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Chris Niesel Named BIG EAST Pitcher Of The Year, Five Other Irish Players Named All-BIG EAST

May 21, 2003

Notre Dame sophomore righthander Chris Niesel was recognized for his season-long dominance with the BIG EAST Conference pitcher-of-the-year award while sophomore first baseman Matt Edwards joined Niesel on the all-BIG EAST first team, as six total Irish players received conference honors at Wednesday’s annual BIG EAST tournament banquet.

Senior righthander Ryan Kalita and junior second baseman Steve Sollmann were named to the second team while senior closer J.P. Gagne and senior rightfielder Kris Billmaier received third-team honors. Notre Dame’s six honorees were second only to West Virginia’s seven, among the 37 total players who received all-BIG EAST honors. It marked the third time that three ND pitchers have been honored by the postseason BIG EAST awards (also in 1998 and 2001).

Notre Dame has produced four of the last six BIG EAST pitchers of the year, with Niesel joining Brad Lidge (’98) and Aaron Heilman (’00, ’01) as Irish pitchers who have received the top honor – with ND now owning the most BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-year honors in the league’s 18 years of baseball play (Seton Hall and Providence have three each).

Sollmann becomes the sixth Notre Dame player ever to receive three-plus all-BIG EAST honors, after garnering first-team honors in 2001 and second team in ’02. Others to be three- or four-time honorees include DH Jeff Wagner (’96-’99), IF Brant Ust (’97-’99), Heilman (’98-’01) and OFs Steve Stanley (’99, ’01-’02) and Brian Stavisky (’00-’02).

Gagne repeated the third-team honors he received as a sophomore and is the third ND pitcher ever to earn multiple all-BIG EAST honors, joining Heilman and Darin Schmalz (2nd team in ’96 and ’97) in that distinction.

The awards held special significance for Edwards – who has completed a comeback from a broken leg that sidelined him for most of the 2002 season – and Kalita, a former walk-on who has emerged as one of the team’s top starting pitchers.

Niesel’s BIG EAST dominance included a 7-0 record and 2.58 ERA in eight league starts, plus a .247 opponent batting average and better than an 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (49/6) in those eight BIG EAST games. He joined WVU’s Zac Cline (9-2) as the only pitchers to post seven league wins while BC’s Kevin Shephard and Chris Lambert (both 2.36) were the only full-time starters with better ERA’s in conference action. Niesel nearly averaged one strikeout per inning in BIG EAST play (49 in 52.1) while averaging just 1.03 walks per nine innings in conference games (his 49 Ks were 4th-best in the league).

In overall games, Niesel ranked fourth among BIG EAST pitchers with a 2.69 ERA (Shephard was the only starter better, at 2.44) while also ranking second in wins (9-1, behind Cline’s 11-3), third in Ks (82, behind the 88 posted by Lambert and Cline), sixth in lowest opponent batting average (.233) and second in innings pitched (90.1). His nine-inning averages in the 2003 regular season included just 8.0 hits and 1.5 walks allowed per nine innings, with 8.2 Ks per 9 IP and a 5.5 K-to-walk ratio (82/15).

Edwards – ND’s first 1B ever to be named all-BIG EAST – shared the BIG EAST overall RBI lead with Virginia Tech sophomore catcher Wyatt Toregas (60) while his 26 RBI in BIG EAST games tied VT senior second baseman Marc Tugwell for best in the conference (with Tugwell playing two more games). Edwards also finished the regular season ranked fifth among BIG EAST player in total bases (124), sixth in overall hits (73), seventh in slugging. His other season stats included team-bests in batting average (.372) and on-base percentage (.436) and 21 walks.

Kalita finished third among BIG EAST pitchers in conference ERA (2.09), adding a 4-1 conference record and .214 opponent batting average in league play (his overall stats included a 3.67 ERA and 5-1 record).

Sollmann ranked among the BIG EAST regular-season leaders with 80 overall hits, 31 stolen bases, 60 runs scored, five triples and 16 doubles, plus a .370 batting average and 36 RBI from his leadoff spot.

Gagne’s 1.09 ERA in conference action was second-best among BIG EAST pitchers, with his overall stats including a team-record 12 saves, three wins, a 2.10 ERA and a .225 opponent batting average.

Billmaier also ranked among the BIG EAST doubles leaders (15) while batting .264 in the regular season, with 37 RBI, four home runs and 22 walks. He becomes the fifth ND outfielder to earn all-BIG EAST honors, joining 1st-team CFs Scott Sollmann (’96) and Randall Brooks (’97), Stanley and Stavisky in that regard.

Kalita is the seventh ND pitcher to receive all-BIG EAST honors, following Schmalz, Lidge, Heilman, Alex Shilliday (2nd, ’98), Danny Tamayo (1st, ’01) and Gagne.

Pitcher of the Year – Chris Niesel (Notre Dame, soph., RHP)
Co-Players of the Year – Jarod Rine (West Virginia, CF, jr.) and Marc Tugwell (Virginia Tech, 2B, sr.)
Rookie of the Year – Stan Posluszny (WVU, OF/DH)
Coach of the Year – Greg Van Zant (WVU)

All-BIG EAST First Team
RHP – Chris Lambert (Boston College, so.)
RHP – Chris Niesel (ND, so.)
RHP – Matt Dalton (VT, sr.)
C – Wyatt Toregas (VT, so.)
1B – Matt Edwards (ND, so.)
2B – Marc Tugwell (VT, sr.)
SS – Mike Rozema (St. John’s, so.)
3B – Chris Stanton (VT, so.)
OF – Jarod Rine (WVU, jr.)
OF – Jeff Frazier (Rutgers, so.)
OF – Casey Grimm (Seton Hall, sr.)
Utility – Peter Soteropoulos (UConn, 1B/RHP, sr.)
DH – Matt Wolski (RU, sr.)

All-BIG EAST Second Team
RHP – Ryan Kalita (ND, sr.)
LHP – Zac Cline (WVU, so.)
RHP – Chris Noonan (Seton Hall, jr.)
RHP – Jack Egbert (RU, so.)
C – Mike Leonard (UConn, jr.)
1B – Kurtis Clinton (WVU, sr.)
2B – Steve Sollmann (ND, jr.)
SS – Bryan Spamer (Pittsburgh, jr.)
3B – Tim McCabe (WVU, sr.)
OF – Drew Locke (BC, so.)
OF – Lee Fritz (WVU, so.)
OF – Stuart Rykaceski (Pitt, sr.)
Utility – Andrew Cleary (Georgetown, so.)
DH – Stan Posluszny (WVU, fr.)

All-BIG EAST Third Team
LHP – Kevin Shepard (BC, so.)
2B – Josh DiScipio (BC, jr.)
OF – Russ D’Argento (UConn, so.)
C – Michael Lombardi (GU, so.)
RHP – J.P. Gagne (ND, sr.)
CF – Kris Billmaier (ND, sr.)
3B – Mike Scanzano (Pitt, jr.)
1B – Steve Normane (RU, sr.)
P – Joe Reid (SJU, so.)
OF – Anthony DeRosa (SJU, jr.)
1B – Tim Pahuta (SHU, so.)
SS -Spencer Harris (VT, sr.)
OF – Jake Serfass (WVU, jr.)