April 17, 2007
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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame’s 2007 baseball season has been an ongoing rollercoaster ride, so it was only fitting that the Irish experienced several major ups and downs on Tuesday night before edging Toledo, 8-7. The Rockets – led by head coach Cory Mee and assistant J.J. Brock (both former Notre Dame players) – took a 5-0 cushion into the middle innings, only to see the Irish chip away and take a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the 8th. The visitors then responded with two unearned runs to start the 9th but Notre Dame had one more rally, as Jeremy Barnes stroked a leadoff double and ultimately scored on a wild pitch, giving the Irish their fifth win in the past six games.
Notre Dame (18-17) – which had been just 1-13 this season when facing a deficit of three or more runs and was 1-16 when staring at any deficit when heading into the 8th – has been looking to show a comeback spirit in recent weeks, and players up-and-down the lineup stepped up to help provide that special feeling in the win over Toledo (16-14). Tuesday’s late-inning rally marked the first time since 2004 that the Irish have overcome a five-run deficit to win a game, dating back to a 12-11, 11-inning win over Southern Illinois. That 2004 spring break game in San Antonio also saw the Irish comeback dampened by coughing up two runs right back to the opposition. In fact, each of the past four times that Notre Dame has overcome a five-run deficit, the opponent has come back to take the lead or tie the game (also at Pittsburgh in 2004 and at Rutgers in ’05).
Notre Dame’s 14-hit attack, consisting of 13 singles and the double by Barnes, featured two-hit games from six different Irish players. Graduate student Matt Weglarz was one of those with two hits and the DH played a key role in the comeback, with a pair of RBI, a run scored and a bases-loaded walk from his cleanup spot. Weglarz now has hits in five of his past seven games (9-for-25/.360 in that span), with the former Missouri State standout elevating his season batting average from .200 to .259 in that seven-game stretch.
Freshman catcher Ryan Smith executed a perfect sacrifice bunt that moved Barnes to third base in the 9th. Moments later, closer Joe Roberts uncorked a wild pitch as the Irish finalized the comeback win.
The go-ahead sequence in the bottom of the 8th included a pinch-hit single from sophomore Eddy Mendiola, who went the other way on an 0-2 pitch for a single through the right side. Mendiola now is batting 6-for-10 as a pinch-hitter this season, equaling the rest of the team’s pinch-hit total in 2007 (6-for-42/.142). Jeff Cinadr – the second of four Toledo relievers – then hit Brett Lilley with a 1-1 pitch, marking the 65th career hit-by-pitch for Lilley in two-and-a-half seasons (he already ranks seventh in the NCAA record book for career HBPs). A.J. Pollock followed by hitting a groundball to the right side and the second baseman Ryan Laude tried to make a tricky throw to his right, with the resulting error allowing Wright to score the tying run while Lilley and Pollock took an extra base.
Toledo opted to set up the double play with an intentional walk to Ross Brezovsky. Righthander Matt Meinberg then entered the game but failed to retire Weglarz, who earned a full-count walk on a check-swing to force home the go-ahead run. Senior first baseman Mike Dury then jumped all over the next pitch and appeared to have launched his seventh home run of the season, but rightfielder Joel Visser hauled in the ball deep on the warning track for a sacrifice fly and the 7-5 lead.
Barnes had his own personal rollercoaster ride in the game, starting with his 7th-inning blast that initially looked to be headed over the leftfield fence. The gusting winds somehow kept the ball in the park and the leftfielder Jake Swint made a highlight-reel catch, as he dove back towards the fence in full extension. Barnes was center-stage in a more negative way two innings later, when the second baseman’s error on a potential game-ending double-play ball helped produce the pair of unearned runs that tied the game. But quick redemption was waiting in the bottom of the frame, as Barnes drove an 0-1 pitch from Roberts into the right-center gap and reached second base standing up for the opposite-field double.
Senior righthander Jess Stewart (2-1) was credited with the win after pitching the 9th while sophomore RHP Andrew Scheid logged three shutout innings of middle relief to help set up the comeback. Scheid faced just 11 batters, striking out one while allowing a hit, a walk and also hitting a batter. Scheid erased one of his baserunners on a first-base pickoff throw in the 7th before watching Smith throw out an attempted basestealer in the 8th.
Tuesday’s game appeared to be another night of missed opportunity, as the Irish totaled 17 baserunners in the first seven innings but had only four runs to show for it (with two of those runs coming unearned). Notre Dame ultimately totaled 24 men on base, with eight crossing home plate, 11 left stranded, two thrown out between third base and home and another caught stealing (plus a double play that halted another scoring chance).
The Irish started their comeback when Weglarz ripped a single off the third baseman leading off the bottom of the 6th. Two batters later, Toledo had the chance to turn an inning-ending double play but a poor throw from the shortstop left Weglarz and Danny Dressman in scoring position. Barnes did his job with a groundout to the right side (scoring the first Irish run) and Smith followed with a clutch full-count hit, firmly striking the ball into right field for an opposite-field single and a 5-2 score.
Chris Fields relieved righthanded starter Todd Thomas (6 IP, 2 UER, 7 H, 3 BB, 3 Ks) in the 7th, as the Irish crept closer with two more runs. Lilley fell into an 0-2 hole leading off the inning but he then sliced the ball into the leftside hole, as his counterpart at shortstop (Jake Oester) was unable to prevent the opposite-field single. The righthanded-hitting Pollock then drove the next pitch through the right side and Brezovsky loaded the bases with his own first-pitch single, up the middle. Fields worked to a 2-2 count on Weglarz but the Irish cleanup batter pulled the next pitch through the left side, putting the tying run on second base with no outs.
Cinadr then took the hill and was able to record a strikeout, groundout and flyout – with Dressman nonetheless plating a run as the second batter in that sequence, after pulling a 2-1 pitch to the right side.
Notre Dame now owns a dominating 35-14 scoring margin in the 7th inning, representing its second-most runs (to 36 in the 3rd) and widest scoring margin in any inning this season. The Irish are batting .347 in the 7th inning this season, also second-best behind the team’s near-.400 average in the 3rd (.393).
Toledo leadoff batter Drew Hoisington was poised to be his team’s hero of the night, after blasting a three-run shot in the 3rd and later adding a leadoff single as the visitors scored twice in the 5th.
Jake Oester’s leadoff walk versus Brett Graffy sparked the game’s first scoring inning. Nate McKeon then beat out a ball hit to Lilley and Hoisington – a junior centerfielder who earned all-Mid-American Conference honors in 2006 – connected on a 2-2 pitch, drilling it down the leftfield line and over the fence for the early 3-0 lead.
The home run was the first in a Notre Dame game (by either team) since the series at Pittsburgh three weekends ago, ending a nine-game combined home run drought. The Irish pitchers have surrendered just 11 home runs in 35 games this season and had held the opposition without a long ball in 14 of the previous 15 games. The 13 games at Eck Stadium this season have produced just seven total home runs: four by the Irish, plus two by Western Michigan (nearly a month ago, back on March 21) and the blast by Hoisington.
Two innings later, Hoisington sent a full-count single into left field and moved up on a stolen base, followed by Jake Swint’s full-count walk. Joel Visser took the next pitch for a ball before sending a two-run double down the leftfield line, with Graffy then holding the deficit at 5-0 by inducing a popup, striking out 5-hole hitter Josh Colliver and serving up a leftside groundout.
Lilley extended his errorless streak to 14 games (55 fielding chances), matching the second-longest stretch of games without an error in his Notre Dame career. His pair of HBPs in Tuesday’s game marked the 10th time in Lilley’s career that he has been hit-by-pitch multiple times in the same game.
The pair of unearned runs in the 9th means that the Irish now have allowed 54 unearned runs, nearly one-third of the total runs scored by the opposition this season (167).
COMEBACK NOTES – Based on preliminary research, here’s a look at the three most recent games in which Notre Dame had come back from a 5-run deficit to either tie the game or take the lead (prior to Tuesday’s win over Toledo):
* March 6, 2004 (ND 12, SIU 11, in 11 innings; Wolff Stadium; San Antonio, Texas) – Southern Illinois enjoyed an early 5-0 lead (after 3) and then led 9-3 as the game entered the 6th inning … the Irish chipped away with 2 runs in the 6th and 3 in the 8th before dramatically tying the game with a run in the 9th … with 2 out in the bottom of the 9th, SIU’s starting shortstop P.J. Finigan took the mound and jumped ahead vs. Matt Macri, who sent an 0-1 pitch up the middle to keep the Irish alive … Finigan then owned an 0-2 edge on Steve Andres but the lefthanded DH was not fooled on a third straight changeup, slicing an opposite-field double into the left-center gap (Macri was running on the play and motored all the way around to force extra innings) … SIU answered with two runs in the 10th but ND again fought back with 2-outs, this time with Steve Sollmann on first base … clutch singles from Matt Edwards (first-pitch shot up the middle) and Javi Sanchez (2-1 ball hit to the left side) loaded the bases before Cody Rizzo – who had struck out in the 9th – gained redemption vs. Finigan by tying the score, sending the first pitch he saw into left field for a two-run single … Craig Cooper was an unlikely hero in the 11th, after enduring a case of the flu that had limited him to earlier pinch-runner duties … in the game as a righthanded DH, Cooper greeted RHP Tyler Norrick with a double to right-center (on a 1-1 pitch) … SIU then misplayed a sac. bunt from Greg Lopez and Cooper scampered home moments later with the winning run, on a wild pitch … five different players – Andres, Macri, Edwards, Sanchez and Rizzo – all delivered hits with Notre Dame down to its final out.
* April 25, 2004 (at Pitt 8, ND 6, in 7 innings; Trees Field) – Just six week after the comeback vs. SIU, the Irish found themselves in a quick 5-0 hole vs. Pitt (2nd inning) before rallying to tie the 7-inning series opener in the 5th … much like the SIU game (and tonight’s battle with Toledo), ND’s good feelings were shortlived, as the Panthers answered with three in the bottom of the 5th and went on to the 8-6 win.
* April 4, 2005 (at Rutgers 11, ND 10, in 10 innings; Class of ’53 Complex) – One of the classic battles in this fierce rivalry saw Rutgers stretch to an 8-3 cushion heading into the 7th before owning a 9-3 lead entering the 8th … Tony Langford’s solo home run then helped ND put two more runs on the board (9-5), with the hosts getting one of those runs back in the bottom of the frame … but the Irish would not go quietly, rallying to tie the game with five runs in the 9th – capped by another home run from the unlikely hero Langford (a 2-run shot that dramatically tied the game) … once again, the Irish excitement quickly faded, as Rutgers went on to score the winning run in the 10th.
Toledo (17-13) 0-0-3 0-2-0 0-0-2 – 7 9 2
Notre Dame (17-18) 0-0-0 0-0-2 2-3-1 – 8 14 3
Home Run: Drew Hoisington (TOL; 2 on in 3rd; 8th of season)
Doubles: Jeremy Barnes (ND), Joel Visser (TOL), Ryan Laude (TOL), Scott Boley (TOL).