March 25, 2003
A festive opening-day crowd of nearly 1,500 fans was treated to a strong performance from a collection of Notre Dame freshmen – both on the mound and at the plate – as the 22nd-ranked Irish baseball team won its home opener for the eighth straight season, with Tuesday night’s an 8-3 victory over Toledo.
Notre Dame (12-6) started slowly before claiming a 4-2 lead with three runs in the third and tacking on four more in the fifth. Freshman righthander Ryan Doherty (1-0) had an impressive outing in his first start with the Irish, striking out seven Rockets batters while allowing just two hits, one walk and a pair of unearned runs in four innings of a planned rotation. Sophomore righthander Martin Vergara – who combined with Doherty as the 2001 and ’02 New Jersey players of the year – then logged four strong innings of his own, allowing one run on four hits and three walks (with four Ks).
Each of Notre Dame’s four freshman position players registered hits in the game – with their 6-for-14 combined performance including a 3-for-4 game from DH Cody Rizzo, who accounted for half of the Irish runs with three RBI and a run scored (plus two doubles). Centerfielder Brennan Grogan (1-for-2, run, hit-by-pitch, stolen base) had another solid game from the No. 2 spot in he batting order while leftfielder Craig Cooper (1-for-4, R, SB) and third baseman Greg Lopez (2-run single) rounded out the freshman production. Grogan extended his hitting streak to nine games (longest by an Irish player this season) while Cooper now has hit safely in the last six games.
The Irish pitching staff continues to dominate after a rough start to the season, with the 3.97 team ERA including a sparkling 1.87 mark over the last 12 games (plus a .202 opponent batting average, 114 strikeouts and just 30 walks in 115 innings during that 12-game stretch). Junior second baseman Steve Sollmann bounced back from his uncharacteristic 1-for-13 series vs. Villanova by batting 2-for-5 with a double and a pair of runs scored. Sophomore shortstop Matt Macri also collected two hits and scored a run. Senior lefthander Brian Kovacs (0-2) took the loss, after allowing six runs on seven hits, two walks, two hit batters and five wild pitches.
Notre Dame’s three-run third was sparked by Sollmann’s leadoff bunt single and Grogan’s perfect sacrifice bunt that ended up being another single. Kovacs then uncorked a pair of wild pitches and hit Kris Billmaier with a 2-1 pitch before Javi Sanchez and Rizzo delivered RBI singles. The four-run fifth included a walk by Sanchez, Macri’s walk and another wild pitch (ending Kovacs’ night). Rizzo promptly greeted righthander Raul Lopez with a two-run double to left-center (on a 2-1 pitch), with Lopez later adding a two-run single through the left side. Notre Dame returns to Eck Stadium on Wednesday night (5:05) versus Purdue, with freshman lefthander Tom Thornton (0.79 ERA, 1-0, 11.1 IP, 9 H, 4 BB, 1 K) slated to make his second start of the season. It would mark the first game between the Irish and Boilermakers since 2000, with the scheduled 2001 and ’02 games cancelled due to weather and scheduling conflicts.
TOLEDO 0-0-2 0-0-0 1-0-0 - 3 7 1#22 NOTRE DAME 1-0-3 0-4-0 0-0-X - 8 11 1Brian Kovacs (L, 0-2), Raul Lopez (5), Ryan Valek (6) and Mitch Maier.Ryan Doherty (W, 1-0), Martin Vergara (5), Matt Laird (9) and Javi Sanchez.Doubles: Cody Rizzo 2, Steve Sollmann.