June 11, 2005
Notre Dame third baseman Brett Lilley (North Canton, Ohio) has earned Louisville Slugger 2005 Freshman All-America honors, as selected by Collegiate Baseball magazine.
Lilley – whose earlier honors included BIG EAST Conference Rookie of the Year – completed one of the top seasons ever by a Notre Dame freshman, leading the Irish in six statistical categories including a .502 season on-base percentage that was best among all BIG EAST Conference players and just shy of the ND freshman record (.509, by Eric Danapilis in 1990). Lilley also became the first Notre Dame freshman in 15 years to claim the team batting title outright (.355) while joining Danapilis (.429, in ’90) and Pete Schmidt (.367, in ’71) as the only freshman ever to lead the Irish in batting (Scott Sollmann shared the batting title as a freshman in ’94, with sophomore Robbie Kent also hitting .402 that season).
Notre Dame baseball players now have earned Freshman All-America honors in eight of the past nine seasons, including current sophomore righthander Jeff Samardzija in 2004.
Lilley impacted the Notre Dame offense in multiple ways, reaching via hits, walks and hit-by-pitch while consistently ranking as the team’s top situational hitter. His team-record 30 HBPs ranked 2nd among all players in Division I during the 2005 season and are tied for 4th in the NCAA record book. In addition to totaling 76 hits, Lilley racked up 64 “free passes” during the 2005 season (34 walks, 30 HBP) – joining Ryan Topham’s 63-walk season in 1994 as the most free passes in one season ever by an Irish player.
The lefthanded-hitting Lilley graded out as Notre Dame’s top clutch hitter in 2005, leading the team in batting with runners on base (.413), in scoring position (.448) and with 2-outs (.439, 12 RBI) while ranking 3rd on the team with a .515 leadoff on-base pct. He advanced runners a team-best 66% of the time (typically batting from the 2-hole), delivered the RBI 73% of the time (2nd-best on team, 11-of-15) with a runner on 3rd and fewer than 2-outs, and owned a team-best .368 batting avg. vs. RHPs (4th with .323 vs. LHPs). He also was the ’05 squad’s runaway leader in the “Red Ratio” that measures plate discipline, with a +31 (34 BB + 30 HBP – 33 Ks) while the rest of the team was -16.
Brett Lilley never had played third base before the ’05 season but he brought old-school toughness and solid play to the hot corner, with the Irish going 24-10-1 after his key position switch (all photos by Pete LaFleur).
It was Lilley’s midseason switch from second to third base that helped turn Notre Dame’s season around, with the Irish going 24-10-1 the rest of the way after playing .500 ball (14-14) before Lilley’s move to the hot corner. He totaled just eight errors in his 35 games at third base (29 error-free games; .923 fielding pct.), after four of his teammates had combined for 18 third-base errors in the first half of the season.
When the dust had settled on Lilley’s freshman season, he had collected hits in 55 of the 63 games, reached base in 58 (all but five) and went hitless in back-to-back games just twice all season (he never went three games without a hit). Two of the games in which he failed to reach base were seven-inning BIG EAST games while another saw him make just one plate appearance (vs. Ball State, after an early 12-0 deficit). When excluding the seven-inning games and the BSU loss, Lilley reached base in 52 of 54 “full-duty” games during the ’05 season.
Lilley’s BIG EAST rookie-of-the-year season included finishing as the conference’s overall leader in on-base pct. (.502) while also ranking 6th in total walks (34) and runs (56), 8th in hits (76) and 9th in batting avg. (.355). He led all BIG EAST freshmen in batting avg., on-base pct. and walks while Todd Frazier of Rutgers (61) was the only BIG EAST freshmen to score more runs. The players ranked above Lilley in batting avg. and hits were senior and juniors, with the exception of Boston College sophomore Jared McGuire (,381, 82 H) and West Virginia sophomore Justin Jenkins (.359, 79 H). Those two players also happened to play third base, thus pushing Lilley down to third team all-BIG EAST honors (McGuire earned BIG EAST player of the year). Pittsburgh’s Jim Negrych (44) was the only BIG EAST sophomore with more walks than Lilley’s 34.
The sparkplug to the 2005 Notre Dame offense finished as the team leader in batting, on-base, HBPs and sacrifice bunts (9) while joining senior first baseman Matt Edwards as the only players to start all 63 games (junior SS Greg Lopez was the only other player to appear in all 63). Lilley also finished 2nd on the team in hits, runs and walks, plus 4th in stolen bases (9), total bases (81) and RBI (28). His 20 multiple-hit games were 2nd only to Edwards and included a 5-hit game vs. Cincinnati, 4 hits vs. UConn and six 3-hit games (one coming vs. Stetson in the NCAAs). He also finished 3rd on the team with 9 multi-RBI games – including the BIG EAST title game vs. Pitt and the NCAA elimination game vs. Stetson.
Brett Lilley was on base more than 50% of the time during the ’05 season, turning in the 9th-best season on-base pct. (.502, 2nd-best since ’94) in ND baseball history.
Lilley’s other season stats included 5 doubles, a .379 slugging pct., 14 errors and a .949 fielding pct. – plus a .333 batting avg. in BIG EAST games (20 R, 6 HBP). His 51 error-free games in 2005 were highlighted by a 21-game span without an error (96 fielding chances) from March 24-April 21 (spanning time at 2B and 3B) and a 14-game error-free stretch that included the first five postseason games.
Despite splitting time at second and third base (a position he had never played in his baseball career), Lilley made just one error in 24 BIG EAST regular-season games, yielding a .990 fielding percentage spanning 103 fielding chances. He then played error-free in the BIG EAST Tournament, thus totaling just the single error in 27 games vs. BIG EAST teams.
Lilley’s .502 season on-base pct. ranks 9th in the Notre Dame record book and is 2nd-best since 1994, behind Steve Stanley’s .506 OB during the 2002 CWS season. Brian Stavisky (64, in 2000) is the only Notre Dame freshman ever to start or play in more games than Lilley’s 63 while his 172 fielding assists broke the ND freshman record set by SS Paul Turco in 1996 (167). Brant Ust (66, in ’97) is the only ND freshman ever to score more runs in a season than Lilley (56), whose high walk and HBP totals kept his hit total (76) shy of that ND freshman list (the top three are Ust with 73 hits, Steve Sollmann with 80 in ’01 and Stanley with 79 in ’99).
Brett Lilley was a strong force at second base in the first half of the season and ultimately helped Notre Dame turn a team-record 67 double plays.
The only players in NCAA Division I history to have totaled more HBPs in a season than Lilley are Richmond’s Andrew Slater (33, in ’97), Elon’s Gary Morris (32, in ’05) and Fairleigh Dickinson’s Steve Dembowski (32, in ’79). Lilley – who led the way as the ’05 Irish set the NCAA record for HBPs in a season (130) – will enter the 2006 campaign just nine shy of 2nd-place on the Notre Dame career HBP list, already ranking 7th behind teammate Cody Rizzo (70), plus Craig DeSensi (38), Dan Bautch (36), Greg Layson (36), Ed Lund (32) and Danapilis (32).
Lilley – who is slated to play in his home state this summer, with the Delaware (Ohio) Cows of the Great Lakes League – batted .381 in the first 56 games of `05 before slumping in the final 10 games of the regular-season (.235) – but he rebounded to be Notre Dame’s second-best hitter of the 2005 postseason, batting .360 (9-for-25) in seven games spanning the BIG EAST and NCAA tournaments (5 RBI, 5 R, 5 HBP, 6 Ks). He hit .417 in the NCAA Gainesville Regional (5-for-12, 3 RBI, 2 R, 4 HBP, K) to help offset .196 batting by the rest of the Irish team.
A look at the entire ’05 season shows Lilley ranking second on the team in batting average for both home games (.415, 39-for-94, 15 RBI, 30 R, 2 2B, 18 BB, 10 HBP, 14 Ks, 6 SAC, 7 SB, 8 Es) and for all games on the road (.308, 37-for-120, 13 RBI, 26 R, 3 2B, 16 BB, 20 HBP, 19 Ks, 3 SAC, 2 SB, 6 Es). He made 51 of his 63 starts batting from the 2-hole, with his 12 leadoff starts including five in the final three weeks of the season.
Brett Lilley was walking tall throughout the ’05 season, reaching base in 58 games, going hitless in consecutive games just twice (with no three-game hitless slumps) and collecting hits in 55 of 63 games.
Lilley’s season highlights included being hit-by-pitch four times (one shy of tying NCAA record) in the opening-week win at Central Florida, becoming the first Notre Dame freshman ever to post a 5-hit game in a home opener (vs. Cincinnati, 2 RBI, R, 2 SB) and hitting 2-for-4 with a key opposite-field double to help upset #17 USC (13-6; 2 RBI, R, SAC). He also hit 4-for-4 in the second game of the UConn doubleheader, helped post the key lateseason win at Pittsburgh (2-for-5, 3 R, HBP) and played key roles in the NCAA elimination-game wins over Stetson (3-for-5, 2-run single; 7-4) and North Carolina (RBI single, 2 HBP; 3-0).
In addition to Lilley’s effort vs. Cincinnati, Notre Dame batters have combined for just two other games with 5-plus hits in the past three seasons (Sean Gaston and Matt Macri both had 5-for-6 games in 2004).
He had back-to-back hitless games during the Spring Break trip – 0-for-3 with a walk vs. Texas-San Antonio and 0-for-2 with a HBP vs. Southwest Missouri – but then went 10 weeks before his only other stretch of consecutive games withtout a hit: vs. USC (0-for-4, BB) and West Virginia (0-for-2, BB) on May 18 and 20. The only games in which Lilley failed to reach base were BIG EAST seven-inning openers vs. Seton Hall (0-for-3, 3/26) and Pittsburgh (0-for-3, 5/15), the series finale vs. Boston Callege (0-for-4), the May 11th game vs. Michigan in Grand Rapids (0-for-5) and the aforementioned game vs. Ball State (0-for-1 in only plate appearance, 4/6).
Shortstop Greg Lopez (left) and third baseman Brett Lilley formed a solid leftside of the infield during the second half of the ’05 season.
Eight previous Notre Dame players have received Freshman All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball: RHP Pat Leahy (’90), catcher Dennis Twombley (’94), RHP Aaron Heilman (’98), catcher Paul O’Toole (’99), RF Stavisky (’00), 2B Sollmann (’01) and RHPs Grant Johnson (’02) and Samardzija (’04).
The ND baseball program also has featured seven players who were named Freshman All-Americans by Baseball America (TBA for ’05): five 1st teamers in RHP David Sinnes (’90), 2B Layson (’91), Heilman, infielder Ust (’97) and Sollmann (’01), plus a pair 2nd teamers in OF Paul Failla (’92) and Johnson (’02).
Five other previous Notre Dame players were honorable mention Freshman All-Americans, per Collegiate Baseball (which now names just one full team): OF Topham (’93), CF Sollmann (’94), RHPs Larry Mohs (’94) and Alex Shilliday (’96), and CF Stanley (’99).
A total of 17 players from teams that Notre Dame faced in 2005 were included on the Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America list, including six from the NCAA Gainesville Regional – Florida LHP Stephen Locke, Stetson reliever David Golliner and 1B Chris Johnson, and North Carolina 1B Chad Flack, SS Josh Horton and OF Seth Williams – plus: Ball State LHP Ben Snyder, Central Michigan RHP Josh Collmenter, Pittsburgh LHP Robert Brant, Florida A&M RHP Michael Tavernier, Rice relievers Bobby Bell and Cole St Clair, OF Tyler Henley and utility player Joe Savery, Rutgers SS Todd Frazier, Oral Roberts OF Kelly Minissale and Oakland utility player Nate Recknagel.