May 20, 2006
PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. – It came down to his final at-bat in the final game of the regular season and Craig Cooper delivered with a ringing single into right field, completing his 3-for-4 game in 19th-ranked Notre Dame’s 12-1 victory over Villanova. In the process, the second first baseman claimed the BIG EAST record for career batting average in BIG EAST games – finishing at .444 (120-for-270) for the best mark in the 22-year history of BIG EAST baseball.
(** Note: Check back to this release for complete recap, updated notes, gameday photos and quotes … the Irish had a quick getaway, with the senior returning to campus for graduation while the rest of the team is heading directly to the Tampa area for the conference tournament … note that Friday’s recap now includes additional notes and photos from that 6-2 win.**).
Notre Dame (41-14-1, 21-5-1 BIG EAST) now heads to Clearwater, Fla., looking to extend its unprecedented run of BIG EAST Tournament titles to five. The Irish will face the local team and 8th-seeded South Florida in the final first-round game of the double-elimination tournament on Tuesday, May 23 (8:00 p.m.), at Brighthouse Networks Field – the spring-training home of the Philadelphia Phillies. St. John’s and West Virginia were the probable teams (as the 4th and 5th seed) that will join ND and USF in the same bracket of the eight-team tournament (the winners of the two brakets will meet in the May 27th championship game).
The 41 regular-season wins match the fourth-most ever by a Notre Dame teams while the 21 BIG EAST wins have been bested just once in the conference’s history, by Notre Dame’s 2001 team that went 22-4 in league play.
Tom Thornton (6-2) improved to 26-10 in his 51st career start, logging 5.0 innings and 69 pitches in a controlled start. The senior lefthander allowed one run on six hits and no walks while striking out two Villanova batters.
Cooper ends the regular season with a .432 overall batting average while claiming an unprecedented third career BIG EAST batting title (for conference games). He hit .491 in 2006 BIG EAST games, representing one of the highest averages by a BIG EAST batting champ. Since 1989, only four of the previous 16 BIG EAST batting champs – former Rutgers shortstop Darren Fenster (.505, in ’99), former ND infielder Brant Ust (.493, in ’98), former UConn centerfielder Mike Scott (.491, in ’01) and former ND catcher/DH Jeff Wagner (.488, in ’97) – have claimed the BIG EAST batting title with a higher avg. than Cooper’s .481.
The Notre Dame pitching staff enters the postseason on a roll, having allowed just nine runs in the past five games.
Thornton and junior righthander Jeff Samardzija (20-7) give Notre Dame multiple pitchers with 20-plus career wins. It marks just the third time in the program’s history – and first season since 1993 – that an Irish staff has featured multiple pitchers with 20-plus career victories.
#19 Notre Dame (41-14-1, 21-5-1 BIG EAST) 3-0-0 1-0-2 2-4-0 – 12 14 1
Villanova (27-27, 8-18 BIG EAST) 0-0-1 0-0-0 0-0-0 – 1 8 2