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Dominating All-Around Game Leads Irish To 13-5 NCAA Opening Win Over Arizona (complete recap and notes)

May 30, 2003

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The Notre Dame baseball team – despite starting five position players who never had played in an NCAA Tournament game – opened the NCAA postseason on Friday in similar fashion to its BIG EAST Tournament opening win last week vs. West Virginia, as the Irish matched their 17-hit assault from the WVU game while again receiving a strong start from a senior righthander (Ryan Kalita) and playing one of the team’s best all-around defensive games of the year. It all added up to a 13-5 win for the third-seeded Irish over No. 2 seed Arizona, sending Notre Dame on to a matchup with regional host Cal State Fullerton (the No. 7 national seed) in Saturday’s pivotal winner’s bracket game (4:00 PDT, 6:00 in South Bend; live telecast on CSTV DirectTV channel 610, with local feed on South Bend’s WHME-46).

Notre Dame (44-16) remained unbeaten in six NCAA Regional openers during the nine-year Paul Mainieri era while the Irish now have yet to go 0-2 in 17 total postseason tournaments during nine years of play under Mainieri (who now is just two wins shy of his 400th win with the Irish).

The 13 runs rank as the fifth-highest scoring output in the program’s 71 all-time NCAA Tournament games and are ND’s third-most runs in the NCAAs since the 1957 College World Series season (spanning 60 games), trailing only a 15-1 opening win over Mississippi State at the 1992 Atlantic Regional (held at Miami) and last season’s 25-1 win over South Alabama at the South Bend Regional.

The win also established Kalita and the six other seniors – fellow RHPs J.P. Gagne, Matt Laird, Peter Ogilvie and Brandon Viloria, CF Kris Billmaier and 1B Mike Holba – as the winningest class in Notre Dame baseball history (189-65-1), besting the 188-65-1 posted during the careers of the class of 2002.

Arizona (35-22) pounced on Kalita for two runs in the second inning but his teammates picked him up in a big way moments later, sending 10 batters to the plate while racking up seven runs in the second. The onslaught continued with two runs in the third and four more in the fourth, with Arizona cutting into the deficit on a pair of runs in the eighth (as Kalita was tiring) and adding a run in the ninth versus freshman righthander Ryan Doherty (after second base was conceded on a stolen-base attempt).

All nine Irish starters had collected hits by the fifth inning – including eight of the team’s first 13 hits that came on 2-strike counts – and freshman DH Matt Bransfield came off the bench to add a hit of his own in the ninth. Junior righthander Richie Gardner (9-3) was roughed up for nine runs on 10 hits and two walks, lasting only three innings while throwing 70 pitches (the nine earned runs were the most allowed by Gardner this season while the 10 hits were second-most).

Two juniors – the steady Sollmann (3-for-5, 2 RBI, R, BB, 2 SB) and surging catcher Javi Sanchez (3-for-4, RBI, 3 R) – paced one of the highest hit totals in the program’s NCAA history while the five players making their first NCAA start combined to hit 7-for-21 with 7 RBI, 7 runs scored, 4 walks and 3 extra-base hits. Those big hits by the players making their NCAA debut included freshman rightfielder Cody Rizzo’s leadoff double in the 2nd (which smacked off the leftfield wall), a bases-loaded triple by Edwards seven batters later and Macri’s 3-run shot off the scoreboard in the 4th.

Kalita (7-1) improved to 14-1 in his Notre Dame career after another trademark performance that again saw single-digit balls leave the infield (9) while matching the longest outing of his career (8 IP). The second-team all-BIG EAST performer put the clamps on Arizona from the 2nd-7th innings, allowing just five of the nine hits against him and one walk during that six-inning stretch. Each of his career-best eight strikeouts also came in the 2nd-7th, over a span of 21 batters faced.

Kalita entered the day with an average of 20.2 outs per nine innings via strikeouts or groundouts and the 6-2, 210-pound righthander used the same formula to hold down the Wildcats. All but three of Kalita’s 24 outs came courtesy of Ks (8), GOs (10, including three groundball double-plays), an infield foulout and an infield lineout double play. His last four outings include a 2.42 ERA, 2-1 record and 2.5 K-to-walk ratio (24/9), plus 26 hits allowed in 26 IP.

The 7-run eruption matched ND’s most runs in an inning since April 10 (a span of 28 games) and represented the team’s 21st “big inning” (5-plus runs) of the season, with the Irish scoring more times in one frame just four times all season. It also extended ND’s 2nd-inning dominance that now includes a 71-13 scoring edge during the 2nd.

The Irish posted their 22nd error-free game of season and are averaging roughly one error per game (66 Es in 66 GP) – but none of the season-high four double plays could have been considered routine, providing great highlight-reel material for the CSTV production crew. The first came with runners on first and second in the bottom of the 2nd, as Arizona looked to answer the big Irish inning. Kalita fell behind 2-hole hitter Moises Duran, who had the green light on a 3-1 pitch and scorched a linedrive headed for left field – but sophomore third baseman Matt Edwards snagged the ball and flipped to second, doubling off Pat Reilly to end the inning.

The big play shifted to the other side one inning later, with a runner on first and All-American 5-hole hitter Jeff Van Houten looking at a 1-1 count. Van Houten’s quick bat sent a low shot that could have skipped down the rightfield line – but junior Joe Thaman showcased his skills as one of the finest defensive first basemen in all of college baseball, deftly picking off the smash before stepping on first and sending a lefthanded throw to sophomore shortstop Matt Macri to force out Derek Decater and kill the threat.

Kalita mowed down the 6-8 hitters on 10 pitches in the 4th (with two Ks and the rightside foulout) and gave up just one hit in the 5th before serving up another double play in the 6th. This one came with Van Houten on first and DH Trevor Crowe facing a full count. Crowe drove the next pitch up the middle but Macri ranged to his left and shoveled the ball to Sollmann as he was falling down behind the bag, with Sollmann completing the throw to end another threat.

The final double play came in the 7th, when Sollmann handled a tricky first-pitch ground ball up the middle off the bat of Reilly, with Sollmann stepping on second to force and throwing on to Thaman (forcing out Nick Hundley for the second out).

Sanchez followed Rizzo’s double in the 2nd with an RBI single before scoring on Thaman’s first of two opposite-field doubles to the left-center gap. Freshman leftfielder Brennan Grogan then pushed the Irish in front with a single up the middle before Edwards’ triple off the leftfield wall pushed the lead to 6-2.

Notre Dame 0-0-7 2-4-0 0-0-0 – 13 17 0

Arizona 2-0-0 0-0-0 0-2-1 – 5 11 0

Ryan Kalita (7-1), Ryan Doherty (9) and Javi Sanchez.

Richie Gardner (L, 9-3), Derek Rodriguez (4), Chris Goodman (5) and Nick Hundley.

Home Run: Matt Macri, ND (2 on in 4th, 4th of season).

Triple: Matt Edwards (ND).

Doubles: Joe Thaman 2 (ND), Cody Rizzo (ND).


13-5 win vs. Arizona ( May 30, 2003; NCAA Fullerton Regional, first round)

* Notre Dame’s 6-0 mark in NCAA Regional openers includes wins over three higher seeds (Virginia, Tulane and Arizona) … ND also won the opener at Florida State in the 2002 Super Regional but lost its CWS opener vs. Stanford in a one-run game (4-3) … the Irish never have gone 0-2 in any postseason tournament during the Mainieri era (17 total; six NCAA Regionals, one Super Regional, one CWS and nine conference tournaments) … the Irish now are 15-11 in NCAA games during the Mainieri era (7-3 in the last 10), including 8-8 vs. higher seeds … the win was Mainieri’s 398th at Notre Dame and 730th overall.

* The 17-hit attack matched the team’s 4th-most hits in the last 42 NCAA Tournament games (dating back to 1989), behind the 32 vs. South Alabama (’02), 21 vs. Mississippi State (’93) and 20 vs. UC Santa Barbara (’01, in 10 innings).

* All four of ND’s postseason wins have come from senior RHPs (also J.P. Gagne, Kalita and Matt Laird in the BIG EAST Tournament).

* The Irish now have won by 5-plus runs (“big wins”) 22 times this season.

* ND’s seven runs in the 2nd inning matched the team’s 5th-highest scoring in any inning this season, behind an 8-run inning vs. Chicago State and 9-run innings vs. Georgetown, Detroit and St. John’s.

* The five ND players making their first appearance in an NCAA Tournament game included Edwards and Macri (both injured in ’02), plus the freshman trio of Rizzo, Grogan and DH Steve Andres … Rizzo, from nearby Temecula, added another huge defensive play in the bottom of the 9th, sprinting all the way from his RF spot and making a headfirst grab of a ball in shallow CF (with four of his teammates also converging on a ball obscured by the sun) … Rizzo’s 52 runs scored in 2003 rank as the 4th-most ever by an ND freshman … Edwards extended his hitting streak to nine games and is hitting .500 in that streak (19-for-38, 13 RBI) while his 68 RBI are the most by an ND player since Mike Amrhein had 71 and Jeff Wagner 69 in 1997.

* The Irish now have totaled eight home runs in the last 12 games, after going seven games without a single HR (ND has three HRs in five postseason games).

* Senior CF Kris Billmaier, who brought a .471 career NCAA Tournament batting avg. into the game, hit 1-for-5 while extending his hitting streak to seven games.

* Sollmann moved past 2000 grad. Jeff Felker (246) and former teammate Paul O’Toole (247, ’99-’02) into 8th place on the ND career hits list, with 248 … only two ND players have totaled more hits as juniors (Steve Stanley had 266 from ’99-’01 and Dan Peltier 257 from ’87-’89) … he also now ranks 7th on the ND single-season hit list with 91 (only Stanley has posted more hits in a season since 1995, with 102 in ’01 an 119 in ’02) … Sollmann extended his hitting streak to 10 games (his 2nd double-digit hit streak of the season and 4th of his career) and is batting 23-for-50 in the streak … Sollmann’s career batting avg. in the NCAAs improved to .470 (31-for-66, 16 RBI, 19 R, 5 SB), including 16-for-21 (.762) in ND’s last four NCAA Regional games.

* Sanchez followed up his BIG EAST Tournament MVP performance (8-for-11, 4 BB, 4 sac. bunts, 5 R, 6 RBI, 3 2B) with a 3-for-4 game … his totals in the last five games now include 11-for-15 batting (.733), 7 RBI and 8 runs scored … other top hitters in the five postseason games include Edwards (.476, 10-for-21, 8 RBI, 6 R, 3B, 2B, 3 BB), Grogan (.462, 6-for-13, 2 RBI, 5 R, 2 BB, 1-2 SB), Rizzo (.444, 8-for-18, 4 RBI, 8 R, 2B, 3 BB, 3 HBP), Bransfield (.429, 3-for-7, RBI, R, BB) and Sollmann (.407, 11-for-27, 3 RBI, 5 R, 2 BB, 4-4 SB).

* Edwards’ triple was similar to his 3-run double that opene the scoring in the 1st inning of last week’s BIG EAST title game vs. Rutgers.

* The Irish have turned in five straight double-digit hit games, batting .368 in that postseason stretch (70-for-190) while totaling 53 runs (9-plus in all five, double-digits in three).

* Sollmann (49) and Macri (44) now have combined for 93 error-free games up the middle and are the first ND teammates ever to post 170-plus fielding assists in the same season (Macri 174, Sollmann 172).

* Freshman RHP Ryan Doherty saw his streak of not allowing an earned run end at 14 appearances and 23.0 innings (dating back to the season opener vs. Dayton on Feb. 21).

* The Irish put six of their first seven leadoff batters on base, equaling the most leadoff baserunners in one game this season.

* ND now has been shut out just once in its last 310 games.

* Arizona was one of three teams that never had lost to the Irish in a minimum of five games played (now 5-1).

* Sophomore RHP Chris Niesel is ND’s probable starter in Saturday’s 4:00 p.m. game (PDT) and was named a 2nd team All-American on Friday by Collegiate Baseball magazine … he joins Nick Palihnich (’60) and Aaron Heilman (’98-’01) as the only ND pitchers ever to earn All-America honors (eight ND position players have been All-Americans).


Coach Andy Lopez (Arizona Head Coach)….

“I have to give credit to Notre Dame because the seven runs that they scored in the second inning really seemed to take the wind of our our sails. They played great defense and made the outs when things might be starting to turn around for our players. Richie seemed a little out of sc?ne this afternoon, but I think that he will battle back the next time that he takes the mound for us.”

Richie Gardner (Arizona Starting Pitcher)….

“In today’s game, my fastball just was not there. Notre Dame capitalized on my mistakes and turned those into runs. I think that tomorrow every single player on the U of A roster is going to go out and give 100% and leave everything on the field because this could be our final game of the season. We have one game to turn things around and tomorrow is going to be do or die for this team.”

Coach Paul Maineri (Notre Dame Head Coach)….

“This is a tremendous victory for our team. There are no words to describe how proud I am of this ball team. We have a young team with four freshman in the starting lineup and we just seem to get better and better as time progresses. The key to today’s win was the fact that we recorded a lot of hits with two strikes and Ryan pitched the game of his life for us.”

“It is great to be in the winner’s bracket because I do not feel that you win the regional if you lose the first game and are not in the winner’s bracket. Arizona might prove us wrong, but that is my thinking and our confidence will hopefully continue through the weekend.”

Matt Macri (Notre Dame Starting Shortstop)….

“Our defense was amazing today and turning the double play in the seventh inning really seemed to cap how great our defense was all day long. On the home run in the fourth inning, I was not sure if it was gone but I knew that I had gotten all of his curve ball.”

Joe Thaman (Notre Dame Starting First Baseman)….

“For the first time in my career, I think that I stepped up to the plate and noticed that they had a shift on me. They had moved the shortstop and third baseman a little towards right field, which is my pull side. Even though they put a shift on me, my approach did not change for one at-bat to another.”

Ryan Kalita (Notre Dame Starting Pitcher)….

“When the game first began, I had to get used to the surroundings of the field and was not in the groove that I found as the game wore on. The defense behind me really picked it up and allowed me to stay focused and work a batter at a time and not allow Arizona to get back into the game. Once I began throwing first pitch strikes on a consistent basis, I was able to find my groove and use that for the remainder of the game.”