May 24, 2005
Notre Dame junior outfielder Craig Cooper (Plainview, N.Y.) has been tabbed for national hitter-of-the-week honors, as selected by the National College Baseball Writers of America. It caps off an award-filled past few days for Cooper, who also had been named the BIG EAST player of the week for the first time in his career after repeating as the BIG EAST batting champ (the second player ever to do so, and first in nearly 10 years) and surging near the top of the BIG EAST record book list for career batting average in conference games.
Cooper batted 13-for-22 (.565) and extended his career-best hitting streak to 10 games as the Irish won four straight BIG EAST games during the week (one at Pittsburgh and a three-game series vs. West Virginia) while gaining a midweek split with a USC team that was ranked as high as 17th in the national polls. Cooper’s stinging righthanded swing and improving plate discipline helped him lead the team during the week in batting avg. (.565), RBI (13), slugging pct. (.957), OPS (1.550, on-base plus slugging), runs (8), hits (13), home runs (2) and total bases (22). He also hit a team-best 4-for-4 with 2 outs and 7-for-10 with runners in scoring position, with his other stats for the week including three doubles, two walks, one time hit-by-pitch, a .593 on-base pct., just two strikeouts and a stolen base.
In the four league games, Cooper hit 9-for-14 (.643, 9 RBI, 2 HR, 2B, 2 BB, K, SB) to run away with the BIG EAST batting title. The Chaminade High School product ended up batting .403 in 2005 BIG EAST games, ending up 16 points ahead of second-place finishers Doug Nelms of West Virginia and Dan McDonald of Seton Hall (both hit .386). Cooper also led the league in batting as a sophomore (.470, in ’04) and joined former Boston College player Kevin Penwell (’95 and ’96) as the only repeat batting champions in the 21-year history of BIG EAST baseball.
Cooper’s surge also moved him into third place on the list for career batting average in BIG EAST games, at .420 (68-for-162). The only players in BIG EAST history to hit at a higher clip in conference action for their career are former Rutgers player Joe Cirone (.443, 51-for-115; ’97-’00) and former Seton Hall standout Marteese Robinson (.432, 83-for-192; ’85-’87). Cooper joins Cirone as the only players in the past 18 seasons to hit above .420 or higher in their BIG EAST career.
The Irish ended the season with eight games in seven days, capped by six games in six days last week. Cooper opened the week at Pittsburgh with the added challenge of shifting into the leadoff spot for the first time since the season opener and he responded with Notre Dame’s first leadoff home run of the season before adding a three-run shot in that 21-1 win (3-for-5, 5 RBI, 4 R, BB). He returned home to Eck Stadium and helped upset the Trojans (13-6; 3-for-5, 2 RBI, R, 2B) before shifting to the 3-hole for the WVU series (senior 1B Matt Edwards had been the ND 3-hole hitter all season prior to last week’s action).
Cooper – the fifth recent Notre Dame player to earn a national player-of-the-week honor and the program’s 19th to receive BIG EAST player-of-the-week honors – closed the week by batting 6-for-9 vs. WVU (4 RBI, 2 R, 2B, BB, SB, SF), as the Irish secured a BIG EAST Tournament spot. He scored in the tight opener (3-1; 2-for-2, BB) and helped secure the postseason berth by batting 3-for-3 with 3 RBI in the 7-3 series finale (2B, SF).
Cooper is batting .487 (18-for-37) with 16 RBI (8 R, 5 2B, 2 HR, 3 BB, HBP, 4 Ks, SAC, SB) during his current 10-game hitting streak, the second-longest by an Irish player in 2005 behind a 15-game midseason streak from Alex Nettey
For the season, Cooper ranks 2nd among Notre Dame players in six categories – slugging pct. (.533), RBI (55), home runs (7), doubles (13), stolen bases (14) and total bases (97) – also ranking 3rd in batting avg. (.335), on-base pct. (.458), runs (41), hits (61) and walks (29), 4th in hit-by-pitch (14) and games played (53), and 5th in sac. bunts (4) and starts (51). He ranks among the team’s top clutch hitter, batting a team-best .435 with runners in scoring position while also ranking 2nd on the team in 2-out batting (.393) and batting with runners on base (.373), 3rd in 2-out RBI (14), and 5th in leadoff on-base pct. (.442).
Cooper’s run-producing tear landed him in the No. 2 spot on the BIG EAST overall RBI charts (55), trailing only his teammate Edwards (62). In addition to returning atop the BIG EAST charts for conference batting avg., Cooper also repeated as the league’s leader for on-base pct. in conference games (.529, after .471 in ’04) while finishing 8th in league slugging pct. (.582), 6th in RBI (19) and 10th in doubles (6) and walks (12).
Only four players in the league finished with a higher OPS (on-base plus slugging) during 2005 BIG EAST games than Cooper’s 1.111: Pittsburgh sophomore 2B Jim Negrych (1.311) and junior CF Ben Copeland (1.205), Cooper’s classmate and fellow junior OF Cody Rizzo (surged to 1.111; .514 OB, .648 slugging) and WVU junior 1B Stan Posluszny (1.122).
Five other recent Notre Dame players have received national weekly honors. Righthander Aaron Heilman was named the Collegiate Baseball magazine national pitcher of the week twice during his junior season in 2000, after posting a 12-strikeout game in a 6-4 win over Georgia (March 9, at the Minnesota Metrodome) and an 18-K game in a 3-1, 10-inning win at West Virginia (April 15). Then-sophomore RF Brian Stavisky opened the 2001 season by batting .692 (9-for-13) and reaching base 10 consecutive times at the Mississippi State Classic, earning the weekly hitter honor from the NCBWA and CB’s national player-of-the-week award.
The 25-1 win over South Alabama in the 2002 NCAAs resulted in then-sophomore 2B Steve Sollmann (6-for-7, 7 RBI, 6 R, HR, 2 3B) and then-freshman RHP Grant Johnson (1-hitter, 8 Ks, BB, HBP, 30 BF) earning the respective player/hitter and pitcher-of-the-week awards from the NCBWA and CB. Most recently, then-freshman catcher Sean Gaston earned the NCBWA hitter-of-the-week honor after opening his career by batting 10-for-12 during games played in Boca Raton, Fla., vs. Winthrop, Florida Memorial and Minnesota (6 RBI, 7 R, 3 2B, 2 SB).
A total of 19 Notre Dame players – including Edwards (4/7/03), current sophomore catcher Sean Gaston (3/1/04) and current junior shortstop Greg Lopez (4/19/04) – now have combined to earn 31 BIG EAST player-of-the-week awards, since ND joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96. The Notre Dame program also has produced 29 BIG EAST pitcher-of-the-week recipients in the past 10 years, including three honors during his career for current junior lefthander Tom Thornton.
Notre Dame’s previous all-time BIG EAST player-of-the-week recipients include four three-time honorees – Stavisky (4/24/00, 2/19/01, 4/2/01), SS Alec Porzel (5/0/00, 4/15/01, 5/7/01), Sollmann (2/24, 3/17 and 5/19 in ’03) and SS/3B Matt Macri (4/21/03, 4/5/04, 5/17/04) – plus four other two-time recipients in catcher Jeff Wagner (4/7/97, 5/5/97), SS/3B Brant Ust (4/3/98, 3/29/99), 1B Jeff Felker (4/15, 5/12), catcher Paul O’Toole (5/13/00, 4/1/02) and CF Steve Stanley (2/26, 4/23). The other eight ND position players who have received weekly BIG EAST honors include catcher Mike Amrhein (3/17/97), OF Allen Greene (4/28/97), SS J.J. Brock (3/16/98), catcher Mike Knecht (5/4/98), 3B/C Andrew Bushey (2/25/02) and 1B Joe Thaman (5/13/02).