March 12, 2004
ROUND ROCK, Texas – Chris Niesel has pitched in plenty of low-scoring games during his Notre Dame career and Friday’s matchup provided yet another tight finish, with the junior righthander and his teammates making the timely plays to deliver a 4-2 win for No.8 Notre Dame over 19th-ranked Arizona, in second-day Round Rock Classic action at Dell Diamond.
Notre Dame (11-1) – which already has beaten five ranked opponents while matching the 1936 and 1960 teams for the best 12-game starts by a Notre Dame team in the last 89 seasons – had several chances to break the game open, putting runners on base every inning en route to 19 total baserunners (with 15 left on base). A win by the Irish on Saturday versus Texas Tech would yield the program’s first 12-1 start since 1910 while the top all-time start with one loss belongs to the 1908 Notre Dame team that opened 20-1 (the 1907 team started 17-0 and reached 19-1, as one of just five ND teams ever to open 13-0 or 12-1).
Niesel (3-0) extended his career record to 16-1 and now has won his last 12 decisions with the Irish, after scattering 10 hits over seven innings versus the Wildcats. The All-American – whose ND career has included several strong outings that did not result in a win being added to his record – allowed single runs in the 5th and 7th innings, totaling six strikeouts and just one walk in the 102-pitch outing.
Arizona (10-7-1) ended the scoreless game in the top of the 5th before answering two Notre Dame runs with a tying score in the 7th. The Irish continued to play error-free in the field (for the sixth time in 2004) and had the final answer by scoring in the 7th and 8th, both runs coming unearned without the benefit of a hit.
The Wildcats owned a 13-5 hitting edge but the Irish put 14 other runners on base, including seven walks and three players hit-by-pitch.
Notre Dame – which continued to play without injured rightfielder Cody Rizzo (out indefinitely with a wrist injury) – pushed across the game’s decisive run in the bottom of the 7th. Senior righthanded reliever Scott Burns lost sophomore DH Steve Andres on a leadoff walk and the Irish caught a break two batters later, when third baseman Moises Duran threw errantly trying to force Andres at second base on a routine grounder. Sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez then delivered his 15th RBI of the young season, lifting a sacrifice fly to shallow center (Andres completed a tricky hook slide to avoid Nick Hundley’s tag for the 3-2 lead).
The Wildcats then were in prime position to tie the game – or take the lead – in the top of the 8th, with one out and runners on second and third. Sophomore closer Ryan Doherty took the mound in relief of freshman Dan Kapala and fell behind switch-hitter Trevor Crowe, who fouled off the next two pitches before going down swinging for the key second out. Hundley then flew out to center field, preserving the one-run lead.
Arizona opened the scoring in the 5th, after Hundley and Jordan Brown led off with a pair of two-strike singles. Senior catcher Javi Sanchez then nailed Hundley trying to swipe third (one of three baserunners thrown out by Sanchez) but Brad Boyer came through with a two-out, RBI single up the middle.
Notre Dame seized the lead in the next inning, cashing in two hits and two other baserunners for a 2-1 game. Junior righthanded starter Luiz Cortez – a transfer from Texas – hit Greg Lopez with an 0-1 pitch before later issuing a two-out walk to Steve Sollmann on four pitches. Freshman centerfielder Danny Dressman then sent the next pitch into the right-center gap, tying the game, and junior first baseman Matt Edwards followed with his own first-pitch single up the middle to give the Irish the lead.
The Wildcats tied the game moments later, sparked by Crowe’s leadoff double to left-center (on another two-strike hit). Hundley then converted a sacrifice bunt and Brown sent a 1-2 pitch through the left side for a 2-2 game.
Notre Dame added an insurance run in the 8th, after an errant throw from shortstop Jason Donald allowed the leadoff hitter Sollmann to reach and take second. Junior Derek Rodriguez then came on to relieve fellow righthander Pat Lawler and Dressman bunted the runner to third. Sollmann – whose hustle down the line allowed him to reach second on the potential routine groundout – then showcased his stellar baserunning on the ensuing leftside groundball off the bat of Edwards. Donald opted to throw home but Sollmann slid home for the final 4-2 cushion.
Sollmann nearly made a highlight-reel defensive play to end the game, when Boyer looped a ball down the rightfield line. The Irish second baseman tracked the ball and made a full-extension dive near the line, with the ball bouncing out of his glove for a double. But Doherty had the situation under control, popping up Duran (fittingly to Sollmann) for the final out to complete his second save of the season.
# 19 ARIZONA (10-7-1) 0-0-0 0-1-0 1-0-0 – 2 13 2
# 8 NOTRE DAME (11-1) 0-0-0 0-0-2 1-1-0 – 4 5 0
Luis Cortez, Scott Burns (6; L, 0-1), Chris Frey (7), Pat Lawler (8), Derek Rodriguez (8) and Nick Hundley.
Chris Niesel (W, 3-0), Dan Kapala (8), Ryan Doherty (8; SV, 2) and Javi Sanchez.
Doubles: Craig Cooper (ND), Trevor Crowe (ARIZ), Brad Boyer (ARIZ).