May 12, 2002
PHILADELPHIA – With the quest for the BIG EAST Conference regular-season title nearing its final stretch, the 19th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team picked up a pivotal sweep of Villanova, 8-1 and 9-5 on Sunday afternoon at Richie Ashburn Field, lifting the Irish into a three-way tie atop the BIG EAST standings.
Notre Dame (36-14, 15-8 BIG EAST) – which erupted for five home runs in the doubleheader while receiving strong outings from starting pitchers John Axford and Peter Ogilvie – will head into the final weekend of conference play tied with Boston College and Virginia Tech atop the standings, with the Eagles posting a 2-0 win over the Hokies on Sunday to win that series (2-1). BC closes BIG EAST play at Notre Dame on Friday night (6:05) and Saturday (12:05 doubleheader) while Virginia Tech finishes with a home series versus 10th-place West Virginia.
The Irish – who have won 27 of their last 30, after opening 9-10 overall and 0-4 in the BIG EAST – need just one win next weekend to clinch a spot in the four-team BIG EAST Tournament. Idle Rutgers (14-9) currently holds down the fourth and final spot but Connecticut and Pittsburgh (both 12-10) could make a move in the final week. Those teams play next weekend in Pittsburgh, with the Panthers slated to play a makeup game tomorrow (Monday) at West Virginia while UConn had an earlier BIG EAST game wiped out by rain (the Huskies will play a max. of 25 games).
St. John’s (12-11, after taking 2-of-3 from Seton Hall) also has a shot to sneak into the BIG EAST Tournament and controls most of its own fate by closing with a three-game home series versus Rutgers.
Notre Dame likely would earn the higher seed if it finishes tied in the standings with any team but Connecticut (pending the outcome of the ND-BC series), due to head-to-head tiebreakers and comparative records versus the conference’s top teams (the second tiebreaker). The only way that ND and UConn could finish tied would be for the Huskies to sweep Pittsburgh and for the Irish to lose twice to BC before seeing the third game wiped out by weather (there are no makeup days for next weekend’s BIG EAST series).
The Notre Dame offense showcased its depth, versatility and timely hitting in the three-game series, highlighted by a .393 team batting average with runners in scoring position (.313 overall in the series) and eight more runs scored (24) than runners left on base (18) in the series. One day after converting a season-high five sacrifice bunts (all by different players), the Irish posted a .631 team slugging percentage in the doubleheader, with one triple and three doubles to go along with the five home runs.
Axford (4-2) logged 4 2/3 solid innings to pick up the win in the seven-inning opener, allowing the one run on three hits and seven walks while posting one strikeout in his 95-pitch outing. Fellow freshman righthander Chris Niesel – out since April 7 with mononucleosis – then had a strong effort out of the bullpen, picking up his first save after facing just eight batters over the final 2 1/3 innings, with four Ks and one walk.
Ogilvie (6-1) improved his career record with the Irish to 11-3, scattering three hits and three walks over 6 2/3 innings while striking out six Wildcats batters in his 104-pitch outing. Fellow junior righthander J.P. Gagne, the second relief pitcher in the bottom of the 7th, then worked out of a jam to maintain a 6-5 lead heading into the 8th. Gagne – who gained immediate redemption after suffering the tough loss in his relief outing on Saturday (8-7) – went on to pick up his third save of the season, recording the final seven outs while allowing three hits and two walks (with four Ks).
Sunday’s balanced attack included five Irish players that led the team with three or four hits. Sophomore first baseman Joe Thaman – whose mother Karen was one of several ND moms in attendance on Mother’s Day – went 4-for-5 on Sunday to complete a solid all-around series, highlighted by a home run in each game of the doubleheader. Thaman’s 4-for-6 weekend included four runs scored, three RBI, three walks, a pair of sacrifice bunts, a stolen base and his trademark stellar defense around the first-base bag.
Senior catcher Paul O’Toole followed up classmate Andrew Bushey’s sacrifice fly with a two-run shot for a 3-0 lead in the day’s first inning, with O’Toole driving a first-pitch offering from senior righthander Bob Grzenda (5-4) over the centerfield fence for his 10th home run of season and 30th of his career. O,Toole – who also swiped his 53rd career stolen base in the nightcap (sixth in ND history and most ever by a catcher) – joined former teammate Alec Porzel (’01) as the only Notre Dame players ever to reach 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in their careers.
Thaman also sent a first pitch from Grzenda over the centerfield wall in the fourth inning, pushing the Irish lead to 5-0 (Steve Stanley’s RBI single and Steve Sollmann’s sac. fly had accounted for two runs in the second).
Notre Dame then erased a 2-0 deficit in the series finale, as three more home runs (matching a season high) accounted for the next five Irish runs. Thaman’s fourth home run of the season started things in the third inning, as the 6-3 lefthander went with a 2-1 pitch from junior righthander Tom Kandybowicz (3-4), sending it over the wall in left-center. Sollmann followed moments later with his first home run of the season, plunking a 1-0 pitch off the scoreboard in dead-center field for a 3-2 lead.
Junior leftfielder Brian Stavisky’s two-run blast pushed the Irish to a 5-2 lead in the fifth, chasing Kandybowicz from the game. Stavisky jumped all over a 3-0 pitch, depositing it over the centerfield wall for his sixth home run of the season and 30th of his career (tying O’Toole for 8th in the ND record book).
Sollmann hit 4-for-8 and collected six RBI in the doubleheader, with the sophomore second baseman collecting doubles in each game and a triple in the finale.
Sollmann’s two-run triple was the big hit in the lategoing of the nightcap, as the Irish plated three in the 8th for the final 9-5 margin. The final two runs came versus VU closer James Russell – who entered the day with a 1.88 ERA and 14 saves. An earlier error made the runs unearned to the team but earned to Russell, who walked the first batter he faced (Thaman) before serving up Sollmann’s triple and an RBI double by Stavisky.
SERIES NOTES: ND outhit Villanova .313-.253 in the series but the key area came in batting with runners in scoring position (.393-.280), as the Irish totaled six more runs (24) than runners left on base (18) while VU had 14 runs and 23 LOB in the series .(Sunday’s R/LOB ratios were 17/9 for ND and 6/18 for VU) … ND posted a .981 fielding pt. in the series, with just two errors and no unearned runs allowed … top hitters in the series included Thaman (4-for-6, 10 TB, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 4 R, 3 BB, 2 SAC, SB), Stanley (6-for-12, 2 RBI, 5 R, 3B, 2B, 2 SAC, SB), Stavisky (6-for-13, 12 TB, 5 RBI, 4 R, HR, 3B, 2B, BB) and Sollmann (4-for-11, 7 RBI, 4 R, 11 TB, HR, 3B, 2 2B) … the Irish have won 11 of the last 13 vs. VU and now lead the all-time series 15-4 (ND has outscored VU 54-20 in the past two seasons) … Sollmann is a .458 career hitter vs. VU (11-for-24), with 13 RBI and 23 total bases in those six games (8 R, 2 HR, 3B, 4 2B, BB, no Ks) … Stavisky (.438, 14-for-32, 9 RBI, 10 R, 2 HR, 2 3B, 2 2B, 7 BB) and Stanley (.442, 19-for-43, 6 RBI, 17 R, 2 3B, 2B, 8 SB) also added to their solid career numbers vs. VU.
TEAM NOTES: ND now has won 49 of its 63 all-time BIG EAST series, with seven series ties and just seven series losses … ND’s 61 all-time BIG EAST doubleheaders include just three sweeps by the opponent (36 ND sweeps, 21 splits).
PLAYER NOTES: Sophomore SS Javier Sanchez continues to play his role in the Irish success, batting 3-for-7 on Sunday while scoring three times … Sanchez ranks third on the team in runs scored (35) while his 49 games played and 48 starts rank alongside Stanley (50/50) and O’Toole (49/48) among the team leaders (Sanchez also is fifth on the team with 64 total bases and has posted 34 error-free games … ND’s other pair of sophomore infielders have posted slid back-to-back series vs. Rutgers and Villanova … Thaman hit 7-for-15 (.469) in those six games (3 RBI, 6 R, 4 BB) while Sollmann posted 13 RBI and a .727 slugging pct. In the RU and VU games (7-for-22) … senior 3B Andrew Bushey now owns 39 error-free games in 2002 (of 45 played).
RECORD BOOK UPDATE: Stanley (238) tied J.J. Brock (’98) for first on the ND list for career games started (his 238 games played are one shy of Porzel’s record in that category) … Stanley’s 356 hits officially leave him three shy of cracking the NCAA Division I all-time list (seven previous players have 359-plus, with just five reaching 3more than 360).
CRAIG COUNSEL INTERVIEW: WDND radio (ESPN 1620) sports director and voice of Notre Dame baseball Sean Stires attended Saturday night’s Philadelphia Phillies game and was granted a postgame interview with former ND infielder and current Arizona Diamondbacks 3B Craig Counsell .. the interview aired prior to Sunday’s first game and also is slated to air before Tuesday’s game at Purdue (3:00 first pitch).
#19 Notre Dame 3-2-0 1-0-0 2 – 8 9 0
Villanova 0-0-0 0-1-0 0 – 1 3 1
John Axford (W, 5-2) ,Chris Niesel (5; SV, 1) and Paul O’Toole.
Bob Grzenda (L, 5-4), James Baxter (7) and Greg Fater.
Home Runs: Paul O,Toole, ND (1 on in 1st; 10th of season, 30th of career); Joe Thaman, ND (solo in 4th; 3rd of season).
Double: Steve Sollmann (ND).
Notre Dame 0-0-3 0-2-0 1-3-0 – 9 12 2
Villanova 2-0-0 0-0-0 3-0-0 – 5 8 2
Peter Ogilvie (W, 6-2; 11-3 career), Brandon Viloria (7), J.P. Gagne (7; SV, 3) and Paul O’Toole.
Tom Kandybowicz (L, 3-4), Nick Allen (5), Adrian Schau (7), James Russell (8) and Marshall Canosa.
Home Runs: Rob Cafiero, VILL (1 on in 1st; 15th of season); Thaman, ND (1 on in 3rd; 4th of season, 6th of career); Sollmann, ND (solo in 3rd; 1st of season, 6th of career); Brian Stavisky, ND (1 on in 5th; 6th of season, 30th of career).
Triples: Sollmann (ND), Brian Hearne (VILL).
Doubles: Sollmann (ND), Stavisky (ND), Brian Trotta (VILL).