March 9, 2002
ROUND ROCK, Texas –
Just when the Notre Dame baseball team thought its season couldn’t encounter any more hardships, the Irish were hit by another injury to a starter – before responding with one of the more inspired efforts in the eight-year Paul Mainieri era, as the Irish rallied to blow by perennial power USC, 15-8, in second-day action at the Express College Classic.
Notre Dame (5-4) – which already has seen six position starters combine to miss 26 starts due to injury – suffered a major setback in the bottom of the fourth inning, when freshman shortstop Matt Edwards, already starting in place of injured classmate Matt Macri, suffered a lower-leg fracture as he chased a wind-blown popup into left field. The game was delayed 45 minutes as Edwards received medical attention and USC added another run when play resumed for an 8-4 cushion – but the Irish went on to score the final 11 runs of the game in stunning fashion.
(Note: Edwards suffered a broken tibia and fibula in his lower right leg and had surgery on the leg at a nearby Austin hospital.)
Freshman righthander Chris Niesel yielded eight runs (just five of them earned) in the first three and one-third innings, with half of the USC’s runs coming on Travis McAndrews’ wind-blown grand slam that tucked inside the rightfield foul pole.
Another freshman righthander, Martin Vergara, then combined with junior Brandon Viloria to keep the Trojans off the scoreboard the rest of the way. Vergara (1-1) picked up the win after striking out three USC batters in three and two-thirds innings and allowing three hits, three walks and a hit batter as the Irish were in the process of rallying to the lead.
Viloria then faced just five batters while registering the final six outs, with senior catcher Andrew Bushey nailing an attempted basestealer in the 8th while senior first baseman Ken Meyer snared a sinking linedrive and stepped on the bag for an inning-ending double play. Viloria induced a flyout, groundout and popup down the rightfield line to end the game (the third save of his Irish career).
Notre Dame began to mount its comeback with three runs in the sixth versus lefthanded reliever Cory Campos, sparked by Steve Stanley’s leadoff single to the opposite field and a walk by Javier Sanchez (who had entered the game in place of Edwards). Paul O’Toole also stroked an RBI double and Ken Meyer added a sacrifice fly, cutting USC’s lead to 8-7.
The Irish surged ahead in the eighth versus righthander Bret Butler (1-1), with O’Toole leading off by sending a single through the right side on a 2-2 pitch. Meyer then sent a slow groundout to the third baseman and Notre Dame showed its aggressive baserunning as O’Toole – already running on the play – kept going past the second-base bag and beat the return throw to third.
With the infield drawn in, Bushey then drilled a 1-2 pitch up the middle and Kris Billmaier followed by picking a perfect time for his first RBI of the season, sending an opposite-field, first-pitch double down the rightfield line as Bushey scored all the way from first on the hit-and-run play, for the 9-8 Irish lead.
Notre Dame then put the game out of reach in the top of the ninth, pushing across six runs via four hits, an error, a failed fielder’s choice, two wild pitches and a passed ball – with the big hits including a two-run single from Billmaier on an 0-2 count.
The Irish held a 14-8 edge in hits while the teams combined for nine errors (six by USC). Five Irish players registered multiple hits, including three-hit games from Stanley and Bushey.
Freshman righthander Brett Bannister started for the Trojans, allowing four runs (two earned) on four hits and three walks in four innings (with five Ks). Niesel gave up five hits and two walks in his 3.1 innings, with a pair of strikeouts.
Notre Dame (5-4) 0-1-1 2-0-3 0-2-6 – 15 14 3
USC (7-9) 0-1-4 3-0-0 0-0-0 – 8 8 6
Chris Niesel, Martin Vergara (4, W, 1-1), Brandon Viloria (8, S, 1) and Andrew Bushey.
Brett Bannister, Cory Campos (5), Bret Butler (7, L, 1-1), Clayton Wentworth (9) and Alberto Concepcion.
Home Run: Travis McAndrews, USC (grand slam in 3rd, 1st of season).
Doubles: Steve Stanley 2 (ND), Paul O’Toole (ND), Andrew Bushey (ND), Kris Billmaier (ND), Brian Barre (USC), Joey Metropoulos (USC).