May 5, 2003

Notre Dame sophomore righthander Chris Niesel (Plantation, Fla.) has received his second BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week honor for the 2003 season, after nearly no-hitting West Virginia in Saturday’s 1-0 opening win at Eck Stadium.

After enduring a pitching duel in the seven-inning opener with WVU’s Shawn Miller (who allowed an unearned run in the sixth), Niesel faced just two batters over the seven-inning minimum (23) and was two outs away from registering the first no-hitter by a Notre Dame pitcher since 1988 – when 3-hole hitter Lee Fritz opted to try a bunt single and was safe on a close play at first. Niesel earlier had allowed a full-count walk by No. 2 hitter Eric Grimm, with one out in the fourth, and went on to locate 67 of his 101 pitches for strikes – including seven of his nine strikeouts in the first three innings (when he set down all nine batters in succession).

Niesel – who also earned the honor on March 17 – becomes the fourth Notre Dame player ever to receive multiple BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week honors in the same season, joining Aaron Heilman (3 in ’99, 4 in ’00, 2 in ’01), Scott Cavey (2 in ’00) and Danny Tamayo (3 in ’01) in that distinction. He also joins three-time recipient Chris Lambert of Boston College (the 2002 BIG EAST pitcher of the year) as the only pitchers to earn multiple weekly awards from the BIG EAST this season.

Since suffering the only loss of his ND career (Feb. 28 vs. Nebraska), Niesel has gone 7-0 in his last 10 starts, with a 1.69 ERA, .199 opponent batting and nearly a 7-to-1 K-to-walk ratio (74/11) in those 10 outings.

Niesel – who improved to 11-1 in his ND career and is 29-2 in his last 31 decisions (dating back to his senior year at Aquinas High School) – posted the fifth 9-strikeout game of his career in the WVU game, to go along with 10 and 11-K games. He lowered his season ERA to 2.61 and dropped his opponent batting average to .219 (would rank eighth in the ND record book, since ’91) while his 5.5 K-to-walk ratio (77/14) would rank fifth (third-best since ’94).

The race for BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-year honors now has to include Niesel, who currently leads the BIG EAST in overall strikeouts (77) while ranking fourth among the league’s pitchers in both ERA (2.61) and wins (7-1), third in low opponent batting average (.219) and second in innings (79.1) – in addition to allowing just one home run in 437 batters faced.

In six BIG EAST starts, he ranks second among the BIG EAST pitchers for wins (5-0) and Ks (44) in BIG EAST action, also ranking third in complete games (3), fourth in innings (41.1) and seventh in ERA (2.40) and opponent batting (.224).

Niesel also has lowered his career ERA to 2.97 (good for 11th in ND history) while his 4.35 career K-to-walk ratio (139/32) remains on pace to break the Irish record (4.00) set by 1993 graduate Alan Walania (Niesel’s low career walk average of 1.90 BB per 9 IP would rank 5th in ND history).