April 21, 2005

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Craig Cooper followed up Tuesday night’s game-ending home run by hitting a grand slam in the 1st inning of Wednesday’s game but Notre Dame still needed four runs in the 6th to surge past visiting Valparaiso, 9-8, giving the Irish eight wins in their last nine games.

Notre Dame (22-15) – in the midst of a rare stretch of five straight game-days – led briefly after Cooper’s grand slam but Valparaiso (10-20) quickly tied the game and carried an 8-5 lead into the middle innings.

Senior lefthander Scott Bickford (2-1) picked up the win as the second of four Notre Dame relief pitchers. Bickford allowed a hit and struck out a batter while registering the final out in the 5th and pitching all of the 6th. The veteran member of Notre Dame’s group of five lefthanded pitchers now has totaled 11 strikeouts with just one walk this season, in 16.2 innings of work.

Freshman righthander Tony Langford – who recorded two clutch outs to win Tuesday’s 12-inning battle with Purdue – faced a pair of similar jams versus the Crusaders, with the tying run on third base and one out in both the 8th and 9th innings. Langford allowed a hit and three walks in the 1.2 innings but had one strikeout and notched four other outs to earn his first save with the Irish (just 23 hours after his first win).

Junior centerfielder Alex Nettey (2-for-4, 2 R) followed up his 4-for-6 game vs. Purdue with another solid night from the leadoff spot while junior catcher Matt Bransfield (2-for-4, 3 RBI) was the only other Irish player with multiple hits and supplied the eventual game-winning single. Cooper was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded for his fifth RBI of the night (his home run ended up being ND’s only extra-base hit of the game).

Notre Dame managed to bring home its nine runs despite totaling just seven hits while Valpo scored only eight runs on a 16-hit attack.

Notre Dame’s decisive surge came in the 6th, started by junior shortstop Greg Lopez’s first-pitch single through the left side. Nettey then sent the next pitch through the right side for an opposite-field single and junior righthander Jordan Smolar (0-2; 3.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 3 Ks) hit freshman third baseman Brett Lilley with a 1-0 pitch, loading the bases.

Senior first baseman Matt Edwards coaxed a full-count walk to force home one run (8-6) and Smolar then hit his third batter of the night, plunking Cooper on a 1-0 pitch. Freshman righthander John Snelten took the mound and struck out Langford (whose pitching atoned for his 0-for-4 night as the DH) – but Bransfield pulled a 1-2 pitch through the infield as two runs scampered home for the 9-8 lead.

The game featured scoring in six of the first seven half-innings. The visitors jumped on freshman righthander Joey Williamson for three runs in the 1st, thanks to five singles in the inning.

Freshman righthander Dallas Cawiezell hit Nettey with an 0-2 pitch to start the bottom of the inning and Lilley walked on four pitches before a throwing error on shortstop John Giusti loaded the bases. Cooper fell into an 0-2 hole but cracked the next pitch down the leftfield line and over the fence for his fifth home run of the season and 15th of his Notre Dame career.

The Crusaders came right back to tie the game, manufacturing a run on a hit, hit-by-pitch and RBI groundout. The visitors then claimed a 6-4 lead with two runs in the 3rd, after a pair of run-scoring singles through the infield.

Notre Dame continued the scoring moments later when Edwards sent a 2-2 pitch through the left side, moved up on a two-out stolen base and scored on Bransfield’s first-pitch single between the shortstop and third baseman.

Valparaiso claimed even a bigger lead (8-5) with two more in the 4th, thanks to doubles from Michael Arensdorf and Colin Reynolds and Jon Rupno’s RBI single.

NOTES: ND now has totaled 36 runs in the 1st inning this season (in 37 games), scoring in the 1st inning of 16 games (with multiple 1st-inning runs in nine games) … the bases-loaded walk gives Edwards 176 career RBI, tying J.J. Brock (’94-’98) for 6th in ND history (next up is ND career home run leader Jeff Wagner, who totaled 189 from ’96-`99) … Cooper proved to be a streaky home-run in 2004, when his 10 HRs included a grand slam in the 15-5 win over Chicago State … Lopez made his first error in nine games, halting his streak at 50 chances without an E …Lilley was HBP for the 17th time this season (he entered the week ranked 5th in HBPs) … Nettey (9 for season), Cooper (7) and Lopez (9 and 10) also had HBPs – pushing ND’s season total to 77 … only the 2004 team (106; 5th in NCAA history) has totaled more HBPs in a season (the ’03-’05 ND teams now have combined for 257 HBPs) … the Irish are averaging 2.08 HBPs per game and are on pace for 117 in the regular season (the NCAA record is 125, by Nevada in 1997).

Valparaiso (10-20) 3-1-2 2-0-0 0-0-0 – 8 16 3

Notre Dame (22-15) 4-0-1 0-0-4 0-0-X – 9 7 1

Dallas Cawiezell, Jordan Smolar (3; L, 0-2), John Snelten (6), Jay Clites (8) and Josh Piazza.

Joey Williamson, Tyler Jones (4), Scott Bickford (5; W, 2-1), Mike Dury (7), Tony Langford (8; SV, 1) and Matt Bransfield

Home Run: Craig Cooper, ND (grand slam in 1st; 5th of season, 15th of career).

Doubles: Kevin Perri (VAL), Michael Arensdorff (VAL), Colin Reynolds (VAL).