Junior Billy Boockford.

Irish Baseball Face Two Familiar Foes; Western Michigan, Northwestern

April 13, 2009

Game Notes Get Acrobat Reader

Notre Dame vs. Western Michigan
April 14 • 7:00 p.m. ET
C.O. Brown Stadium
Battle Creek, Mich.

Notre Dame vs. Northwestern April 15 • 7:00 p.m. CT
U.S. Cellular Field
Chicago, Ill.

Tuesday (7:00 p.m. ET)
LHP Steve Sabatino (1-0, 3.77) vs. RHP Casey Hall (0-0, 6.66)

Wednesday (7:00 p.m. CT)
LHP Ryan Richter (3-0, 1.29) vs. LHP Eric Jokisch (2-4, 3.64)

Audio: WHME 103.1 FM (Chuck Freeby, p-b-p); UND.com
Video: UND.com (Wednesday’s game only)
Gametracker: UND.com

IN THE BATTERS BOX — Notre Dame returns to action this week with a pair of neutral site, non-conference games. The Irish will travel to Battle Creek, Mich. and C.O. Brown Stadium to face Western Michigan on Tuesday night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET. Notre Dame then travels to Chicago and U.S. Cellular Field to play Northwestern. First pitch is slated for 7:00 p.m. CT. Both games can be heard on WHME 103.1 FM as well as UND.com. Wednesday’s game against the Wildcats will also be streamed live on UND.com.

SCOUTING WESTERN MICHIGAN — The Broncos, led by fifth year head coach Randy Ford, enter the game 9-21 overall and 4-8 in Mid-American Conference play.

  • Western Michigan is averaging 4.9 runs per game and hitting .267 with a .337 on-base percentage. The Broncos have also totaled 17 stolen bases in 26 attempts.
  • Western Michigan has two everyday players that are hitting over .300. Chris Lewis leads the attack with a team-best .356 batting average. He has added 16 runs scored, a team-high 47 hits, eight doubles, four triples, two home runs and 18 RBI. Lewis also has a .388 on-base percentage and .523 slugging percentage. Kyle Galbraith is hitting .304 with 24 runs scored, 35 hits, seven doubles, a team-best six home runs and 23 RBI. Grant Simotes is batting .295 with seven doubles, a triple, two home runs and 14 RBI. He has also added 13 runs scored. Pedro Dager is hitting .289 with 10 runs scored, 26 hits, four doubles, one home run and eight RBI. He also is tied with six other Broncos for tops on the club with two stolen bases. Nathan Marquardt is batting just .212, but has five doubles, four home runs and 18 RBI. Western Michigan has hit 23 home runs this season as a team and has struck out 216 times.
  • The pitching staff has a 6.02 ERA and .305 opponents’ batting average along with 183 strikeouts and 110 walks in 258.2 innings. Tim Mowry is 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 11 appearances over 16.0 innings, while Neal Miller (0-1, 4.11), Derek Mosher (1-1, 5.09), John Navage (0-0, 5.84) and Troy Forton (2-0, 5.88) are other options out of the Broncos’ bullpen. Western Michigan has committed 64 errors in 30 games and is fielding .945.

SCOUTING NORTHWESTERN — The Wildcats, led by 21st year head coach Paul Stevens, enter the game 7-23 overall and 1-7 in Big Ten action.

  • Northwestern is averaging 5.0 runs per game and hitting .256 with a .324 on-base percentage. The Wildcats have also totaled 16 stolen bases in 32 attempts.
  • Northwestern has only one everyday player that is hitting over .300 and five below .255. Chris Lashmet leads the attack with a team-best .318 batting average. He has added 19 runs scored, a team-high 35 hits, five doubles, two home runs and 17 RBI. Chris Noble is hitting .293 with 19 runs scored, 29 hits, five doubles, one home run and 17 RBI. Jake Goebbert is batting .280 with a team-best 24 runs scored, 10 doubles, four home runs and 23 RBI. He has also added 18 walks. Tommy Finn is hitting .263 with 17 runs scored, 31 hits, six doubles, one triple, one home run and six RBI. Tony Vercelli is batting just .259 with eight doubles, four home runs and 15 RBI, but has also struck out 28 times. Northwestern has hit 19 home runs this season as a team and has struck out 206 times.
  • The pitching staff has a 6.06 ERA and .312 opponents’ batting average along with 160 strikeouts and 109 walks in 251.0 innings. Michael Jahns is 1-1 with a 4.60 ERA in 10 appearances over 15.2 innings, while David Jensen (1-2, 5.40), Matt Havey (0-2, 8.31), Francis Brooke (1-1, 5.40) and Brian Morgan (0-2, 9.82) are other options out of the Wildcats’ bullpen. Northwestern has committed 48 errors in 30 games and is fielding .958.

WESTERN MICHIGAN SERIES NOTES — Notre Dame and Western Michigan have met 129 times on the diamond (second-most common opponent in Irish history). The series is remarkably tied, 64-64-1, and dates back to the 1916 season.

  • Notre Dame holds a 44-31 series edge in South Bend, but Western Michigan leads the series in Kalamazoo, 31-19-1. The two teams have met on a neutral field three previous times in the series and the Broncos captured meetings in 1963 and 2000, while the Irish knocked off Western Michigan during the 1957 College World Series. The Irish and Broncos faced off in the postseason in three consecutive years (1957-59). The Broncos upended Notre Dame in the 1958 NCAA Tournament and two more times in the 1959 Tourney.
  • Western Michigan beat Notre Dame in 2000 (11-7, at Sutherland Field in Kalamazoo), 2001 (7-6, at Notre Dame) and 2008 (6-4, at Notre Dame), but the Irish have won six of seven in the series and 10 of 13.

NORTHWESTERN SERIES NOTES — Notre Dame and Northwestern have met 130 times on the diamond (the most common foe in Irish history), but the two have not played since May 2, 2000. The Irish hold a 71-58-1 lead in the series dating back to the 1896 season.

  • Notre Dame leads the all-time series in South Bend, 43-28, while the Wildcats lead the series 29-26-1 in Evanston. The Irish lead the series at neutral sites, 2-1, with the two foes splitting a pair of games during the 1957 NCAA Tournament.
  • Without question one of the oldest rivalries in program history, Notre Dame and Northwestern played continuously from 1896 through 1905 with the exception of 1899 and 1902. The series went dormant from 1906-1920, but started up again in 1921 and remained pretty much annual until 1993. The two did not meet during 1925, 1927, 1943, 1956, 1975 and 1992.
  • The series has historically included numerous high-scoring games. Either Notre Dame or Northwestern has scored 15 or more runs in 11 meetings. In fact, the Irish have eclipsed 20 or more runs five different times, including a 28-7 victory in 1962. The 28 runs scored are the most since 1911 and rank as the third-most in Irish single-game history.

PRO PARKS — Notre Dame and Northwestern will play at U.S. Cellular Field on April 15. The Irish played at U.S. Cellular Field last season and knocked off Northern Illinois, 5-4. Notre Dame has recently have played at several pro parks, including three college games and the 2001 exhibition vs. the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at their spring training site, Florida Power Park, plus 2002, ’04 and ’05 games in Texas at both Dell Diamond (home of triple-A Astros affiliate Round Rock Express) and Wolff Stadium (double-A San Antonio Missions), plus ’06-’09 games at Wolff and the 2008 Whataburger Classic at Whataburger Field (home of the double-A Corpus Christi Hooks, also an Astros affiliate). The Irish also played Dayton in ’05 at HoHoKam Park (Chicago Cubs spring-training; Mesa, Ariz.) while the 2006 & 2008 BIG EAST Championships were held in Clearwater, Fla., at Bright House Networks Field (spring training for the Philadelphia Phillies) and the 2007 BIG EAST Championship was in Brooklyn, N.Y., at Keyspan Park (home to the Brooklyn Cyclones, Mets single-A). Notre Dame played at another elite minor-league facility in 2007 (Coastal Federal Field; Baseball at the Beach tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C.). The Irish opened this season with their first two games at the Major League Spring Training facilities of the Toronto Blue Jays (Knology Park, Dunedin, Fla.) and Pittsburgh Pirates (McKenchie Field, Bradenton, Fla.). Notre Dame will play two games at Diablo Stadium — spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

  • Previous Irish teams have played at two Major League parks, in ’95 and ’96 tournaments at the Seattle Kingdome while facing the Univ. of Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium in ’98. The Irish also have played BIG EAST Tournament games at minor-league Dodd Stadium (Norwich, Conn.), Waterfront Stadium (Trenton, N.J.) and Commerce Bank Ballpark (Bridgewater, N.J.) while ND and Michigan annually play at Old Kent Park (now 5th/3rd Bank Ballpark), near Grand Rapids. The Irish also played at the 1998 ACC Blast in Orlando (Atlanta Braves’ spring training; Disney Sports Complex) and in the 2000, ’03 and ’06 Hormel/DQ Classics at the Minnesota Metrodome.

ON DECK — After the two midweek non-conference games, Notre Dame will then host BIG EAST leader West Virginia in a three-game conference series over Blue-Gold weekend. Friday night’s series opener is slated for 6:05 p.m. Saturday’s game will start at 3:05 p.m. (Football Spring Game begins at 1:30 p.m.) and Sunday’s finale is slated for 1:05 p.m.

IRISH DEFENSE GONE COLD WITH THE WEATHER — Notre Dame head coach Dave Schrage figured the Irish would not only be one of the top defensive clubs in the BIG EAST, but also one of the top fielding teams across the country. Notre Dame appeared headed that direction once they returned from its spring trip with a sparkling .974 fielding percentage. The Irish had committed just 15 errors over their first 15 games, but Notre Dame has not continued that defensive prowess over the last 17 games. The Irish are fielding just .959 with 28 errors. In fact, Notre Dame has just two errorless games in the stretch. The Irish have posted eight multi-error games since returning from Texas, including three straight games with three errors (Mar. 28-Apr. 1) and then a season-high four against Cincinnati on April 11.

COLE FAR FROM COLD — Sophomore starting pitcher Cole Johnson had a phenomenal fall season that pushed him to the front of the Irish rotation. However, his status at the beginning of the year was in question after a bike accident on campus. Johnson was riding his bike to class when he lost control on a patch of ice. He landed on his throwing shoulder, leaving him out for nearly an entire month (January), but Johnson rehabilitated and has established himself as the one of the starters in the BIG EAST. He enters this weekend with a 4-0 record and a 2.30 earned run average. Johnson has struck out 35, walked 20 and allowed only 37 hits in 54.2 innings of work (opponents are hitting just .198 against him). Johnson has tossed at least 6.0 innings in each of this last six starts, including 6.0 scoreless innings of one-hit baseball against Oral Roberts on March 6 and back-to-back complete game victories over Pittsburgh on March 27 and Villanova on April 3. He could have become the first Irish pitcher to toss three straight CGs since Dan Kapala in 2005, but Notre Dame’s game with Cincinnati on April 9 was tied 2-2 after inning innings.

  • Johnson, though, was spectacular once again for the Irish despite not factoring in the decision against the Bearcats. The right-handed hurler went 9.2 innings and allowed just two earned runs on eight hits. Johnson struck out five and walked three. He became the first Notre Dame pitcher to work into the 10th inning since Aaron Heilman tossed 10.0 innings against West Virginia on April 15, 2000. Johnson has now tossed 9.0 or more innings in three consecutive starts. In fact, the righty has worked at least 7.0 innings in five straight starts. Johnson sports a 3-0 mark with a 2.38 ERA in those five starts with a pair of complete games and another outing that last 9.2 innings.
  • Johnson allowed just two earned runs in his first career complete game victory to lead the Irish past Pittsburgh, 5-4. He was the first opposing pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game at Trees Field since May 13, 2006. Johnson kept the high powered Pittsburgh attack grounded for much of the afternoon. The Panthers entered the contest hitting .321 as a team and averaging 8.5 runs per game. In fact, Pittsburgh was even more impressive over its first four home games, plating nearly 10 runs a game, but Johnson was in control from the opening pitch. The right-handed hurler scattered seven hits, issued just two walks and struck out four. Johnson became the first Notre Dame pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game since David Phelps went the distance against Villanova on May 23, 2007. With Notre Dame holding a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Panthers took advantage of a pair of Irish errors, plated two unearned runs and had the tying run in scoring position, but Johnson escaped the jam with the Irish still clinging to a one run lead, 5-4, and proceeded to retire the final seven Panthers of the game.
  • Johnson threw his second consecutive complete game, and the Irish scored all three of their runs in the first inning to defeat the Villanova Wildcats, 3-1, on April 3. Johnson became the first Irish pitcher since Dan Kapala in 2005 to throw back-to-back complete games. Johnson cruised through the first three innings, retiring the first nine batters on only 35 pitches with three strikeouts. Johnson gave up one run on seven hits, striking out five and walking just one.

BOOCKFORD SHOWS NO SIGNS OF RUST — On April 9 against Cincinnati, junior Billy Boockford made his first start for Notre Dame since March 7. The right fielder did not show any signs of rust. Boockford went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBI singles. In fact, the first RBI base hit tied the game, 1-1, in the top of the fourth inning and the second gave the Irish a 3-2 lead in the top of the 11th inning. He then added RBI singles each of the final two games of the series with the Bearcats. Boockford is 4-for-10 with four RBI since returning to the starting lineup.

There is joy in SOUTH BEND, mighty Casey IS STARTING TO HIT — Sophomore David Casey has really seemed to find himself offensively since taking over the majority of the at bats against RHP. The first basemen owns an eight-game hitting streak (longest current streak on the squad). Casey is hitting .519 (14-for-27) with nine runs scored, a home run and nine RBI. The home run came in the opening game of Notre Dame’s doubleheader on April 11 at Cincinnati. The solo bomb not only cleared the scoreboard in right field, but crashed halfway up the facade of Fifth Third Bank Arena that sits some 30-40 feet behind the wall.

DUPRA, DOING MORE — Sophomore RHP Brian Dupra had his best outing as a collegiate pitcher against Villanova on April 4. The Rochester, N.Y. native was named the BIG EAST Pitcher of the Week for his efforts. He tossed a three-hit shutout with no walks and a career-high tying six strikeouts to lead the Irish past Villanova, 4-0. Dupra also became the first Notre Dame pitcher to throw a complete game shutout in over two years. Former All-American David Phelps was the last to accomplish the feat, blanking South Florida 1-0 at Eck Stadium on March 23, 2007. Dupra needed just 108 pitches to finish off the Wildcats. The righty retired the first 14 Villanova batters on just 48 pitches before allowing a single with two outs in the fifth inning. Dupra proceeded to retire the next five before allowing a double in the seventh (which was the furthest any Villanova hitter reached on base the entire afternoon). He did surrender another double in the ninth, but that was it for the Wildcats. Dupra was so dominant that he worked with a three-ball count just twice the entire afternoon and the first did not come until the fifth inning. He faced just four over the minimum on the afternoon (he also plunked one batter). Dupra’s complete game effort without a walk was the first for an Irish pitcher since Tom Thorton’s complete game no free pass outing against Southern Illinois on March 18, 2006.

NOW THAT’S STARTING PITCHING — Notre Dame’s pitching staff entered the Villanova series averaging just a little over 5.1 innings per start, but the weekend rotation of sophomore Cole Johnson, sophomore Brian Dupra and junior Eric Maust all worked into the ninth inning. In fact, Maust nearly followed Johnson and Dupra with a third straight complete game victory. He fell just two outs shy of his first career 9.0 inning complete game. The Irish were forced to use just four pitchers the entire series with Villanova.

  • Sophomores Cole Johnson and Brian Dupra become the first Irish pitchers to throw complete games in back-to-back games since Tom Thornton went the distance on April 22, 2005, and Dan Kapala repeated the effort on April 25.

LIGHTS OUT — Notre Dame approached numerous pitching records in the three-game series sweep of Villanova. The Irish posted a 1.33 earned run average and limited the Wildcats to a .172 batting average. Villanova managed just four runs (all earned) the entire weekend.The four runs were tied for the fourth fewest ever allowed by a Notre Dame pitching staff over a three-game BIG EAST series. Even more impressive,all of the previous series marks for fewest runs, with the exception of last season’s sweep of Georgetown, included a seven-inning game (BIG EAST used to play a seven-inning game as the first game of a doubleheader).

  • Ironically, three of the top eight series for fewest earned runs allowed have come against Villanova (2006, 2008 and 2009).

Fewest Runs Allowed Over BIG EAST Series (3 games)

2   at  Georgetown          20082   vs. Georgetown          19973   vs. Seton Hall          19964   vs. Villanova           20094   at  Villanova           20084   vs. Seton Hall          20014   vs. Rutgers         20044   at  Villanova           20065   at  St. John's          20015   at  West Virginia   20045   vs. West Virginia   2005

IRISH FINDING THEIR HOME RUN STROKE — Notre Dame entered the series against Pittsburgh with just eight home runs over its first 22 games. In fact, the Irish hit only four long balls over their first 18 games.

  • Notre Dame exploded for six home runs in the series with the Panthers, including a season-best four in Sunday’s finale. The four home runs were the most in a single game by Notre Dame since April 21, 2007 against West Virginia.
  • The Irish continued the stretch of long ball success with three solo shots in the 4-0 victory over Villanova on April 4.
  • Notre Dame has hit 11 home runs over its last 10 games and 15 over the last 14 games.

SHINING UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME — Sophomore Golden Tate blossomed into one of the most improved wide receivers in the country this past fall. He led the Irish in receptions (58), receiving yards (1,080), receiving touchdowns (10) and total touchdowns (11). Tate ranked tied for 83rd in the NCAA FBS in receptions per game (4.46), 28th in receiving yards per game (83.08), 22nd in total receiving yards (1,080) and tied for 16th in receiving touchdowns (10). He became the fifth Irish wideout (sixth time) to ever eclipse 1,000 yards in a single season. Tate recorded 1,754 all-purpose yards (third-most in Notre Dame history), the most by an Irish player since Tim Brown in 1987.

  • Tate has made a similar impact on the diamond this spring. After playing in 18 games, including nine starts, and hitting .262 with three doubles, four RBI and three stolen bases in 2008, Tate has emerged as one of the top leadoff hitters in the BIG EAST Conference. He is batting .328 with five doubles, a triple and seven RBI. Tate also is 6-for-7 in stolen bases. He carried a career-best nine game hitting streak into the March 25 matchup with Oakland, but went 0-for-3. The nine-game hitting streak was tied with senior Jeremy Barnes and junior David Mills (also ended against Oakland) for the second-longest by a Notre Dame player this season. Junior A.J. Pollock posted a 10-game hitting streak.

NOTRE DAME LOVES ITS R & R — Freshman reliever and South Bend native Ryan Richter has not wasted much time in making an impact for his hometown Irish. Richter, who missed most of his senior season with an injury, has made six appearances for Notre Dame and sports a 3-0 record with a 1.29 earned run average in 14.0 innings of work. He has yielded 11 hits and five walks, along with 10 strikeouts, while opponents are batting just .212 against him. Richter attended St. Joseph’s High School, mere minutes from the Notre Dame campus. He could become the 21st South Bend native to monogram with the Irish baseball team and seventh from St. Joe, including the likes of Matt Nussbaum (1999-00), Tony Zappia (1970-71), Marty DeGraff (1993-94), Joe Kernan (1967-68), Nick Mainieri (2004-05) and Michael McNeill (1985).

AS BARNES GOES, SO GO THE IRISH — Notre Dame senior Jeremy Barnes has had a remarkable start to the 2009 season. Barnes is hitting .353 with nine doubles, five triples, six home runs and 39 RBI, but his performance in victories is even more impressive. Barnes leads the Irish with a .453 batting average (34-for-75), .800 slugging percentage and .527 on-base percentage in their 20 victories. On the other hand, he is hitting just .182 (8-for-44) with a .432 slugging percentage and .280 on-base percentage in Notre Dame’s 12 losses. In fact, the Irish are 19-6 when Barnes has a hit and 11-2 when he has a multi-hit affair.

MILLS MAKES MAJOR IMPROVEMENTS FROM THE BUMP — Notre Dame junior David Mills got plenty of recognition in 2008 for his efforts at the plate. The outfielder was named first team all-BIG EAST after hitting .349 with six triples, two home runs and 26 RBI. However, Mills did not experience the same type success on the mound. He went 1-0 in 11 relief appearances, but posted a 6.23 ERA and opponents batted .450 against him. In 2009, Mills has not only continued his tear at the plate, but has become a reliable option out of the Notre Dame bullpen. He is 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA in seven relief appearances. Mills has struck out seven, walked three and surrendered six hits in 9.0 innings of work. In fact, opponents are batting just .194 against him.

SLINGING Sam Elam — Senior Sam Elam has experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows over his career with the Irish. Elam, considered the top-pitching prospect in the entire BIG EAST conference following the summer of 2007, made just one appearance in 2008 dealing with major control problems. He walked four, uncorked three wild pitches and allowed two earned runs on no hits in 1.0 inning. This from the same pitcher that took a no-hitter into the eighth inning (two outs) against Purdue on April 18, 2007. Elam went the distance that night and blanked the Boilermakers on just one hit with nine strikeouts. He has shown signs of regaining the form of 2006 and 2007. Elam fanned a pair in his scoreless inning of work against Dayton on Feb. 28 and tossed 3.0 more effective innings of relief against Central Michigan on March 24. The southpaw allowed just a pair of infield hits and one earned run, but struck out five and walked two. The outing was Elam’s longest of the season and longest since going 4.1 innings on April 24, 2007 against Rutgers.

FRESHMEN ARMS ACTING FAR FROM IT — Notre Dame entered this season with tremendous depth in its pitching staff and much of it was due in part to a large contingent of freshmen. LHP Ryan Richter, LHP Dustin Ispas, RHP Will Hudgins, LHP Steve Sabatino and LHP Joe Spano have each made their respective contributions early in 2009. The quintet owns a combined 5-2 record with a 4.11 ERA in 72.1 innings of work and opponents are batting .247 against the group.

IF ONLY AN INNING ENDED WITH TWO OUTS — Notre Dame had allowed 37 runs and a .220 batting average (39-for-177) with two outs over its first 17 games, but Seton Hall registered 19 runs, 16 RBI and a .440 batting average (22-for-50) with two outs over the three-game series.

  • In fact, 15 of those runs and 13 of those two out RBI came over the last two games of the series. The Pirates also hit .486 (18-for-37) with two down in Saturday and Sunday’s victories.
  • It was déjà-vu all over again against Central Michigan. After Notre Dame plated three runs in the bottom of the first inning to grab a 3-0 lead, the Chippewas followed with six runs in the top of the second inning. The six runs were not only all unearned, but also all scored with two outs.
  • Over those four games, Notre Dame’s opponents plated an astounding 28 runs with two outs. In fact, the Irish had allowed 35 two-out RBI over their first 18 games, but surrendered 23 in those four contests.

Fighting for a Cure — Senior Ryan Connolly has faced adversity over his career at Notre Dame. The outfielder/catcher has seen limited playing time over the past two years due to a reoccurring shoulder injury — an injury that caused him to miss his entire freshman season in 2006. But, this adversity all pails in comparison to what Connolly faced in 2002 as a 15-year old sophomore in high school.

  • Connolly’s father, Michael, passed away after a two-year battle with lung cancer despite never smoking a cigarette over his entire life. Connolly, and his mother Penny, along with the assistance of Dr. Leslie Kohman (Michael’s surgeon), began the Michael E. Connolly Endowment for Lung Cancer Research.
  • The goal was to raise $500,000. The Connollys and the Board of Directors are responsible for all the groundwork fundraising efforts. After just three years of diligently collecting pledges and hosting golf tournaments and other fundraising events, they reached their goal. The Connolly Endowment issued its first grant of $10,000, which was then matched by the Hendrick’s Fund at Upstate Medical University, to a group of researchers trying to determine if lung cancer patients who had surgery would also benefit from a cancer-inhibiting drug.

— ND —