April 30, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Junior righthander Grant Johnson opened the game with three no-hit innings while junior Matt Macri and sophomore Matt Bransfield combined to bat 5-for-8 from their respective No. 2 and 3 spots in the batting order, as the 8th-ranked Notre Dame baseball team headed into its finals break with a 7-5 win over IPFW in Friday-night action at Eck Stadium.
Notre Dame (35-9) – which completed a rare stretch of eight games in eight days, including four straight midweek games – now will take an eight-day break from competition before looking to make a final push for the BIG EAST Conference title and postseason positioning. The Irish will anticipate the return of sophomore shortstop Greg Lopez, who has missed the last three games while resting a sore back, while senior All-America second baseman Steve Sollmann could be nearing his return from a fractured jaw suffered in early April. Freshman righthander Derik Olvey has been sidelined since late March with a sore forearm while freshman catcher Sean Gaston has missed the last eight games due to mononucleosis (he could return by the end of the regular season).
The Irish held a 4-1 lead before the Mastodons pushed across four runs in the top of the 6th. The hosts then quickly reclaimed the lead with three runs in the bottom of the inning before freshman righthander Rico Bertucci and sophomore closer Ryan Doherty combined to shut out IPFW (18-26) over the final three innings.
Despite going 4-4 in its last eight games, Notre Dame breaks for finals as one of just 14 Division I teams (out of 287) with single-digit losses, joining Stanford (33-6), East Carolina (36-6), Albany (27-6), Texas (41-7), Rice (33-7), Oral Roberts (33-7), College of Charleston (32-8), Miami (31-9), Virginia (35-9), Central Florida (32-9), Wichita State (28-9), Southern (24-9) and Eastern Kentucky (26-9) in that single-loss distinction.
Notre Dame baseball has a direct connection with two of the other single-loss teams, as first-year UVa head coach Brian O’Connor was an assistant on Paul Mainieri’s staff for the previous nine seasons while EKU pitching coach John Corbin is a former ND record-setting closer.
Johnson – who was held to a short pitch count, after a strong start last Sunday at Pittsburgh – faced just 11 batters over the first three innings, with two walks and four strikeouts in his 42-pitch outing.
Macri continued his strong play at home this season by batting 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored while Bransfield was 3-for-4 out of the 3-hole, with an RBI and two runs scored. Both players also hit their second triples of the week while again playing at different positions (Macri at shortstop, Bransfield at first) to accomodate Lopez’s absence (junior Matt Edwards again started at third base).
A one-out error helped open the door for the Irish in the 6th, as first baseman Caleb Smith booted a slow roller off the bat of Alex Nettey. Sophomore rightfielder Cody Rizzo (who hit in the leadoff spot for the first time since early in the ’03 season) then came through on a 1-2 pitch by sending a hit-and-run single through the right side, ending the night for sophomore righthander Keegan Laycock (2-4).
Sophomore lefthander Travis Johnson then balked in the tying run before even throwing a pitch, with Rizzo then stealing third before Macri walked on five pitches. Bransfield followed with his own 1-2 hit, drilling an RBI single into left field, and Steve Andres advanced Macri to third before clutch-hitting senior catcher Javi Sanchez sent a full-count single to center that capped the inning.
The Irish opened the scoring in the 1st after singles up the middle from Macri and Bransfield and an RBI groundout off the bat of Andres. Notre Dame then added a pair of runs in the 3rd, sparked by Macri’s leadoff triple to the right-center gap. Bransfield was hit by the next pitch and Laycock then plunked Andres with a full-count offering before Craig Cooper hit a one-out RBI groundout and stole second, with Andres scoring on the errant throw for a 3-0 lead.
Senior lefthander Joe Thaman extended the no-hitter into the 5th, when IPFW scored a run after a Ryan Keena single and Matt Hagedorn’s double. The Irish restored the three-run cushion moments later, with Bransfield taking his turn at a leadoff triple (to left-center) followed by Andres’ four-pitch walk (his team-leading 35th of the season) and a rightside groundball from Sanchez that plated the runner. Shortstop Ryan Steinbach tagged Andres with his glove while holding the ball in his other hand but Andres still was called out on the play, costing the Irish a chance at the big inning.
IPFW surged to a 4-3 lead in the 6th, after loading the bases on a Ryan Steinbach walk and singles from Brandon Armstrong and Brent Alwin. Tyker Fowler’s walk and a wild pitch pushed home two runs to tie the score and Zach Walton added a single to right-center for the brief Mastodons lead.
NOTES – Bertucci retired all three batters he faced in the 7th and now owns a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings pitched, plus 9 Ks, no walks and a .205 opp. batting avg. (8-for-39) … Doherty set down all six he faced (2 Ks) and now has converted 8-of-9 save chances this season … only five previous ND pitchers – J.P. Gagne (13, in ’03), Corbin (11, in ’00; 9, in ’99), Mike Coffey (10, in ’89) and Aaron Heilman (9, in ’98) have posted more saves in a season … Doherty’s season stats also include a 5-1 record and 1.88 ERA in 24 innings, with 34 Ks, 10 walks and a .101 opp. batting avg. (8-for-79) … Johnson lowered his season ERA to 2.36, with a .184 opp. batting avg. (18-for-98) in 26.2 IP (23 Ks/14 BB) … Johnson had runners on the corners with one out in the 3rd before getting leadoff batter Dustin Fremion to go down looking at a 1-2 strike … three ND players (also Nettey) were hit by pitches, pushing ND’s team-record total to 81 HBPs (just 10 previous teams in Div. I history have totaled 100-plus HBPs in a season) … Rizzo, who has 16 HBPs this season and an ND-record 44 in his career, drew just his second walk of the season while becoming the ninth different ND player to hit in the leadoff spot this season … Macri is the first ND player with six-plus triples in a season since J.J. Brock (8) and Randall Brooks (7) in 1997 … he is the 12th ND player with six-plus triples in a season while his 11 career triples are tied with Gene Duffy (the fan-favorite centerfielder of the 1957 College World Series team) for 12th in the ND record book … Edward hit 1-for-3 to cap a .438 week (7-for-16, 5 RBI, 4 R, HR, 2 2B, 2 BB, K, SB).
FINALS BREAK CHECKUP – Macri heads into the finals break with a team-best .346 batting avg., followed closely by Cooper (.345) and Lopez (.341) … the three Matts – Edwards (44), Macri (40) and Bransfield (40) – each are on pace for 60-RBI seasons … the ’04 team’s 8.39 runs per game rank 3rd in the ND record book, behind the 1958 (9.24) and 1993 (8.87) teams … the 10.91 hits per game are 2nd-best by an ND team in the last 46 years (the ’97 team averaged 11.35, the ’58 team 10.92) while the team’s .415 on-base pct. would rank 4th (best since ’94) … over the course of a 64-game season (including BIG EAST Tournament and NCAA Regional play), the Irish are on pace for 125 doubles (would rank 4th in ND history), 64 home runs (4th, most since ’99) and 118 HBPs (Nevada’s 125 in 1997 are the NCAA record) … ND needs to go 11-1 to set the team record for regular-season wins (46) … the ND pitching staff’s low walk avg. (2.69 BB per 9 IP) and K-to-walk ratio (2.58) both are on pace for 2nd in team history (the ’01 pitchers owned a 2.48 BB/9 IP and 2.92 K/BB) while the ’04 staff’s .249 opp. batting avg. would rank 5th in the ND record book … despite a recent dropoff, ND’s .964 fielding pct. still would rank 5th in the program’s history (2nd-best since ’92) … the current .796 winning pct. would rank 6th in the ND baseball program’s 112-year history and best since the 1922 team went 19-4 (.826) … ND is riding a 128-game scoring streak that ranks 3rd-longest in ND history (231 from ’99-’02; 133 from ’95-’97) … by winning its next four games, ND would climb to +30 for the sixth season in the program’s history … Doherty’s 1.88 ERA would rank 13th in ND history (5th-best since 1990) while freshman RHP Jeff Samardzija (2.28) and Johnson (2.36) would rank 22nd and 23rd on the ND season ERA list … Doherty (21) is on pace for 31 appearances (which would rank 2nd to Coffey’s 37 in ’89) … Doherty (1st, .101), Johnson (3rd, .184), Thaman (4th, .194) and Samardzija (7th, .210) also are on track for some of the best opponent batting averages in the ND record book (since ’91) … Doherty’s 3.00 hits allowed per 9 IP is better than Ed Lupton’s standing ND record (4.83, in ’63) while his 12.75 Ks per 9 IP are ahead of Frank Carpin’s ND record (12.63, in ’58) … junior RHP Chris Niesel owns a 4.36 season K-to-walk ratio that would rank 8th in ND history (his 4.12 career K/BB ratio is ahead of Alan Walania’s standing record of 4.00, from ’90-’93) … Niesel also is averaging just 1.92 walks per 9 IP in his career (5th in ND record book), owns the program’s 4th-best career winning pct. (.857, 18-3) and is 8th on the career K list at 210 (four behind Tim Kalita and 26 back of Walania) … Samardzija’s impressive season also includes just one wild pitch, one home run allowed and no hit batters in 43.1 IP … Bransfield is on pace for 15 home runs (just eight previous ND players have hit 15-plus HRs in a season, the last being Brant Ust’s 17 in 1999) … Macri needs four more triples to join Scott Sollmann (11, in ’95) and Shaun Fitzmaurice (10, in ’64) as the only ND players with double-digit triples in a season and also is on pace for 79 runs scored, which would be just shy of 2nd in the ND record book (Pat Pesavento scored 81 runs in ’88 and 88 in ’89 while Dan Peltier had 81 runs in ’89) … Andres is on track for 47 walks (would rank 7th in ND record book and most since ’94) … three more triples also will place Macri in a five-way tied for 3rd on that ND career list (behind Scott Sollmann’s 24 from ’94-’96 and Brock’s 16 from ’94-’98).
IPFW (18-26) 0-0-0 0-1-4 0-0-0 – 5 5 2
#8 NOTRE DAME (35-9) 1-0-2 0-1-3 0-0-X – 7 9 1
Keegan Laycock (L, 2-4), Travis Johnson (6), Adam Ferris (6) and Matt Hagedorn.
Grant Johnson, Joe Thaman (4; W, 4-1), Rico Bertucci (7), Ryan Doherty (8; SV, 8)) and Javi Sanchez.
Triples: Matt Macri (ND), Matt Bransfield (ND).
Doubles: Matt Hagedorn (IPFW).