April 16, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Dan Kapala and Tom Thornton became the first Notre Dame pitchers since 2001 to throw complete-game victories in both ends of a BIG EAST doubleheader, as the Irish baseball team rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 8th to win the extra-inning opener (3-2) before posting a 7-1 win in the nightcap for the Saturday-afternoon sweep of Connecticut at Eck Stadium. The wins give 11th-year Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri 800 victories in his 23-year career as a college baseball head coach.
Notre Dame (19-15) now has won four straight BIG EAST games to surge into 3rd-place in the standings (7-4) behind St. John’s (8-2) and Boston College (9-3). Connecticut (21-13, 4-6) dropped into 7th in the BIG EAST, with Villanova (7-5), Rutgers (6-5) and West Virginia (5-7) occupying the 4th-6th spots. Saturday’s other results included SJU’s split at WVU, BC’s sweep at Rutgers, Villanova’s split at Pittsburgh (now 4-8) and a split for Georgetown (4-8) at Seton Hall (3-9).
Kapala’s second career start yielded an impressive outing, as the sophomore righthander overcame some unusual moments in the opener to log the full eight innings. Thornton then went the distance in the nightcap, becoming the first Notre Dame pitcher since All-American Aaron Heilman (’01) to post nine-inning complete games in back-to-back weeks.
It had been nearly four years since a pair of Notre Dame pitchers notched complete-game wins during the same BIG EAST doubleheader – dating back to April 28, 2001, when Heilman (3-2; 7 IP) and fellow senior righthander Danny Tamayo (5-0; 9 IP) turned in the feat for the third time that season.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 7-inning opener but the visitors tied the game in the 5th before claiming the extra-inning lead in the top of the 8th. The Irish then rallied behind pinch-hitter Matt Bransfield’s leadoff single, with Ross Brezovsky executing the sacrifice bunt before Greg Lopez’s game-tying single, another single by Sean Gaston and Alex Nettey’s game-ending sacrifice fly.
Kapala (2-1) – who was a standout setup pitcher during his freshman season – walked the first batter he faced but did not issue a free base the rest of the way, locating 69% of his pitches (63 of 91) for strikes while scattering six hits over the eight innings. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound righthander struck out two while keeping 14 other outs in the infield, with seven groundouts (one a double-play ball), four infield popups/foulouts, an infield lineout and a runner caught-stealing (on a timely pitchout).
Thornton continues to emerge as a tremendous leader for the Irish staff, backing up his complete-game win over Boston College (3-2) with the 7-1 win over the Huskies. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound lefthander did not walk a batter for the second straight week, spotted 78% of his pitches for strikes (78 of 102) and matched Kapala in scattering six hits while again keeping the ball down in the zone. Thornton’s 27 outs included four via strikeout and 16 others that stayed in the infield, with 12 groundouts, a pair of infield lineouts, a popup and a foulout.
Heilman was the previous Notre Dame pitcher to log 9-inning complete games in back-to-back weeks, doing so in the 2001 postseason vs. Rutgers at the BIG EAST Tournament (6-2) and vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the NCAA South Bend Regional (12-4).
Thornton owns a 1.00 ERA over his past two outings while holding the opponents to a .215 batting avg., with nine strikeouts, no walks and 14 hits allowed in 18 innings.
Freshman third baseman Brett Lilley – who has yet to make an error at his new position (18 chances, in 5 GP) – paced the Irish in the doubleheader by batting 6-for-7 (2 R, BB), including 4-for-4 to spark the comfortable win in the nightcap. Lopez (4-for-7, 3 RBI, 3 R) also overcame his recent slump at the plate while Gaston hit 4-for-8 (RBI).
Notre Dame entered the day with the worst conference batting avg. (.240) in the BIG EAST but the Irish hit .369 in the doubleheader while holding UConn to a .197 hitting day. Kapala and Thornton combined for a 1.59 ERA in the two games, with 12 hits allowed and just the one walk in the opening moments.
The Irish pitching staff now has allowed 0-2 earned runs in five of the past six games while lowering the team ERA from 5.24 to 4.76 during that six-game stretch.
The Irish loaded the bases three times in the opener but totaled just one run on those chances, en route to leaving 11 men on base over the eight innings.
Notre Dame opened game-1 with a bases-loaded chance, after singles from Lilley and Matt Edwards and a bases-loaded walk from Steve Andres. Craig Cooper then plated the run with a groundball to the right side.
The hosts appeared to claim a 5-0 lead the next inning, with the bases again loaded when Edwards and his 11 home runs dug in at the plate. Junior righthander Tim Norton (5.1 IP, 6 H, R, 4 BB, 4 Ks, 2 HB) then worked to a 2-2 count and Edwards pulled the next pitch down the line. The ball appeared to sail outside the foul pole but the home-plate umpire signaled for a home run. The Huskies quickly protested and the call was overturned after the three umpires had met and come to a consensus. Edwards then went down swinging at the next pitch to maintain the tight 1-0 game.
UConn caught a break to tie the game in the 5th, as the leftfielder Andres lost a flyout in the sun resulting in a 1-out double for Bryan Maler. Dennis Donovan’s double into the left-center gap then tied the game and ultimately forced extra innings.
Both teams had chances in the 6th – with Kapala inducing a pair of flyouts to leave the go-ahead run at third base (Vin DiFazio had the sac.-fly chance but lofted the ball to shallow right-center). Notre Dame then loaded the bases but sophomore lefthander Ted Garry came on to strike out Gaston and serve up a flyout from Nettey.
The Huskies took the 8th-inning lead after pinch-hitter Josh Farkes ripped a low linedrive that smacked off the heel of Kapala’s glove. Kapala then missed a pitchout sign, moving the runner to second with one out, and Tony Malozzi doubled to center field for the 2-1 lead.
Bransfield – who missed 18 games earlier this season due to a broken hand – drove the first pitch he saw from Gray up the middle to start the winning rally. Brezovsky bunted him over and Lopez sent an 0-1 pitch into center field, moving up a base on the throw as Bransfield scored the tying run. Gaston then singled to center on a 1-0 pitch, bringing freshman righthander David Erickson out of the bullpen as Nettey ended the game with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Prior to Thornton’s effort vs. BC, Notre Dame pitchers had combined for just two 9-inning complete games in the previous 161 games. Thornton now has matched that total in the past two weeks and actually is the only ND pitcher since ’03 to register a 9-inning CG (also in ’04, at WVU; see list of ND’s 9-inning CGs from ’01-’05).
Notre Dame again claimed an early lead in the nightcap, as Cody Rizzo sent a double into right-center to lead off the bottom of the 2nd. Another Brezovsky sac. bunt and Lopez’s groundout yielded the 1-0 lead vs. sophomore lefthander Rich Sirois (7 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 5 Ks).
The Irish stretched the lead with four runs in the 5th. Lopez sent a leadoff double to left-center but the rest of the inning featured a two-out rally, starting with a classic hustle play from Lilley as he dove into first base to beat the first baseman’s flip throw. Edwards sent the next pitch up the middle for the 2-0 lead, Cooper pulled an RBI double down the leftfield line and freshman DH Tony Langford delivered a two-run single to left.
Singles by Austin Wasserman and Tony Mallozzi brought home UConn’s only run while the Irish added two more in the 8th vs. Erickson, after another two-out rally featuring a Brezovsky single, two wild pitches, Lopez’s triple to right-center and an infield error.
Brett Lilley’s 4-for-4 game in the 7-1 win over UConn lifted him atop the ND batting charts, .384. (photo by Matt Cashore).
GAME NOTES – ND’s only error of the day was the dropped popup bunt by Kapala … the Irish entered the ’05 season with a 20-5-1 mark in their previous 26 extra-inning games but had lost all three of their extra-inning games previously this season (vs. Dayton, Georgetown and Rutgers) … Lopez now is a .577 career hitter vs. UConn (15-for-26, 8 RBI, 6 R, 3B, 3 2B) … Mainieri’s ’03-’05 teams needed just 138 games (100-38) to push his career win total from 700 to 800 (spanning two years and three weeks) … Lilley’s team-best .384 season batting avg. would rank 3rd-best ever by an ND freshman and best since Scott Sollmann’s .402 in ’94 (Eric Danapilis hit .429 as a freshman in ’90) … Kapala dropped his season ERA to 3.82, Thornton to 4.13 (2.40 in BIG EAST games) … the Irish staff now owns a 3.24 ERA in BIG EAST play (91.2 IP, 94 H, 54 Ks, 20 BB) … ND hit .435 with 2 outs in the doubleheader (10-for-23, including 8-for-16 in game-2), plus .368 with runners in scoring position (7-for-19) … Kapala and Thornton combined to hold UConn to just .158 batting with 2 outs (3-for-19).
RECENT 9-INNING COMPLETE GAME HISTORY – Prior to the 2005 season, ND pitchers had posted just one 9-inning complete game in ’04, one in ’03 and four in ’02 (2 by Peter Ogilvie) … here’s is a list of the 19 times that an ND pitcher has logged a 9-inning CG during the past five seasons, with four pitchers combining for 15 of them (5 by Aaron Heilman, 4 by Danny Tamayo, 3 by Ogilvie, 3 by Tom Thornton):
3/2/01 – Aaron Heilman vs. Florida Atlantic (in St. Petersburg; 3-0)
3/12/01 – Danny Tamayo vs. New Mexico (in Fresno; 3-0)
3/16/01 – Heilman vs. Illinois (in Fresno; 9-5)
3/23/01 – Heilman at Pittsburgh (3-0; Tamayo had 7-inning CG earlier that day in 3-0 win)
4/10/01 – Mike Naumann vs. Chicago State (5-2)
4/14/01 – Tamayo vs. West Virginia (8-1; Heilman 7-inning CG earlier in 4-1 win)
4/28/01 – Tamayo at St. John’s (5-0; Heilman in 7-inning CG in earlier 3-2 win)
5/10/01 – Peter Ogilvie vs. Michigan (9-1)
5/18/01 – Heilman vs. Rutgers (BIG EAST Tournament; 6-2)
5/27/01 – Tamayo loss in 9.1 IP vs. Florida International (NCAAs; 6-7)
5/28/01 – Ogilvie vs. FIU (NCAAs (NCAAs; 5-2)
4/1/02 – J.P. Gagne vs. BYU (1-0)
4/12/02 – Ogilvie vs. Virginia Tech (4-2)
5/18/02 – Ogilvie vs. Boston Cellege (5-2)
6/1/02 – Grant Johnson vs. South Alabama (NCAA South Bend Regional; 25-1)
5/24/03 – Matt Laird vs. Rutgers (BIG EAST title game; 11-3)
3/27/04 – Tom Thornton at West Virginia (4-0)
4/9/05 – Thornton vs. Boston College (in Brockton; 3-2)
4/16/05 – Thornton vs. Connecticut (7-1)
Connecticut 0-0-0 0-1-0 0-1 – 2 6 0
Notre Dame 1-0-0 0-0-0 0-2 – 3 10 1
Doubles: Tony Malozzi (UConn), Bryan Maker (UConn).
Connecticut (21-13, 4-6 BIG EAST) 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-0-0 – 1 6 3
Notre Dame (19-5, 7-4 BIG EAST) 0-1-0 0-4-0 0-2-X – 7 14 0
Rich Sirois (L, 5-3), David Erickson (8) and Larry Day.
Tom Thornton (W, 4-4) and Sean Gaston
Triple: Greg Lopez (ND).
Doubles: Craig Cooper (ND), Cody Rizzo (ND), Jeff Hourigan (UConn)