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Epic Battle Ends In 5-3, 19-Inning Loss At Rutgers; Irish Still Clinch BIG EAST Tournament Spot

May 11, 2003

Box Score

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The Notre Dame-Rutgers rivalry in BIG EAST baseball added another memorable – and highly-unique – chapter on Sunday at the Class of ’53 Complex, as the Scarlet Knights won a marathon game that lasted 19 innings and nearly five hours (4:42). Senior first baseman Steve Normane ended the game on a wind-blown home run down the rightfield line, providing an unhappy ending to the longest game of the nine-year Paul Mainieri era at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame had broken up sophomore righthander Aaron Kalb’s no-hit bid in the sixth, when junior second baseman Steve Sollmann’s two-run shot over the rightfield fence yielded a 2-1 lead, but Rutgers tied the game in the ninth (on an unconventional sequence that included just one hit). The Irish again were three outs from the win after scoring in the 15th but Rutgers matched the ND run to set up four more innings of play (the game ultimately produced some gaudy numbers, including 511 pitches and 44 baserunners, see list below).

Despite the loss, Notre Dame (37-14, 15-6 BIG EAST) clinched a spot in the four-team BIG EAST Tournament by virtue of Boston College’s 3-1 loss at St. John’s (dropping BC to 11-10) while Rutgers (30-15, 17-5) kept pace with West Virginia (16-4, after Sunday’s pair of wins over Villanova) in the running for the regular-season title. WVU controls its destiny for the top seed, with one game left vs. VU and a three-game series vs. BC, while Notre Dame needs one win next week at Virginia Tech (14-9) to clinch a top-three finish. The Irish likely will not finish higher than third, needing a combination of five ND wins/RU losses at UConn to overtake the Knights while a combination of six ND wins/WVU losses is needed to pass the Mountaineers.

Four senior righthanders – namely starter Ryan Kalita and veteran relievers J.P. Gagne and Matt Laird – led the way for an ND pitching staff that held the RU offense to a .265 overall series batting average (nearly 50 points below its season average) and just 15 total runs in the three-game series (in 35 innings of play).

Kalita had yet another quality start with no-decision, striking out six while allowing one run on five hits and three walks (he located 56 of his 93 pitches for strikes). Freshman righthander Ryan Doherty and senior Brandon Viloria followed with shutout innings before Gagne – one day after setting the ND record with his 12th save of the season – turned in a gutsy six-inning, 78-pitch (47 strikes) stint.

Gagne had converted all of his save chances this season and was inches away from the 13th, after scattering four hits and three walks (with two Ks), before an unusual sequence brought home the tying run (2-2).

Alberto Vasquez started the bottom of the 9th with a first-pitch single up the middle and Mike Cerulo advanced pinch-runner Lee Moskowitz with one of RU’s five sacrifice bunts in the game. Gagne issued Johnny Defendis an intentional walk to set up the force play and blew a 2-2 pitch by pinch-hitter Colin Gaynor for the second out, with the tying run still at second base.

Graig Badger (who would end up 0-for-9 from his leadoff spot) then tapped a full-count pitch to the left side and Gagne made a slightly off-balance throw to first baseman Joe Thaman. The game appeared to be over but Thaman was ruled to have his foot off the bag (recorded as an error on Gagne) – with Moskowitz alertly continuing on from third amidst the confusion to force extra innings with an unearned run.

Senior righthander Matt Laird – who had won the 11-inning, series-sweeping game at RU as ND’s 2001 closer – added his own bulldog effort after relieving Gagne in the 14th. Laird (1-1) responded with 5.2 strong innings, allowing the three runs on four hits and one walk in the 70-pitch outing (47 strikes, three Ks). It was the second-longest outing of Laird’s ND career, trailing only a 7-inning start vs. Oakland in his freshman season (2000).

A pair of errors helped ND’s cause in the 15th, as singles by Cody Rizzo (down rightfield line, on 1-1 pitch vs. LHP Sean Atchison) and Matt Macri (RBI to left-center, first batter vs. RHP Chris Lillis) were mishandled respectively by the right and left fielders, with each player taking an extra base and the run coming unearned.

Vinny Esposito – who was thrown out at home in the third, after strong throws from Rizzo and Sollmann (see close-call notes below) – led off the bottom of the 15th with a 1-0 single through the left side and moved up on Normane’s sac. bunt. A costly wild pitch moved the runner to third and Jason Gaynor re-tied the game by sending a 2-2 pitch to right field for a sacrifice fly.

The teams were one out away from playing a 20th inning when Esposito sent a 1-0 pitch up the middle. Normane then worked ahead in the count (2-0) and lifted his sixth home run of the season down the line and over the rightfield fence.

Javi Sanchez had walked to open the sixth before Sollmann homered to a similar spot where Normane’s ball left the park, producing a 2-1 lead on a 2-1 pitch (his fourth home run of the season).

The game ranks as the longest of the Mainieri era, besting another 5-3 game won by ND vs. West Virginia on May 3, 1998, at Eck Stadium (ending in 4:20, on Alec Porzel’s home run). The Irish already had played two 13-inning games this season, besting Wake Forest (2-1) and losing at Villanova (3-2) in those games.

The 19-inning marathon possibly could be the longest in BIG EAST history (not kept in the BIG EAST record book), with the 123 combined at-bats breaking the previous BIG EAST record (111) shared by the 1998 ND-WVU game and a 1991 Providence-Seton Hall game.

(postgame notes below)

Notre Dame  0-0-0  0-0-2  0-0-0  0-0-0  0-0-1  0-0-0  0  -  3   9  2Rutgers     0-1-0  0-0-0  0-0-1  0-0-0  0-0-1  0-0-0  2  -  5  15  2

Ryan Kalita, Ryan Doherty (6), Brandon Viloria (7), J.P. Gagne (8), Matt Laird (14: L, 1-1) and Javi Sanchez.

Aaron Kalb, Sean Atchison (9), Chris Lillis (15; W, 2-2) and Alberto Vasquez, Colin Gaynor (10).

Home Runs: Steve Sollmann, ND (one on in 6th, 4th of season); Steve Normane, RU (one on in 19th; 6th of season).

Doubles: Joe Thaman (ND), Sollmann (ND), Normane (RU).

BY THE NUMBERS – Here’s a look at some of the raw numbers amassed over nearly five hours of play: 511 pitches (260 by ND), 144 batters trips to the plate (68 by ND), 44 baserunners (16 by ND), 32 half-inning zeroes on the scoreboard (15 by ND pitchers), 24 runners left on base (8 by ND), 24 hits (9 by ND), 23 strikeouts thrown (12 by ND), all 19 innings caught by Javi Sanchez (after 11 in Saturday DH), 14 walks (7 by ND), 13 extra-inning runners LOB (6 by ND), 12 half-innings that went 1-2-3 (4 by ND, all in extra innings), 11 leadoff baserunners (5 by ND), 11 runners on 2nd who did not score (5 by ND), 7 sac. bunts (2 by ND), 5 other runners on 3rd who did not score (1 by ND), 6 baserunners thrown out (4 by ND), 5 stolen bases (2 by ND), 4 intentional walks (1 by ND), only 3 players with extra-base hits (Sollmann, Thaman and Normane).

COULD-A, SHOULD-A, WOULD-A – There were plenty of close calls and scoring chances that could have helped end the game well before the 19th:

* Top of 2nd – Kris Billmaier was thrown out at 3rd on a failed hit-and-run play before Kalb overcame a pair of walks in the inning and left Steve Andres stranded on 3rd by rolling up a 2-out groundout.

* Top of 3rd- Sanchez was on 2nd with 1 out but was thrown out trying to take 3rd on a ball in the dirt.

* Bottom of 3rd – With 2 outs and Esposito on 1st, Normane drove a double to right-center and RU sent Esposito for home – but the RF Rizzo and 2B Sollmann make strong throws and Sanchez added the tag at the plate.

* Top of 5th- Andres – who had homered in Saturday’s 2-0 win – nearly left the park again, sending the first pitch of the inning deep to dead-center field (for a flyout).

* Bottom of 6th – Normane hit a 1-out single up the middle and stole 2nd but Doherty served up a pair of flyouts.

* Bottom of 7th – Defendis led off with a single to center but Viloria took the mound and rolled up a 4-6-3 double play.

* Bottom of 11th – A Jason Grover leadoff single, a balk call, a sac. bunt and intentional walk put runners on the corners but Gagne rolled up a grounder to the SS Macri, who threw home and Sanchez made the tag to keep ND alive … a wild pitch put another runner at 3rd but a flyout ended the inning.

* Top of 12th – Thaman hit a leadoff double to right-center, moved to 3rd on fly ball and then appeared to score when Andres tapped a ball to the right side of the infield (the 1B Normane had fielded the ball and was preparing to throw home as Thaman was sliding in) – but the ball was called foul, Andres ended up striking out and Atchison walked Rizzo before getting the final out on a foulout down the rightfield line.

* Bottom of 13th – Normane sent a leadoff single up the middle and moved up on a sac. bunt but Gagne extended the game with a popup, intentional walk and groundball.

* Bottom of 16th – Matt Wolski reached and took 2nd on a 2-out throwing error by 3B Greg Lopez but Laird induced a flyout.

* Top of 17th – Andres drew a 1-out walk and pinch-runner Craig Cooper stole second, followed by a flyout and intentional walk to Macri – but the SS Mike Bionde made a play in the hole and forced Cooper at 3rd.

* Top of 18th – Sollmann drove the right-center gap and was digging for a one-out triple but RU executed the 9-4-5 putout.

* Bottom of 18th – Jeff Grose drew a leadoff walk and moved up on a sac. bunt but Laird rolled up two 6-3 groundouts.

* Top of 19th – Thaman hit a leadoff single to right-center and ND was inches from executing the hit-and-run, but the 2B Badger stabbed a grounder to the right side, stepped on the bag and sent a rising throw to 1st for the double play.

SERIES NOTES – ND hit just .192 (23-for-120) in the thee games but stayed in contention with a 3.48 staff ERA and .965 fielding/5 Es (RU countered with a 1.54 ERA and just three errors/.979 fielding, to offset .265 hitting) … ND totaled seven runs while stranding 25 runners in the series … in Sunday’s game, ND hit just 1-for-20 with 2 outs (RU was 9-for-27) while the Irish hit 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position (RU 1-for-14) and had five leadoff batters reach (RU put six leadoff men on base).

POSTGAME NOTES – Half of the 26 games in the ND-RU series now have been decided by 1-2 runs (ND holds an 8-5 edge in those games and 15-11 overall series edge, 7-4 at RU) … Gagne’s stellar season now includes no earned runs allowed in his last eight appearances (spanning 17.2 IP, dropping his ERA to 2.15) … Gagne made his 89th career appearance (three shy of Chris Michalak’s ND record) and has cracked the ND top-10 list for career Ks (196) … his 36 career BIG EAST appearances are 3rd in the league record book, behind former Seton Hall pitchers Isaac Pavlik (38) and John Probst (37) … Gagne’s six career outings vs. RU now includes a 2.08 ERA in 26 IP (2-0, 15 H, 6 BB, 9 Ks) … the team ERA (3.37) should remain among the national top-15 … Doherty extended his own streak of no earned runs to 10 appearances and 18.1 IP (with his ERA dropping to 2.33).