March 8, 2003
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Notre Dame righthander Chris Niesel and Vanderbilt lefthander Jeremy Sowers – two of the nation’s top-rated sophomore prospects – turned in a classic pitcher’s duel before freshman Brennan Grogan stroked the game-deciding triple in the top of the 10th, as the 17th-ranked Irish edged the Commodores, 3-1, in Saturday afternoon action at the annual Kennel Clubs Classic.
Notre Dame (4-4) – which will take on host North Florida in Sunday’s action – opened the scoring in the sixth only to see Vanderbilt (9-6) answer with a run in the bottom of the inning. Steve Sollmann’s leadoff single and Grogan’s triple to the right-center gap, versus righthanded reliever Jensen Lewis, then plated the winning run in the 10th.
Niesel bounced back from last week’s loss to Nebraska with a strong performance, posting nine strikeouts and 10 groundball outs while holding Vanderbilt to an unearned run, three hits and no walks in his 104-pitch outing (he’s now 5-1 in his ND career, including 1-1 in 2003).
Sowers countered with six strikeouts and 14 groundball outs in nine innings of work, allowing one run on four hits and two walks in his 122-pitch outing.
Senior closer J.P. Gagne (2-1) picked up his 23rd career win, retiring all six batters he faced (four via strikeouts).
Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri played a hunch by starting Sollmann at the leadoff spot (as opposed to his usual No. 2 spot in the lineup) and the junior second baseman responded with two of Notre Dame’s seven hits and two runs scored.
Several of Notre Dame’s Florida natives – Niesel (Plantation), Grogan (Tequesta) and Mainieri (Miami) – fittingly played key roles in the narrow win.
The Irish now are 16-2-1 in their last 19 extra-inning games, dating back to 1997 (7-1 in the last eight).
Notre Dame – which left 12 runners on base in last week’s 2-1, 13-inning win over Wake Forest – again had its chances to win in regulation, stranding nine baserunners (including a bases-loaded situation in the ninth).
Freshman DH Craig Cooper ended Sowers’ no-hit bid in the sixth, connecting on a 1-2 pitch with an inside-out swing that produced a double down the rightfield line. Sollmann followed with an infield single to the left side and moved up on Grogan’s groundout before Cooper was nailed at the plate on Kris Billmaier’s groundball to the shortstop.
Sophomore third baseman Matt Edwards salvaged the rare scoring chance with a high chopper to the right side. Sowers and first baseman Cesar Nicolas both broke for the ball and Edwards scampered across the vacated bag as Sollmann raced home for the 1-0 lead.
Vanderbilt answered by cashing in shortstop Matt Macri’s fielding error, with Ryan Klosterman the stealing second and third before coming home on the errant throw by catcher Javi Sanchez.
Sollmann – who had been caught stealing to stall an 8th-inning scoring chance – faced Lewis to open the 10th. The Irish tri-captain worked ahead in the count and sent a 2-1 pitch into right-center. The lefthanded-hitting Grogan then jumped all over the next pitch, driving the right-center gap for the go-ahead triple.
Three batters later, Macri capped the scoring with a first-pitch single down the leftfield line.
NOTES: ND has posted 11 extra-inning wins during the past three seasons, with Grogan becoming the seventh different player to provide the winning hit (or force the decisive error) in those games … current junior 1B Joe Thaman owns three of those game-winning, extra-inning hits (vs. Mississippi State in 2001, Virginia Tech in ’02 and Wake Forest last week) while Brian Stavisky had decisive hits in extra-inning wins over UC Santa Barbara (2001 NCAAs) and Rutgers (2002 BIG EAST title game) … others who supplied the go-ahead hit/forced the key error in extra-inning games from 2001-03 include Paul O’Toole (vs. Fresno State in ’01 and Missouri in ’02), Andrew Bushey (vs. Miami of Ohio in ’01), Kris Billmaier (at Rutgers in ’01) and Javi Sanchez (at West Virginia in ’02).
#17 Notre Dame 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 – 3 7 3
Vanderbilt 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 – 1 3 2
Chris Niesel, J.P. Gagne (9; W, 2-1) and Javi Sanchez.
Jeremy Sowers, Jensen Lewis (10; L, 1-2) and Matt McGraner.
Triple: Brennan Grogan (ND).
Doubles: Craig Cooper (ND), Worth Scott (VAN).