Feb. 27, 2004
BOCA RATON, Fla. – The 10th-ranked Notre Dame baseball program traditionally has been a little slow-starting, particularly in the hitting and fielding areas, but the 2004 Irish squad continued to buck that trend in stunning proportions during Friday’s first-round action at the Florida Atlantic Classic – riding a career day from sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez (Upper Arlington, Ohio) and another strong outing from junior righthander Chris Niesel for a 19-6 win over a talented Winthrop squad.
Notre Dame – off to its first 3-0 start since 1992 – put 29 runners on base in a game that was scoreless and had featured just one baserunner (for Winthrop) after three innings. Ten Irish batters combined for 18 hits during the final six innings, to go along with eight walks and one ND batter hit-by-pitch (two others reached on an error and fielder’s choice).
Notre Dame pushed across six runs in the 4th and stretched to a 9-0 lead in the 5th before scoring five more runs in the 7th for a 14-1 margin. Winthrop (4-2) – ranked as high as 25th in the national polls – scored five of its six runs in the 9th, after the Irish already had emptied their bench. Sophomore lefthander Chase Edwards was chased after four innings, allowing seven runs (just two of them earned) on eight runs and no walks.
Lopez hit .250 as a freshman but the 6-0, 185-pounder now leads the 2004 squad with a .545 batting average (6-for-11). His big effort versus Winthrop included 4-for-6 batting, 6 RBI and a pair of runs scored – with a two-run home run in the 4th inning (the first HR of his ND career), a two-run single in the 6th and a two-run double in the 9th.
Lopez also continued to play error-free ball on seven fielding chances, including the team’s first two double plays of the season, with the rest of the Irish defense combining for another error-free game (the team’s only error of the season remains a catcher’s interference play vs. USC).
Niesel was touched for eight hits and two walks but avoided the big inning, allowing just one run in seven innings of work (with five strikeouts). He has won his last 11 decisions with the Irish and now is 15-1 in his college career, with a 2.85 ERA.
Notre Dame’s previous nine seasons of the Paul Mainieri era included a combined record of just 11-16 after three games while averaging just six runs per game (compared to the 3-0 start and 29 runs by the Irish in 2004).
Two other Irish hitters – junior first baseman Matt Edwards and senior catcher Javi Sanchez – posted similar stat lines, each totaling three hits, two RBI, two runs and double (Edwards added a walk). Freshman centerfielder Danny Dressman added a 2-for-4 day from the No. 2 spot in the lineup, with two runs scored and an RBI, while sophomore DH Steve Andres stroked a leadoff home run over the rightfield fence in the 8th (his fifth career home run with the Irish).
Freshman righthander Dan Kapala made his debut by retiring all three batters he faced in the eighth (with one strikeout).
Notre Dame returns to action on Saturday at 2:00 p.m., in a recently-added game versus Florida Memorial (to be played on the FAU auxiliary field). Freshman righthander Jess Stewart is slated to get the start (the game will be joined in-progress on ESPN 1620 AM and via the internet at und.com, after the conclusion of the noon ND-Rutgers women’s basketball broadcast).
The Irish and sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton then will return to FAU Classic action on Saturday night vs. the host Owls (7:00 p.m.), with that game to be carried at 1490 WNDV (also on und.com). Gametracker livestats will be available for the FAU game but not the Florida Memorial game.
NOTES: Lopez came up one RBI shy of tying the ND record (7, most recently by Steve Sollmann and Andrew Bushey in 2002) … Sollmann stroked his 258th career hit, moving ahead of Dan Peltier (’87-’89) into 7th in the ND record book … he also scored twice, moving past Brant Ust (’97-’99) into 10th place on that ND career list … ND now is batting .353 with a 29-8 scoring edge, a 2.52 staff ERA (.227 opp. avg., 25 Ks/9 BB) and a .990 fielding pct. … top hitters include Lopez (.545, 6-for-11, .909 slugging pct., 2 HBP, .615 on-base pct.) and Edwards (.500, 6-for-12, HR, 2 2B, .917 slugging, 2 BB, .571 on-base) – with junior 3B Matt Macri and sophomore RF Cody Rizzo each batting 4-for-11 (.364) …Niesel’s first two starts of ’04 include 14 Ks, 3 walks, 11 hits and a .244 opp. avg. in 12.2 IP … Niesel’s average run support in 27 previous starts with the Irish was just five runs per game (ND had scored 10-plus runs in just four of his previous starts while plating 0-3 in 12) … the Irish next have the chance to match the 1992 team’s 5-0 start (that team then lost its sixth game) … no ND team has opened 6-0 since the 1960 team started 9-0 … ND is averaging 11.4 runs per 9 innings this season (29 in 23) … since suffering the only loss of his ND career (in ’03 vs. Nebraska), Niesel is 11-0 with a 1.87 ERA and nearly a 5-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (98/20) in his last 15 starts (82 H/.228) … Niesel’s 11-decision win streak is two shy of tying classmate John Axford’s streak during the ’02-’03 seasons as 5th-longest in ND history … Winthrop became the 281st different opponent in 112 seasons of ND baseball … the Irish are 15-2 in their last 15 games vs. first-time opponents … ND is nearing a +100 record over the past four seasons (147-49-1) … Niesel’s .938 career win pct. (15-1) is on pace to best the ND record (min. 16 decisions) held by Herb Kelly (.917, 22-2 from 1912-14) … Aaron Heilman (.860, 43-7 from ’98-01) is the only ND pitcher since 1924 to win more than 80-pct. of his decisions … the Irish are 74-26-1 in regular-season tournaments during the Mainieri era and have avoided an 0-and-2 start in 20 of the last 21 regular-season tournaments … Niesel has allowed just three 1st-inning runs during his ND career (equivalent of 0.96 ERA, plus 29 Ks, 5 BB, 22 H and .220 opp. avg. in those 28 first innings).
#10 Notre Dame (3-0) 0-0-0 6-3-0 5-1-4 - 19 18 0
#25 Winthrop (4-2) 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-0-5 - 6 11 1
Chase Edwards (L, 1-1), Jonathan Settle (5), Chris Carter (7), Thomas Olejniczak (7), Mark Schmidt (9), Ryan Nasiatka (9) and Grant Niedenfeuhr.
Home Runs: Greg Lopez, ND (1 on in 4th, 1st of season), Steve Andres, ND (solo in 8th, 1st of season), Bennett Stapf, WIN (2 on in 9th).
Doubles: Matt Edwards (ND), Javi Sanchez (ND), Lopez (ND), Craig Cooper (ND), Jacob Dempsey (WIN).