
NOTRE DAME 2-0-0 0-0-1 0-5-0 - 8 14 1TULANE 0-0-0 1-0-3 0-0-0 - 4 5 3
Heilman, Buchmeier (7) and OToole. Berkowitz, Belanger (8)and Herz.