April 22, 1998

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Freshman leftfielder Alec Porzel capped a 3-for-3 game in the opener with a game-winning, extra-inning hit while senior first baseman Dan Leatherman lifted a three-run home run in the nightcap as the Irish extended their winning streak to 12 games, 1-0 and 3-1 over visiting Valparaiso in doubleheader action Wednesday at Eck Stadium.

Notre Dame (32-10)–which has won a team-record 22 of its last 23 games-continued to dominate on the mound, as seven Irish pitchers helped extend the Irish streak without an earned run to 42 and two-thirds innings before yielding a run in the seventh and final inning of the nightcap. The Irish dropped their team ERA to 3.94, including just two earned runs in the last 63 innings (the team ERA stood at 9.31 on Feb. 22, after the Irish gave up 54 earned runs in 24 innings at the University of Miami).

Valparaiso (21-17-1) stranded 20 runners in the doubleheader, including nine in the opening game that was extended to nine innings. The Crusaders received strong starting pitching from a pair of sophomores-righthander Tony Floros and lefthander Devin Helps-who held the potent Irish offense to a combined 11 hits over 15 innings.

Notre Dame’s current 22-1 run–which includes a 10-game win streak that was snapped by a 4-3 loss to Ball State on April 7-is the longest streak with one loss in the program’s 107-year history. The 1992 team held the previous mark, stringing together a 21-1 run heading into the NCAA Tournament (that run included an eight-game win streak that was snapped by Dayton, 5-2, while the ensuing 13-game streak ended with a 5-1 loss to South Carolina in the NCAAs). The current 12-game win streak is the longest by an Irish squad since the 1993 team ran off 14 straight wins in mid-April.

Freshman righthander Aaron Heilman (4-0) won the first game with his third-longest appearance of the season while extending his personal shutout streak to 26 and one-third innings over his last 16 appearances. Heilman allowed one hit and one walk over the final three and two-third innings and recorded six strikeouts to push his season total to 53 K’s in 39 and one-third innings. He dropped his season ERA to 1.14, which would rank third in Irish history (Jack Mitchell posted an 0.71 in 1960 while David Sinnes had an NCAA-leading 1.05 in 1990).

Junior lefthander Chris McKeown (3-1) recorded a career-high nine strikeouts and 106 pitches over six shutout innings in the nightcap, allowing six hits and two walks while lowering his season ERA to 3.48. Tom O’Hagan came on in the seventh but gave up a run on two hits and a walk, while recording two outs. Fellow sophomore righthander Steve Szczepanski then added a walk to load the bases but forced Scott Lockhart into a game-ending flyout for the first save of his career.

Floros logged 124 pitches in the opener, giving up an unearned run in the ninth after allowing eight hits and two walks (with five K’s). Helps then turned in a 96-pitch, nine-strikeout performance in the nightcap, allowing three earned runs on three hits and three walks over six innings.

Notre Dame won the first game after a one-out fielding error by the shortstop Billy Finn allowed Irish sophomore third baseman Brant Ust to reach first base. Ust then stole second and Jeff Perconte grounded out before Porzel sent a 1-2 pitch from Floros into left-center.

Both teams had runners thrown out at the plate in the opener. Valparaiso’s Brian O’Connor stroked a one-out double in the second inning and tried to score moments later on single to left by Ryan Poepard. But Porzel bounced a perfect throw to catcher Jeff Wagner, who had plenty of time to tag out O’Connor. Notre Dame had a similar chance in the seventh but leftfielder J.J. Swiatowski threw out Perconte trying to score from second on a single by Todd Frye.

Brad Lidge opened the game with two shutout innings, allowing two hits and one walk with two K’s, before fellow junior righthander Alex Shilliday had one hit allowed and a strikeout over the third and fourth innings, lowering his ERA to 2.73.

Sophomore righthander Scott Cavey then pitched a deceptive scoreless top of the fifth, as leadoff hitter Nate Lawson reached on a bunt but was picked off by Wagner. The visitors then added two more singles and Cavey hit Finn with a pitch to load the bases. But junior centerfielder Allen Greene ended the threat with a sliding, backhanded catch on Todd Poepard’s two-out blooper.

The first game featured a rare triple play in the bottom of the third. With Greene on first base and Leatherman on second, Notre Dame senior shortstop J.J. Brock sent a hit-and-run shot towards the gap in right-center. But Valparaiso second baseman Josh McIntyre jumped high and snared the ball, before throwing to Finn to start the 6-4-3 triple play.

Leatherman put the Irish on the board in the second inning of the nightcap, pulling a three-run shot over the leftfield fence for his eighth home run of the season and fifth in the last 13 games. Wagner had doubled to lead off the inning and Porzel drew a one-out walk before Leatherman connected on a 1-2 pitch from Helps.

NOTES: Notre Dame is 49-5 in its last 54 games at home … the Irish are 30-4 since the Miami series, with a 2.66 team ERA in those 34 games … prior to Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Irish had been just 4-9 this season when scoring fewer than five runs … Notre Dame is 10-4 this season in games decided by one or two runs and 10-1 when the opponent starts a lefthander … Brock and Ust both went 0-for-7 in the doubleheader … Wagner remains the key Irish hitter in close games this season, batting a team-best .462 (24-for-52) in the 14 Irish games that have been decided by 1-2 runs (the team average in those games is 200 points lower, at .262) … Leatherman went 2-for-4 with a walk in the doubleheader, raising his season average to .364 (Ust’s fell to an even .400) … the Irish pitching staff has 50 K’s in its last 43 innings … Brock started his 222nd career game in the nightcap, leaving him one shy of Craig Counsell’s team record (223, 1989-92).

VALPARAISO      0-0-0   0-0-0   0-0-0       0   8   2NOTRE DAME      0-0-0   0-0-0   0-0-1       1   8   1Floros and O'Connor.  Lidge, Shilliday (3), Cavey (5), Naumann (6), Heilman (6) and Wagner.
VALPARAISO (21-17-1) 0-0-0 0-0-0 1 1 8 1NOTRE DAME (32-10) 0-3-0 0-0-0 X 3 3 0Helps and Lockhart. McKeown, O'Hagan (7), Szczepanski (7) and Knecht.