March 1, 2004
Several Notre Dame baseball players were honored for their roles during last weekend’s 4-0 showing in Boca Raton, Fla., with freshman catcher Sean Gaston (Brownsburg, Ind.) earning BIG EAST player-of-the-week honors while junior first baseman Matt Edwards (Mechanicsville, Va.) was named MVP of the Florida Atlantic Classic. Five other Irish players – senior catcher/DH Javi Sanchez (Miami, Fla.), junior third baseman Matt Macri (Clive, Iowa), sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez (Upper Arlington, Ohio), junior righthander Chris Niesel (Plantation, Fla.) and sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton (Middleboro, Mass.) – joined Edwards on the 11-player FAU Classic All-Tournament team.
Gaston – who joins former outfielder Brian Stavisky as the only ND freshmen ever to earn the BIG EAST player-of-the-week award – opened his college career by batting 10-for-11 before flying out for a 10-for-12 weekend (.833), plus six RBI, seven runs scored, three doubles, a 1.083 slugging pct. and two stolen bases. He played a lead role in the game that clinched the FAU Classic title, batting 5-for-6 in the 19-7 win over #25 Minnesota (3 RBI, 3 R, 2 2B, SB). The third ND freshman ever to collect five-plus hits in a game (and first since Steve Sollmann went 5-for-6 at Purdue in 1994), Gaston helped spark several big innings vs. the Gophers by batting 3-for-3 with two outs (including a pair of 2-out RBI). The 6-0, 170-ponud lefthander hit 4-for-5 earlier in the weekend vs. Florida Memorial (that 12-3 game was not part of the FAU Classic), marking the first game with four-plus hits in his competitive baseball career.
Gaston becomes one of 17 Notre Dame players who have combined to earn 28 BIG EAST player-of-the-week honors , since ND joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96 (the Irish total is more than double that of any other school in the last nine seasons, with Rutgers earning 13). Stavisky is the program’s only previous freshman position player to earn the BIG EAST weekly award, doing so as the team’s rightfielder on April 24, 2000 (see list of previous winners below). Gaston also is the sixth ND catcher ever to receive the weekly BIG EAST honor, joining the 1997 tandem of Mike Amrhein and Jeff Wagner, Mike Knecht (’98), Paul O’Toole (’00, ’02) and Andrew Bushey (’02) in that distinction.
Edwards hit 5-for-12 in the Florida Atlantic Classic, with four RBI and five runs scored. The Irish 3-hole hitter helped knock off #25 Winthrop (19-6) by batting 3-for-4 with a walk and double (2 RBI, 2 R) before stroking the game-tying and go-ahead home runs in the 3-2 thriller vs. #12 FAU (the solo shots came in the 7th and 9th innings). The 6-2, 195-pound righthander also walked, reached on a hit-by-pitch and scored a run in the win over Minnesota while playing error-free in 20 fielding chances during the tournament (including the start of the 3-6-5-2 sequence that produced the final two outs of the FAU game).
Sanchez also hit 5-for-12 at the FAU Classic in the return to his home state (4 RBI, 3 R). The cleanup batter played a key role in the win over Winthrop (3-for-5, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2B) before launching a solo shot over the rightfield wall to force an early 1-1 tie with FAU (six of his seven home runs with the Irish now have come away from home). The 6-3, 205-pound righthander also slapped the final tag in the game-ending sequence vs. FAU and closed the weekend with a single and sacrifice fly in the win over Minnesota.
Macri added a 5-for-13 tournament (7 RBI, 7 R), with an RBI single, two walks and two runs scored in the win over Winthrop. The 6-2, 190-pound righthander ended the FAU Classic with career-best game vs. Minnesota, batting 4-for-6 with 6 RBI and 4 runs scored. His two-run, opposite-field blast over the fence in right-center forged an early 2-2 tie vs. the Gophers and the Irish 7-hole hitter added a bases-clearing triple in the 8th. Macri – whose six error-free fielding plays included the rundown for the final out vs. FAU – posted a career-high in hits vs. Minnesota while coming one shy of tying ND records for RBI and runs in a game. He is one of eight Notre Dame players known to have scored five-plus runs in a game and just the third in the ND record book to do so since 1901 (Pat Pesavento had 5 runs vs. Penn in ’89, Brant Ust scored 5 vs. at Seton Hall in ’98 and Steve Sollmann tied a 102-year-old ND record by scoring 6 times vs. South Alabama in the 2002 NCAA South Bend Regional).
Lopez joined the above players with five hits at the FAU Classic (in 14 at-bats), adding a team-best eight RBI and a pair of runs scored. He sparked the Irish to the opening win over Winthrop (4-for-6, 6 RBI, 2 R), with three 2-run hits on the first home run of his ND career, a single and a late-game double from his 8-spot in the lineup. The 6-0, 185-pound righthander added a sacrifice fly and RBI single in the win over Minnesota and made just one error on 19 fielding chances in the tournament (including the heads-up pivot play that produced the final two outs of the FAU game).
Niesel filled his typical role by getting the Irish off to a win in the first game of the weekend, allowing just one run in eight innings versus Winthrop. He scattered eight hits and two walks while striking out five Eagles batters. The 6-0, 205-pound righthander posted his 11th consecutive winning decision and pushed his career record with the Irish to 15-1. He held Winthrop’s lefthanded batters without a hit (0-for-8) and proved tough with runners on base, limiting the Eagles to just 2-for-12 with runners aboard.
Thornton followed with an impressive outing versus the 12th-ranked FAU, matching the Owls’ All-American lefthander Randy Beam by allowing just two runs. The 6-6, 215-pound lefthander – who was named BIG EAST pitcher of the week after a win at #20 USC in the opening week of the season – kept the hosts off balance throughout his outing, allowing just six hits and no walks (plus two hit batters) while posting a career-best seven strikeouts and seven groundouts. Thornton dominated the FAU righthanded hitters (they hit just 3-for-14, or .214) and added some impressive situational pitching, with just 1-of-7 leadoff batters reaching base while FAU hit just 2-for-10 vs. Thornton with runners on base and 0-for-6 with two outs.
Several Notre Dame players are among the early BIG EAST Conference 2004 statistical leaders:
* Edwards (1st with 3 home runs and .950 slugging pct., 6th with 19 total bases, 7th with 8 RBI, 10th with .500 on-base pct. and 11th with 6 runs)
* Macri (6th with 8 runs, 7th with 8 RBI)
* Lopez (1st with 10 RBI, 9th with .409 batting avg., 11th with 6 runs)
* Gaston (5th with 2 SB, 8th with 3 2B, 9th with 7 R; does not meet min. AB for batting, slugging, etc.)
* Sophomore OF Brennan Grogan (6th with .467 batting/7-for-15), 7th with .733 slugging pct., 10th with .500 on-base pct.)
* Senior 2B Steve Sollmann (10th with 5 BB)
* Niesel (1st with 2 2ins, 2nd with 14 Ks, 9th with 1.42 ERA)
* Thornton (7th with 1.38 ERA)
Notre Dame’s previous BIG EAST player-of-the-week recipients include a trio of three-time honorees – Stavisky (4/24/00, 2/19/01, 4/2/01), SS Alec Porzel (5/0/00, 4/15/01, 5/7/01) and current senior 2B Steve Sollmann (2/24, 3/17 and 5/19 in ’03) – plus five two-time recipients in the ’97 catcher Wagner (4/7, 5/5), IF Brant Ust (4/3/98, 3/29/99), ’99 junior 1B Jeff Felker (4/15, 5/12), O’Toole (5/13/00, 4/1/02) and ’01 junior CF Steve Stanley (2/26, 4/23).
The other eight ND position players who have received weekly BIG EAST honors include Amrhein (3/17/97), OF Allen Greene (4/28/97), SS J.J. Brock (3/16/98), Knecht (5/4/98), 3B/C Bushey (2/25/02) and three current players: 1B Joe Thaman (5/13/02), 3B/1B Matt Edwards (4/7/03) and SS Matt Macri (4/21/03).