May 2, 2003

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BIG EAST Baseball Doubleheader

West Virginia Mountaineers (29-13, 12-3) vs. #13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (35-10, 13-2)

Saturday, May 3, 2003 … Eck Stadium (Notre Dame, Indiana)

(note: see PDF link for copy of ND-WVU game program – includes roster, stats, standings, BIG EAST leaders, team notes, photos and more … also see baseball page at for PDF link to complete ND stats).

BIG EAST NOTES – The ND-WVU showdown will pit the BIG EAST’s top pitching and fielding team vs. the conference’s runaway offensive leader … WVU entered the week ranked 6th in the nation for team batting avg. (now .340) and 28th in scoring (7.8 runs/gm) while Notre Dame was listed 13th in team ERA (3.37) and 17th in fielding pct. (.972) … this weekend’s action could clear up the race for the four spots in the BIG EAST Tournament … final standings are based on win pct. (not “games back”), due to rainouts … the first tiebreaker is head-to-head results, then record vs. the league from the top down … ND (13-2) holds the tiebreaker vs. St. John’s (split vs. Pittsburgh) … WVU (12-3) has tiebreakers vs. SJU and Virginia Tech (split vs. Pitt and Rutgers) … RU (13-3) owns tiebreakers vs. BC, SJU and VT (also split vs. Pitt) … other tiebreakers of note include VT (10-7) over BC (7-8) and SJU (9-8) over Pitt (10-7).

Probable Pitching Rotations

Saturday (Game 1): WVU – Shawn Miller (So., RHP … 4.11, 5-0, 46.0 IP, 40 K/28 BB, .236) and ND – Chris Niesel (So., RHP … 2.86, 6-1, 72.1 IP, 68 K/13 BB, .233)

Saturday (Game 2): WVU – Jason DiAngelo (Sr., RHP … 4.84, 6-3, 61.1 IP, 58 K/32 BB, .272) and ND – John Axford (So., RHP … 2.21, 9-0, 61 IP, 59 K/32 BB, .215)

Sunday: WVU – Zac Cline (So., LHP … 3.61, 8-3, 89.2 IP, 61 K/25 BB, .289) and ND – Ryan Kalita (Sr., RHP … 3.93, 5-0, 50.1 IP, 40 K/22 BB, .246)

SERIES STATS – Javi Sanchez (.286, 2-for-7, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2B, BB, K) is the only ND player with a .200-plus career batting avg. vs. WVU … others include Joe Thaman (1-for-11, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB, 2 Ks), Steve Sollmann (1-for-9, 2 R, 2 BB, K), Kris Billmaier (0-for-14, R, BB, 3 Ks) and Matt Macri (0-for-1, R, BB, 4 Ks) … J.P. Gagne (6.00, 0-1, 6 IP, 13 H, 9 R, BB, 4 Ks, 2 WP, HB) and Matt Laird (3.38, 2.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R/ER, 3 BB, 4 Ks, 2 WP) have two career GP vs. WVU.

THE SERIES – Notre Dame has faced West Virginia more than any other BIG EAST opponent, with a 23-11 series edge (14-8 since both began BIG EAST play in ’96) … the Irish have won 10 of the last 12 in the series, including 4-1, 8-1 at The Eck in ’01 and a 2-4, 10-6 (10 inn.) split at WVU in ’02 … WVU’s only other win in the series since ’98 came in the middle game of the 2000 series, at WVU (7-2) … the Irish hold a 10-3 series edge at home (4-3 at Eck) … the teams were big rivals in the late 1990s, meeting in the BIG EAST Tournament every year from ’96-’99 (including three games in ’96, with WVU winning the 7-4 title game) … ND beat WVU in a ’97 BET elimination game and opened the ’98 BET with a 5-4 win over the Mountaineers – before a 7-2 win over WVU to open the ’99 BET (stretched over two days, due to rain) … four of the last 12 games in the series have gone to extra innings, with ND winning three (including the longest game in Eck Stadium history, a 5-3, 15-inning game in ’98 that ended on an Alec Porzel home run) … ND’s 2001 visit to Hawley Field featured 18 Ks from ND’s Aaron Heilman in the 3-1 opener (stretched from 7 to 10 innings) … the first ND-WVU game came in 1902 (9-5 win at ND) … ND head coach Paul Mainieri was born in Morgantown and his father Demie was inducted into the WVU Physical Education Hall of Fame.

RECAPPING THE ’02 SERIES – Paul O’Toole’s 3-run blast capped a 5-run rally that forced extra innings and Javi Sanchez had the go-ahead double in the 10th, as the Irish averted the sweep at Hawley Field (2-4, 10-6) … ND’s Brian Stavisky missed most of the doubleheader after being hit in the head with a 3rd-inning pitch … WVU opened the nightcap with five 1st-inning runs and took a 6-1 lead into the 7th … three straight 2-out walks – by Sanchez, Joe Thaman and Steve Sollmann – loaded the bases before Steve Stanley ripped a 2-run single past the third-base bag (6-3) … O’Toole then tied the game with a linedrive home run down the rightfield line … the winning rally included Ken Meyer’s leadoff single, Kris Billmaier’s sac. bunt, a walk by Matt Macri and Sanchez’ 2-run double to left-center … Drew Duff (5 IP), winner Martin Vergara (3 IP, 11 BF) and Matt Buchmeier combined for nine strong innings of relief (UER, 5 H, 3 BB, 8 Ks) … WVU ace Billy Biggs (7 IP, 2 R, 6 H, 2 BB, 5 Ks) picked up the opening win while Grant Johnson (4.1 IP, 3 R, 9 H, 5 BB, 5 Ks) took the loss … Zac Cline (6.2 IP, 3 R, 2 H, 4 BB, 7 Ks) ended up with no-decision in Game 2 while Joe Van Gorder had the loss (after Jason DiAngelo gave up two walks and two hits, including the Sanchez double, in the 10th).

MOUNTAINEER NOTES – West Virginia is bidding to make the BIG EAST Tournament for the first time since 1999, led by a returning nucleus that includes 1B Kurtis Clinton, 2B Eric Grimm, SS Grant Psomas and 3B Tim McCabe – with the team’s top hitters including veteran Jarod Rine (CF) and two OFs who played sparingly prior to ’03 (Lee Fritz and Jake Serfass) … WVU has developed a solid rotation (see p. 5), after losing ace Billy Biggs to the pro draft … WVU’s three BIG EAST losses have come vs. Rutgers (4-12), at Pittsburgh (0-4) and at St. John’s (6-7) … WVU is one of just six teams ever to beat ND three-plus times at Eck Stadium (3-4), with Rutgers and St. John’s each owning four wins at The Eck (Ball State, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin-Milwaukee also own three wins over ND at Eck Stadium) … WVU owns a rare series win over ND at The Eck (6-4, 8-5 in ’96) – with the Irish playing 33 straight doubleheaders at The Eck without being swept (the only other all-time BIG EAST doubleheader sweeps of ND came at SHU in ’97, at VT in ’01 and at UConn in ’02).

IRISH NOTES – Notre Dame completed another strong April and is 58-8 in April over the past three seasons … the Irish lacked 1st-inning scoring punch (13 total runs) before posting a 15-0 scoring edge in the 1st inning of the last 10 games (ND also owns a 55-8 overall edge in the 2nd) … ND is 8-1 in one-run games but also has registered 19 “big wins” (margin of 5-plus runs), just two shy of the entire 2002 total of 21 big wins … ND also has racked up 17 “big innings” (5-plus runs) this season (14 in the last 25 games) …the Irish faced a daunting early schedule but have won 33 of the last 39, including a 17-game win streak (2nd-longest in ND history) … ND 40-4 in its last 44 home games … the Irish have been shut out just once in the last 297 games (11-0 vs. Rutgers last season) while scoring in 538 of 542 games during the nine-year Paul Mainieri era … Mainieri picked up his 700th career win earlier this season vs. Georgetown (he now is 721-431-1, including 389-152-1 at ND) … ND’s .972 team fielding pct. (well ahead of the .965 team record) includes 17 error-free games and 13 with one error … the Irish own a 91-26 (.778) record in seven-plus seasons of BIG EAST play, with Mainieri owning the best BIG EAST winning pct. in the league’s history … ND’s 70 all-time BIG EAST series include 55 series wins, eight even series and just seven series wins by the opponent … since starting 0-4 in ’02 BIG EAST play, ND is 31-6 in its last 37 BE games (sparked by the ’02 comeback at WVU).

ND POSITION PLAYER NOTES – Kris Billmaier is the only ND player to appear in every game this season and is on the verge of becoming the 16th ND player ever to appear in 200-plus career games (199) … Billmaier has hits in six of the last seven games (9-for-23, 10 RBI), after a 3-for-21 drought (4 RBI) … three ND players entered the week ranked among the NCAA leaders: Steve Sollmann (16th with 0.61 stolen bases per game), Matt Edwards (24th with 1.26 RBI/gm) and Brennan Grogan (24th with 0.13 triples/gm, five total) … Sollmann’s career-best hitting streak ended at 15 games (longest by an ND player since Steve Stanley’s 16-game tear in 2000) in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Oakland … he has hits in 24 of the last 26 games and has gone hitless in consecutive games just once all season … Sollmann already ranks 6th on the ND career stolen bases list (56) and needs just three more to become the 5th ND player ever with 30-plus SBs in a season (his brother Scott holds the record, with 52 in ’96) … Sollmann’s .369 career batting avg. ranks 5th in ND history, right behind his brother’s .372 … he has made just one error in the last 21 games and has totaled just 5 Es in his last 60 games with the Irish (13 total Es in the ’02 and ’03 seasons) … Edwards hit 11-for-22 (11 RBI) in his recent 7-game hitting streak but is 1-for-7 (1 RBI) in the last two games … his RBI total (54) nearly has matched ND’s team leaders from the 2002 season (when Andrew Bushey had 59 and Brian Stavisky 57) … Matt Macri bounced back from a slow start to hit .377 in April (26-for-69, with just four errors) … Macri has totaled 33 error-free games and has made just one error in his last 10 games played (45 chances) … the ND defense has totaled 30 games with no errors (17) or one error (13) … Matt Bransfield is batting 8-for-15 in his 6-game hitting streak … four freshmen – and now Billmaier – have started in CF this season (Steve Stanley started at CF in all 256 games from ’99-’02) … Cody Rizzo’s 20 times hit-by-pitch already has bested the ND record previously held by Eric Danapilis (15, in 1993) …. Macri (elbow) and Edwards (broken leg) missed most of ’02 due to injury (first-year catcher Javi Sanchez served as the Irish SS in ’02).

PITCHING STAFF NOTES – Notre Dame joined just five other teams (all among the nation’s elite) – Rice, Long Beach State, Mississippi State, Arizona State and Cal State Fullerton – that entered the week ranked in the national top-20 for both ERA and fielding pct. … since suffering the only loss of his ND career (Feb. 28 vs. Nebraska), Chris Niesel has dominated in his last nine outings to the tune of a 1.88 ERA, a .214 opp. batting avg. and nearly a 7-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (65/10) in those nine starts … Niesel is 29-2 in his last 31 decisions (dating back to his HS senior season) and is the 10th ND pitcher ever to post multiple double-digit K games in his career (plus four 9-K games) … John Axford (43rd in the NCAA stats with a 2.21 ERA) has won his last 13 decisions with the Irish (14-2 career mark) and became the 17th ND pitcher to post 12-plus Ks in a game (12 vs. WMU) … just two pitchers in the country entered the week with a better undefeated mark than Axford’s 9-0 … Niesel (10-1), Axford (14-2) and Ryan Kalita (12-0) have combined for a 36-3 career record with the Irish (20-1 in ’03) … J.P. Gagne (24-14, 17 SV) has joined Chris Michalak and Aaron Heilman as the only ND pitchers ever to post 20-plus wins and 10-plus saves … Gagne – who has converted all 11 of his traditional save chances this season, including three in ND’s last four wins – has matched the ND record (11, good for 4th in the nation) set in 2000 by former teammate John Corbin, with Gagne’s 17 career saves three shy of that Irish record (also held by Corbin) … Gagne has not allowed an earned run in his last five outings (7.2 IP) and owns a 1.41 ERA in his last 11 appearances (3 ER, 19.1 IP) … his 86 career appearance are six shy of Chris Michalak’s ND record … Ryan Doherty is averaging 15.2 Ks per 9 IP and has not allowed on earned run since a rough outing in the season opener, spanning nine appearances and 17.2 IP … Doherty and fellow rookie Tom Thornton have combined for a 1.90 ERA, 6-1 record and .246 opponent batting avg. in 61.2 IP (53 Ks, 19 BB) … Brandon Viloria ranks 5th on the ND career ERA charts (2.54) and owns the best career walk ratio (1.50 BB per 9 IP) in ND history (both min. 60 IP) … Matt Laird is averaging 11.2 Ks per nine innings.