April 30, 2000
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Senior first baseman Jeff Felker again delivered in the clutch for the Notre Dame baseball team in sun-splashed action Sunday at Eck Stadium, as the lanky lefthander delivered a walkoff home run to punctuate another wild game with St. John’s, as the Irish posted a 9-8 victory in the final game of their BIG EAST series with the Red Storm.
The win-coupled with Rutgers’ 9-7 loss at Seton Hall-moves the Irish just two games behind the Scarlet Knights (17-3) in the loss column, with Notre Dame returning to league play next weekend in a three-game home series versus Pittsburgh before closing at home with three games versus Rutgers.
The Irish (36-11, 14-5) have the luxury of losing one of the Pittsburgh games without it affecting their chances at the BIG EAST title-as Notre Dame must sweep all three games from RU, whether the Irish enter that weekend with a record of 17-5 or 16-6 (the title is determined by winning percentage, with the Knights losing their April 22 doubleheader vs. Villanova to a rainout).
Notre Dame now leads its series with St. John’s, 7-5, with all of the games coming since the Irish joined the BIG EAST in 1996. Five of the 12 ND-SJU games have been decided by a single run, plus Saturday’s two-run decision and two three-run games (the average margin of victory in the series has been just 2.9 runs). For the record, Notre Dame is 7-1 in one-run affairs this season.
Sunday’s wild finish saw the teams combine for 12 runs and 11 hits (three of them home runs) in the game’s final three innings.
St. John’s strategy of holding back its pitching ace-junior righthander Kevin McGerry-for Sunday’s game was wrecked by an Irish offense that touched the potential high-round draft choice for seven runs on nine hits and four walks over the course of seven innings (with just two strikeouts). McGerry entered the day with a 5-2 record, 2.95 ERA and .236 opponent batting average.
Notre Dame countered with the lesser-heralded J.P. Gagne, but the freshman righthander responded in fine fashion and was in line for the win after six sold innings. Gagne-who now owns a 2.53 ERA in six BIG EAST appearances, including five starts-followed his typical pattern by allowing four-of-seven leadoff batters to reach base before yielding just three hits in 13 SJU at-bats with runners on base and just 1-for-6 batting with two outs. Gagne scattered eight hits and two walks over his six-plus innings, with two strikeouts and eight groundouts.
In five BIG EAST seasons, ND now has won 17 of 21 home league series (with one tie), with the losses coming to Rutgers and West Virginia (both in ’96) and SJU in ’98. St. John’s is the only team to post a series win over the Irish in ND’s last 17 BIG EAST series (at the end of the ’99 season). Notre Dame’s all-time BIG EAST success includes 31 series wins, five series losses and four series ties.
Irish sophomore DH Ken Meyer completed an 8-for-13 weekend by batting 4-for-5 from the leadoff spot, highlighted by his third career home run (second of the season), plus a double and one other run scored. Meyer’s 13 at-bats in the series produced 18 total bases, including two triples and three doubles (plus a team-best six runs scored). He was particularly effective in his leadoff role, reaching base in seven of his nine leadoff at-bats during the series.
Long balls were the name of the day, as the teams combined for five home runs, including the first opposite-field shot of the season from Irish freshman rightfielder Brian Stavisky-a three-run blast over the leftfield fence that pushed the Irish to a 7-5 lead in the seventh and gave the burly lefty the Notre Dame record for home runs by a freshman (12, one better than Brant Ust’s 1997 total).
Senior righthanded closer John Corbin (3-1) had another adventurous outing, after letting Saturday’s second game (a 6-4 loss) get away from him. Corbin replaced sophomore reliever Matt Buchmeier in the ninth-with two runners on and no outs-before serving up Pete Graham’s RBI single, a sacrifice bunt and Michael Niksa’s game-tying groundout. But with go-ahead run at third, Corbin forced Jason Kane to hit a groundout to the right side, with Felker flipping the ball to Corbin for the third out.
Felker-who led the Irish during six games this week with nine RBI, including the game-winning hit in the 11-inning, 5-4 win over Michigan-had even more dramatics up his sleeve, in the form of a home run to deep center-field. Despite facing a lefthander in freshman Tom Klemm (the winner in Saturday’s nightcap), Felker went with the first pitch and drove the ball over the fence-just 10 feet left of the dark screen in center field.
Felker ranks 11th in Notre Dame history with 22 career home-but Sunday’s timely blast was possibly the closest that the 6-5 lefthander has come to sending a ball over the centerfield fence.
- SJU jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the 2nd with Eric Potts hitting a leadoff single up the middle and Niksa singling through the left side … Jon Kahn bunted the runners over before Kane sent a two-run single up the middle, past a drawn-in infield.
- Sophomore LF Paul O’Toole scored the first ND run moments later, after a two-out, 1-2 single through the left side, a stolen base and sophomore 3B Andrew Bushey’s run-and-hit single through the left side.
- ND claimed a 3-2 lead in the 4th, sparked by Felker’s full-count walk and senior C Matt Nussbaum’s RBI double into the leftfield corner (also on a full count) … Stavisky’s groundball then kicked off the glove of 2B Chad Cambra and Nussbaum scored when O’Toole grounded into a double play.
- Gagne came back out for the 7th but Kane sent a 1-0 pitch that cleared the fence, just 10 feet inside the rightfield foul pole (his third HR of the season) … Buchmeier then took the mound and recorded two outs before giving up a five-pitch walk to Charles Bilezikjian and Chris Fallon’s go-ahead home run to right field (his 13th of the season).
- Facing a 5-3 deficit with just nine outs left to play with, ND got into the home run act-with long balls accounting for the final five Irish runs … the fourth ND run came in the 7th, as Meyer hit a leadoff double to left and moved up on sophomore CF Steve Stanley’s sacrifice bunt attempt (he beat it out) before scoring on junior SS Alec Porzel’s flyout that sent the CF Bilezikjian to the warning track (for Porzel’s team-leading seventh sacrifice fly of the season) … Stanley then stole second on a 2-0 pitch and Felker was issued an intentional ball four before Stavisky went with a 1-1 pitch, showcasing his power with an opposite-field shot that sailed under the Eck Stadium scoreboard for a 7-5 Irish lead.
- The runs kept coming in the 8th, as Niksa led off with a double to the LC alley before scoring on Anthony Sutter’s two-out single that tucked inside the third-base bag … ND restored the two-run cushion vs. the lefthanded Klemm, as Meyer took the first pitch for a ball before smacking a two-out shot over the leftfield fence.
- SJU again refused to die, as Bilezikjian was hit by a 2-2 pitch from Buchmeier to open the 9th … Fallon followed with a single up the middle that tipped off the glove of the SS Porzel … Graham then greeted Corbin with an 0-2, RBI single to left, followed by Eric Potts’ sac. bunt and Niksa’s game-tying groundout to Porzel.
- Porzel led off the bottom of the 9th by popping out to the 1B … Felker then ended the game the easy way, lifting a fly ball that sailed towards deep left-center field … the CF Bilezikjian pulled himself up on the fence in an attempt to snatch away the home run, but the ball landed beyond his reach as Felker was passing first base-eliciting a fist pump from the seasoned veteran who has helped the Irish split 10 games vs. SJU during his career.
NOTES: Nearly half of the runs in the ND-SJU series came in the 7th-9th innings (17 of 38) … in other BIG EAST action Sunday, seventh-place West Virginia (7-9) picked up a crucial 15-6 home win over fourth-place Connecticut (11-9) while Boston College (also 11-9) completed its sweep at last-place Georgetown, 16-3 (see standings and more info. below) … the close finish in Sunday’s magnified several earlier plays, including an Irish defensive effort that yielded just one error and at least four “put-an-asterisk-by-that-one” plays in the field (two diving catches by O’Toole, one by Stanley and Felker’s snag of a foul ball near the steps of the SJU dugout) … prior to Sunday, the Irish had amassed 19 errors in the previous six games … Meyer continues to lead the Irish in batting average (.389) and slugging pct. (.694), with half of his 28 hits going for extra bases (two HRs, four 3Bs, eight 2B) … the ND team ERA swelled to 3.06, the highest it has been since the 7-5 loss to Purdue on April 11 (3.09) … Porzel’s high sacrifice fly total is backed up by his percentage for collecting RBI with a runner on third and less than two outs (.875, 14-for-16), which is significantly higher than the .710 team average.
ND RECORD BOOK UPDATE: Felker moved into a tie with former teammate Mike Amrhein (94-’97) for 8th on the career games played list (213) and could move past four others before the end of the regular season: Bob Lisanti (216, ’92-’96), Joe Binkiewicz (217, ’89-’92), Pat Pesavento (218, ’86-’89) and former Irish assistant coach Cory Mee (219, ’89-’92) … Felker’s 205 career starts rank 6th all-time, four behind Eric Danapilis (’90-’93) … he also ranks 5th in career at-bats (741, four behind Amrhein) and has cracked the career hits top-10 list, with 231 (former teammates Randall Brooks and Jeff Wagner each had 233) … Porzel has moved past one of his predecessors at SS, J.J. Brock, into 9th place on the career doubles list, with 43 (Felker is 4th, with 53) … Corbin’s 59 appearances rank 10th in Irish history … Stanley (24-for-31) has joined Pesavento (38 in both ’88 and ’89) as the only ND players ever to steal 24-plus bases in consecutive seasons (he also had 24 in ’99).
ST. JOHN'S 0-2-0 0-0-0 3-1-2 - 8 13 1NOTRE DAME 0-1-0 2-0-0 4-1-1 - 9 11 1
McGerry, Klemm (8) and Niksa. Gagne, Buchmeier (7), Corbin (9) and Nussbaum.
UPDATED BIG EAST STANDINGS
|Team||Rec.||Pct.||Gms Left||Highest Finish||Lowest Finish|
|1.||Rutgers||17-3||.850||BYE, @ND||.870 (20-3)||.739 (17-6)|
|2.||Notre Dame||14-5||.737||PITT, RUT||.800 (20-5)||.560 (14-11)|
|3.||Seton Hall||12-7||.632||@WVU, @SJ||.720 (18-7)||.480 (12-13)|
|4.||Connecticut||11-9||.550||@GU, BYE||.609 (14-9)||.478 (11-12)|
|5.||Boston College||11-9||.550||BYE, @PITT||.609 (14-9)||.478 (11-12)|
|6.||Pittsburgh||8-10||.444||@ND, BC||.583 (14-10)||.333 (8-16)|
|7.||West Virginia||7-9||.438||SHU, VILL||.591 (13-9)||.318 (7-15)|
|8.||Villanova||7-10||.412||@SJ, @WVU||.565 (13-10)||.304 (7-16)|
|9.||St. John’s||6-11||.353||VILL, SHU||.522 (12-11)||.261 (6-17)|
TIEBREAKERS (many ties are unlikely, due to previous rainouts)
Rutgers: would lose a tie in the standings with ND (which would require two ND-Pitt rainouts)
ND: 2-1 vs. SHU, UConn, BC ,WVU and VILL … PITT would win tie if it catches ND
SHU: 2-1 vs. BC,VILL … 1-2 vs. ND, UConn … TBD vs. WVU, SJU … DNP vs. PITT
UConn: 2-0 vs. VILL … 2-1 vs. SHU, BC, WVU … 1-2 vs. ND, PITT … DNP vs. SJU
BC: 3-0 vs. VILL … 2-0 vs. SJ … 1-2 vs. ND, SHU, UConn … TBD vs. PITT … DNP vs. WVU
PITT: 2-1 vs. UConn … 1-1 vs. WVU … 1-2 vs. VILL, SJ … DNP vs. SHU … would win tie if catch ND … TBD vs. BC
WVU: 2-1 vs. SJ … 1-2 vs. ND, UConn … 1-1 vs. PITT … TBD vs. SHU, VILL … DNP vs. BC
VILL: 2-1 vs. PITT … 1-2 vs. ND, SHU … 0-2 vs. UConn … 0-3 vs. BC … TBD vs. SJ, WVU
SJU: 2-1 vs. PITT … 1-2 vs. ND, WVU … 0-2 vs. BC … TBD vs. VILL, SHU … DNP vs. UConn