May 28, 2003
NOTRE DAME BASEBALL
2003 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP – Fullerton Regional
May 30 – June 1 … Goodwin Field … Fullerton, Calif.
(Note: click on PDF link for complete release, including stat and chart information and uodated position player bio. capsules)
The Notre Dame baseball team (43-16) is heading to the west coast to open its quest for a return to the College World Series, with the Irish one of four teams named to participate at the May 30-June 1 regional at California State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field … Notre Dame (43-16) – fresh off becoming the first repeat BIG EAST Conference champion in 17 years – is the third seed in the four-team regional and will open play in Friday’s early game (3:00 PDT, 5:00 in South Bend) vs. 2nd-seeded University of Arizona, followed by the game between the University of San Diego and national No. 7 seed Cal State Fullerton at approximately 7:00 … the winners then advance to Saturday’s pivotal winner’s bracket bracket game (4:00), in the double-elimination format, to be preceded by an elimination game between the losers of Friday’s games (12:30). Saturday’s second elimination game will be played at 7:30, with the championship round slated to begin at 2:00 on Sunday (the “if necessary” game would follow 50 minutes later) … check back to und.com throughout the week for updated game notes.
KALITA PROBABLE GAME-1 STARTER – Senior RHP Ryan Kalita (3.29 ERA, 6-1 record, 56 Ks, 26 BB, 62 H in 68.1 IP) is ND’s probable starting pitcher for the Arizona game while the rest of the weekend’s rotation is TBA … sophomore RHP and 2003 BIG EAST pitcher of the year Chris Niesel remains sidelined on a day-to-day basis with a minor hand injury.
NCAA HISTORY – Notre Dame is making its 18th all-time appearance in the NCAA baseball tournament and the sixth of the nine-year Paul Mainieri era.
THE LEFT COAST – The trip to southern California will represent ND’s second NCAA baseball competition west of Omaha, Neb. (where the Irish played in the 1957 and 2002 College World Series), with the 1989 Notre Dame team competing in a regional held at Fresno State. Other ND teams previously have played NCAA tournament games at Minnesota (twice), Western Michigan (2), Illinois, Ohio State, Miami, Florida State (2), Clemson, Alabama and Mississippi State.
ROLE REVERSAL – The Fullerton and Notre Dame baseball programs have some familiarity with one another, as CSF won the 1999 NCAA Regional hosted at ND’s Eck Stadium (and then won a Super Regional at Ohio State to advance to the College World Series) … CSF was unable to host NCAA baseball action for several years due to a conflict with its on-campus graduation but the Titans finally were able to host in 2000 and again in ’01 … Fullerton joins Minnesota and Western Michigan as teams that have played NCAA games at Notre Dame and also played host to the Irish in NCAA baseball competition.
WHAT’S NEXT – The winner of the CSF Regional would advance to play the winner of a regional being hosted by Arizona State at Tempe’s minor-league Diablo Stadium. Other teams in the ASU Regional include UNLV, New Mexico State and Central Connecticut.
THE REGIONAL FIELD – Arizona (35-21) finished fourth in the Pacific-10 standings (13-11) while Fullerton was the second-place finisher in the Big West Conference (43-13, 15-6) and has compiled a 26-2 overall record at home this season … San Diego (31-28, 18-2) won its West Coast Conference divisional title before defeating Pepperdine in a three-game series to earn the WCC’s automatic NCAA bid.
TOP SEEDS – The other national seeds in addition to No. 7 Fullerton include (listed 1-6) Florida State, LSU, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Rice and Stanford, plus No. 8 Miami.
TICKETS – Ticket information for the regional is available by calling the Cal State Fullerton box office at (714) 278-CSUF. A regional web site also will be launched at TitanSports.org later today.
RADIO, TV AND LIVE-STAT COVERAGE – All of Notre Dame’s 2003 regular-season and postseason games again will be broadcast by South Bend-based WDND 1620 AM (and its sister station, WNDV 1490) … the broadcasts are available via the internet at www.und.com (College Sports Pass subscription required) … College Sports Television (DirectTV channel 610) also is expected to telecast upwards of the entire Fullerton Regional (check back to und.com for official release, or see www.cstv.com) … und.com also provides links to livestats on the website’s main page, for all home games and select road games (including the postseason).
Her’s A Look At How Notre Dame Has Answered 10 Major Preseason Questions:
Who would emerge as the new leadoff hitter, at a spot held the previous four seasons mostly by Steve Stanley (and fellow 2002 grads Ken Meyer and Paul O’Toole)?
Sophomore SS Matt Macri and freshman OF Cody Rizzo were tried at the leadoff spot in the first seven games before ND moved junior 2B Steve Sollmann up from the 2-hole into the top spot … Sollmann has responded by batting .370 overall, scoring 64 runs and stealing 33 bases – in addition to reaching base on a team-best 53-percent of his leadoff plate appearances (best on the team).
Who would fill the gap in center field, where Stanley started all 256 games from 1999-2002?
Freshmen Craig Cooper and Cody Rizzo were tried in center the first two weeks of the season before their classmate Brennan Grogan started 21 of the next 22 games at CF … another freshman, Alex Nettey then started three games in center – with senior RF Kris Billmaier making the shift in the last month to CF (27 starts).
Who would step into the No. 3 batting order spot, occupied in ’02 by LF Brian Stavisky (signed as a junior 6th-round pick of the Oakland A’s)?
Junior corner IF Matt Edwards has made most of his starts in the 3-hole (also batting cleanup) while ranking as one of ND’s most pivotal players … Edwards – who missed most of the ’02 season with a broken leg – is batting .379 with 65 RBI and 8 home runs in 58 games played, comparable to Stavisky’s ’02 stats (.394, 57 RBI, 9 HR in 50 GP).
How would sophomores Matt Macri (SS) and Matt Edwards (3B/1B) return from the injuries that held them out for most of the 2002 season?
Edwards (see previous note) was arguably the key factor to ND’s first-half success (with Steve Sollmann’s production again meeting his usual high standard) while Macri – who missed most of ’02 with ACL elbow surgery – has overcome a slow start to boost his batting average to .293 while totaling just 17 errors (he made four Es in the first four games and was batting just .211 in late March) … Macri also has showcased his range, glovework and arm strength to throw out several batters.
Who would meet the challenge as the staff’s No. 3 starter, after the preseason surgery to ace Grant Johnson?
Ryan Kalita has stepped up as the No. 3 starter in the second half of the season, helping overcome the loss of Johnson and Kalita’s fellow senior RHP Peter Ogilvie (recently returned from sore shoulder rehab) … Kalita (13-1 ND career) is 6-1 with a 3.29 ERA and .247 opp. batting avg. in 2003 (56 Ks, 26 BB, 62 H in 68.1 IP).
Would the Irish experience a dropoff in power, most notably due to the loss of O’Toole (11 HRs in ’02) and Stavisky (9)?
The 2003 team’s current home run total (30) is well short of the HR total by the ’02 squad (53) and the Irish may not have a double-digit HR hitter on the ’03 squad, with Matt Edwards (8) the current long-ball leader while the team’s only multi-HR game of the season came in game #2 vs. Newman (2 HRs by Kris Billmaier).
Would the Irish have speed and good basestealing ability, after the loss of Stanley and O’Toole?
The return of sophomore SS Matt Macri and the addition of freshmen Brennan Grogan, Cody Rizzo, Craig Cooper and Greg Lopez has added some quality baserunners to the 2003 lineup – with the current SB total (77) besting the SB total from 2002 (63) … the combination of junior 2B Steve Sollmann (33), Grogan (15) and Cooper (10) gives the 2003 Irish a group of three players who have swiped 10-plus bases (Stanley’s 32 and O’Toole’s 11 were ND’s only double-digit SB players in ’02).
How would junior Javi Sanchez handle the position switch from the middle infield to catcher?
Sanchez – a prep 2B who filled in at SS in ’02 – has made an impressive transition behind the dish while doing a solid job batting mostly in the 5-hole (.296, 38 R, 24 RBI, HR, 3B, 13 2B, 20 BB), highlighted by his MVP performance at the BIG EAST Tournament (8-for-11, 4 BB, 4 SAC, 6 RBI, 5 R, 3 2B) … Sanchez has cut down on his passed balls and has made major strides in throwing out attempted basestealers, due to his strong arm and agility behind the plate.
How quickly and to what degree would the freshman position players make an impact?
Five freshman position players – RF Cody Rizzo, LF Brennan Grogan, 3B Greg Lopez, DH Steve Andres and OF/DH Craig Cooper – played key roles in the first half of the 2003 season, combining to make 99 starts (after 29 games) while batting a combined .318 (114-for-358) … their biggest statistical contributions (at the 29-game mark) included 62% of Notre Dame’s times hit-by-pitch, 50% of the team’s triples, 43% of the stolen bases and 42% of the runs scored (94 of 224) … those players, plus freshman DH Matt Bransfield, have continued to play key roles in the second half of the 2003 season.
Would the offense do its share to complement the talented core of veteran pitchers?
The 2003 team (.306 team batting avg.) – which has taken on a more righthanded slant (after the departure of five lefthanded-hitting position starters) – is lagging behind the 2002 team’s final batting average (.321) but the Irish have been able to bunch together their hits to the tune of 21 “big innings” (5-plus runs) and 23 wins by 5-plus runs (two more than the 2002 team’s total of wins by 5-plus).
- Notre Dame has a limited playing history versus the other three teams in the CSF Regional, particularly in recent years.
- The Irish have lost five previous games versus Arizona, the last coming in a pair of road games during the first week of the 1993 season (6-19, 9-10). Notre Dame also dropped three games at Arizona in 1961 (3-5, 4-12, 1-6), just days after winning a 2-0 game at San Diego (the only game of the ND-USD series). Those games were part of Notre Dame’s 13-game west coast swing to open the 1961 season.
- Both of the previous Notre Dame-Cal State Fullerton matchups have come in the Mainieri era, with the Titans posting a 20-3 win over the Irish at the 1995 Anaheim Classic (Mainieri’s second game at ND) while CSF beat ND in the 1999 regional winner’s bracket game at Eck Stadium (6-3) before winning a Super Regional at Ohio State.
- Fullerton joins Minnesota and Western Michigan as teams that have played NCAA games at Notre Dame and also played host to the Irish in NCAA baseball competition.
- This marks the third time in the last five years that Notre Dame has been placed in a regional with a Big West Conference team, as UC Santa Barbara was part of the field at ND’s 2001 South Bend Regional.
QUICK NOTES ON THE IRISH – ND entered the week as one of eight teams ranked in the national top-20 for staff ERA (19th, 3.51) and fielding pct. (17th, .971) … ND joins Texas and Rice as the only teams in the top-20 for ERA each of the past four seasons (ND was 16th in ’00, 5th in 01 and 13th in 2002) … senior closer J.P. Gagne has set the ND record for saves in a season (12) and did not allowed an earned run in 10 outings (25 IP) before a West Virginia score at the BIG EAST Tournament … freshman RHP Ryan Doherty has not allowed on earned run since a rough outing in the season opener, spanning 12 appearances and 22.2 innings (his ERA was 67.50 after the opener and now is 1.93) … Steve Sollmann’s 33 stolen bases have bested his brother Scott’s freshman-year total (26, in ’94) and he now ranks 4th on the ND single-season SB list (Scott holds the ND record, with 51 in 1996) … Gagne’s 92 career appearances have tied Chris Michalak’s ND record … the Irish are 9-1 in one-run games this season … ND has been shut out just once in the last 309 games (by Rutgers in 2001, 11-0 at ND) … the Irish posted a 23-5 record at Eck Stadium during the 2003 regular season and now are 43-6 in their last 49 home games … the seven-player senior class has helped ND post a 188-65-1 record during the past four seasons (2000-03), matching the class of 2002 (188-67-1) as the winningest in ND history … the ND defense is on pace to set the team record for season fielding pct. (.971) and has posted 21 error-free games.
GOTTA SWING THE BATS – Improved hitting made a huge difference in Notre Dame’s repeat as BIG EAST Tournament champions … ND’s team batting averages at the previous five conference tournaments had included: .276 in 1996 (35 strikeouts in 6 games), .280 in ’97 (32 Ks in 4 games), .247 in ’98 (41 Ks in 5 games), .238 in ’99 (18 Ks in 3 games), a surge to .295 in 2000 (13 Ks), then .252 in ’01 (18 Ks) and just .208 in the 2002 championship season (25 Ks) … that added up to a .230 avg. batting effort and 30 Ks per season … things changed immediately at the 2003 BET as the Irish pounded out 17 hits in the win over WVU (ND’s most hits ever in the BET) in route to scoring 40 runs in four games and batting .361 overall in the tournament.
40-SOMETHING – Notre Dame owns 15 straight seasons with 40-plus wins, including 49 in 2001, 48 in ’89 and ’92, 46 in ’90, ’93, ’94 and ’00, 45 wins in ’91 and 44 in ’95 … ND’s active streak of seasons with 40-plus wins ranks 3rd in Division I, behind Florida State (26; currently 50-10-1) and Wichita State (26; 47-25, including 10 extra games for Hawaii-trip exemption) … Clemson (38-20) is on the verge of its 18th consecutive 40-win season.
DEFENSIVE DUO – Junior 2B Steve Sollmann (49) and sophomore SS Matt Macri (42) have combined for 91 error-free games this season, leading the way for the team-record .971 fielding pct. … Macri heads into the NCAAs with three errors in his last 10 games while Sollmann has two errors in his last 11 (just four in the last 35 GP) … Sollmann (57 starts) and Macri (56) also have been a reliable and consistent duo up the middle in 2003 and are on the verge of becoming the first ND teammates ever to each total 170-plus assists in the same season (Macri has 172, Sollmann 169).
WINNING WITH CLASS – The current seven-member senior class has helped Notre Dame post 188 wins during the past four seasons, tying the 2002 class for the most wins in a four-year period during the program’s 110-year history … that class of 2003 also has helped ND compile a .742 winning pct. from 2000-03 (188-65-1), good for the 4th-best 4-year win pct. in the program’s history – behind the four-year runs posted by the classes of 1993 (.758, 185-59), 1992 (.750, 187-62-1) and 1994 (.746, 185-63).
NEW TERRITORY – Notre Dame headed into the 2002 NCAAs with plenty of pitchers who never had pitched in the event but now that youth lies in the position players, as the Irish could start as many as six players who never have done battle in an NCAA tournament setting.
MAINIERI HITS WIN NO. 700 – Ninth-year ND head coach Paul Mainieri – now in his 21st overall season – picked up his 700th career coaching victory in the 6-2 series-opening win over Georgetown on Sat., March 29, just 135 games removed from his 600th win (ND’s 99 combined wins in ’01 and ’02 were third-most in nation, behind Florida State’s 107 and South Carolina’s 106) … Mainieri’s 739-437-1 career record (.628) includes 180-121 at St. Thomas (’83-’88), 152-158 at Air Force (’89-’94) and 397-158-1 (.714) at ND (’95-’03), with his 400th win at ND suddenly three Ws away … his ND career includes five BIG EAST titles and five NCAA trips with the Irish (’96, ’99-’02), the program’s first No. 1 ranking in 2001 and first CWS trip since ’57 (in ’02) … he was the nation’s only coach to repeat as ABCA regional coach of the year (Mideast), in 2002, and his squads have extended ND’s streak of seasons with 40-plus wins to 14 (nation’s 4th-longest active streak) … 31 of his ND players have moved on to pro ball, including 12 drafted in the first 10 rounds and pair of first-round pitchers (Brad Lidge in ’98, Aaron Heilman in ’01) … every ND player in the Mainieri era who has completed his eligibility with the Irish has graduated from Notre Dame (46 of 46) while the eight who were signed after their junior seasons have returned to complete or near completion of their graduation requirements (including two-time Academic All-American Brian Stavisky) … Mainieri owns the best BIG EAST winning pct. in the conference’s history (.741, 137-48) … in 73 BIG EAST series spanning eight seasons, the Irish have won 55 with nine splits and just nine series wins by the opponent (just two of them being 3-game sweeps) … the Irish have been swept just four times in 71 all-time BIG EAST doubleheaders (42 ND sweeps, 25 splits).
NOT AS GREEN ON THE HILL – Notre Dame’s 12 active pitchers for the NCAA Tournament have combined for 80 innings of experience in the NCAA Tournament, with 55.2 of those innings coming in the 2002 tournament … closer J.P. Gagne owns most of those NCAA innings (21.0) while his fellow senior RHP Brandon Viloria also has made short relief appearances in the NCAAs (3.1 IP) … sophomore RHPs Chris Niesel (21.1 IP) and John Axford (6.0 IP) also own significant innings in the NCAAs, as does senior RHP Peter Ogilvie 20.1 IP) while his classmate Ryan Kalita logged 1.2 relief innings vs. Stanford in the 2002 CWS opener … the Irish staff also includes senior RHP Matt Laird (6.1 NCAA innings), sophomore RHPs Martin Vergara and Tyler Jones and freshmen Ryan Doherty (RHP) and Tom Thornton (LHP).
WINNING BIG & SMALL – Notre Dame is 9-1 this season in one-run games while posting 23 “big wins” (margin of five-plus runs) … by comparison, the 2002 ND team was 9-8 in one-run games and totaled 21 wins by 5-plus runs.
NCAA STAT LEADERS – Notre Dame enters the postseason ranked 19th in team ERA (3.51) and 17th in fielding pct. (.971) … only seven other teams – Cal State Fullerton (3rd ERA/20th fielding), Long Beach State (6th/1st), Rice (4th/3rd), Mississippi State (14th/16th), Vanderbilt (15th/13th), South Carolina (12th/11th) and Arizona State (10th/12th) – currently are ranked among the top 20 in ERA and fielding … ND also owns the nation’s 17th-best winning pct. (.729, 43-16) … junior 2B Steve Sollmann enters the NCAAs ranked 19th in the nation for stolen bases per game (0.58, also 13th with 33 total SBs) … sophomore RHPs Chris Niesel (9-1) and John Axford (9-3) are tied for 30th on the nation’s victory charts … freshman LHP Tom Thornton (1.84, 53.2 IP) would rank 14th on the national ERA charts but he is just shy of the NCAA minimum (1 IP per team game) … his classmate, RHP Ryan Doherty (1.93, 23.1 IP) also has an impressive season ERA that would rank 17th … senior RHP J.P. Gagne (2.61) and sophomore RHP Chris Niesel (2.69) have the minimum innings but are just shy of the top 50 (2.57 cutoff).
DIFFERENT PATHS – Here’s a comparative look at ND’s pre-NCAA stats in 2002 and ’03 (all numbers in parentheses indicate a negative change):
GOING FOR 10 – Sophomore RHPs Chris Niesel (9-1) and John Axford (9-3) have the chance to become just the third set of ND teammates with 10-plus wins in the same season … Brian Piotrowicz (11-4) and Erik Madsen (10-4) led the 1989 staff that helped return the Irish to the NCAAs while three pitchers from the 1993 team – LHPs Tom Price (12-2) and Chris Michalak (11-5) and RHP David Sinnes (10-3) – both notched double-digit wins that season … only four schools in all of Division I – Rice, Florida State, North Carolina State and UC Riverside – entered the 2003 postseason with a pair of 10-game winners.
ON A ROLL – Chris Niesel also is one victory shy of posting a 10-decision winning streak, which would tie for the second-longest in ND history (spanning a single season) … Aaron Heilman holds that record thanks to his 15-0 season in 2001 … Heilman also won 10 straight decisions in 2000 (after starting 0-1) while Frank “Dreams” Scanlan was the first ever to post a 10-game single-season winning streak, doing so back in 1908 … no other ND pitchers are known to have won 10 straight decisions in a season.
EVEN STEVEN – Notre Dame’s scoring dominance in the 2nd inning this season (64-13) has nearly been matched by the team’s scoring edge two innings later in the 4th (53-24) and then two later in the 6th (79-34) for a combined edge of 196-71 (+125) in those three frames … the Irish have not outscored the opponent by more than 10 runs in any other inning (1st, 3rd, 5th, 8th) while being outscored in only the 7th (31-36) and the 9th (11-17).
FROSH FORCE – Freshman LHP Tom Thornton takes a 1.84 ERA into the NCAAs that would rank as one of the best ever posted by an ND freshman (min. 40 IP) … only David Sinnes (1.05; ’90, 2nd in nation), Aaron Heilman (1.61; ’98, led nation) and A.J. Jones (1.79; ’93) have posted better ERAs as a freshman at Notre Dame.
WHIP IT GOOD – Senior setup man Brandon Viloria leads the ND staff with an 8.6 “WHIP” ratio (walks and hits per nine innings) … sophomore Chris Niesel (9.5) and freshman Ryan Doherty (9.6) also are averaging under 10 runners allowed on base via walks or hits.
DOWN IN THE ZONE – Former ND All-American Aaron Heilman was the master at shutting down opponent with strikeouts and routine groundballs, averaging well over 20 outs per game via Ks or GOs …senior Ryan Kalita leads the current Irish staff in Ks/GOs per 9 IP (20.2), followed by freshman Ryan Doherty (20.1), seniors Matt Laird (20.2) and J.P. Gagne (18.9) and sophomore Chris Niesel (18.1).
PITCHING IN THE CLUTCH – Several ND pitchers have allowed lower opponent batting averages with runners on base this season (as compared to overall), most notably seniors Brandon Viloria (.152 with runners/.218 overall) and sophomores Chris Niesel (.217/.233) and John Axford (.238/.245).
DO NOT PASS FIRST – Freshman RHP Ryan Doherty leads the staff with the lowest opponent slugging pct. (.233), allowing 16 singles, one double, no triples and one home run in 86 at-bats … other top opponent slugging pct.’s belong to senior bullpen aces Brandon Viloria (.295) and J.P. Gagne (.295), sophomore Chris Niesel (.303) and freshman LHP Tom Thornton (.343).
CLOSING THE DOOR – Several Irish pitchers also have excelled at getting the third out, with lower 2-out opponent batting average than overall … those pitchers include freshmen Ryan Doherty (.185 with 2 outs/.209 overall; difference of 24 pts) and Tom Thornton (.232/.268, diff. of 36), sophomore Chris Niesel (.207/.233) and senior Ryan Kalita (.211/.247).
SHUTTING ‘EM DOWN – Two leaders of the ND bullpen – who form an interesting contrast visually and age-wise, in 6-foot senior J.P. Gagne and 7-foot-1 freshman Ryan Doherty – both are riding noteworthy streaks without allowing an unearned run … Gagne just saw his streak of not allowing an earned run end at 10 outings and 25.0 innings (in the BIG EAST Tournament opener vs. WVU, when Gagne made a rare start), with that stretch including 16 hits and 4 walks allowed, plus 20 Ks and 5 unearned runs in that span (dating back to the April 17 Pittsburgh doubleheader) … Doherty’s streak is more impressive as it dates back to the season opener when first-game jitters and a tight strike zone led to a forgettable debut for the big RHP (0.2 IP, 4 H in 5 AB, 5 R, 2 BB) … since that game, Doherty has not allowed an earned run (3 UER) in 13 appearances and 22.2 innings, with a .173 opponent batting average (14-for-81) and an 8-to-1 K-to-walk ratio in that stretch (40/5) … his ERA stood at 67.50 after the opener vs. Dayton but now has dropped all the way to 1.93.
TRIPLE TRIPLES – Three ND players – freshman LF Brennan Grogan, junior 2B Steve Sollmann and junior SS Matt Macri – each have legged out five triples this season … no ND team ever has produced three players with six-plus triples in the same season … Robbie Kent (9) and Sollmann’s brother Scott (7) made the sprint to third a combined 16 times in 1994 while Sollmann (6) and George Restovich (9) combined for 15 three-baggers in 1996 … J.J. Brock (8) and Randall Brooks (7) had their own high triple totals in 1997.
LONG BALL LONGING – Notre Dame posted 40 wins in the 2003 regular season (just one shy of the 2002 regular-season total) despite hitting only 28 home runs (compared to 41 in the ’02 regular season) … the Irish traditionally have received clutch home runs in the postseason and will be looking for more of the same this week, with junior 3B/1B Matt Edwards representing the only player with more than five HRs … senior OF Kris Billmaier is the only ND player with a multiple-HR game this season, doing so vs. Newman in the second game of the year … the Irish had gone seven games without a home run before collecting five in the final seven games of the ’03 regular season (plus two at the BIG EAST Tournament, for seven in the last 11 games).
MISTER CLUTCH – Junior 3B/1B Matt Edwards leads ND with a .379 overall batting avg. but his numbers are even higher with men in scoring position (.437, a full 58 pts higher) … Edwards has totaled 24 two-out RBI, well ahead of the total of the next ND player (Cody Rizzo, with 16) … as a team, ND is batting 12 points higher with RBI chances (.318) and another batter from the top of the lineup has joined Edwards by boosting his batting with runners on 2nd or 3rd: freshman LF Brennan Grogan (.379, 67 pts above overall avg.) … freshman DH Matt Bransfield (.379, .308 overall) also has been tough with 2 outs but the Irish as a team are batting 20 points lower with 2 outs (.286) … one other measure of clutch batting is producing an RBI with a runner on third and less than two outs … ND has delivered the RBI in those situations 66% of the time, led by Edwards (27-of-35, 77%) freshman RF Cody Rizzo (13-of-17, 77%), junior C Javi Sanchez (12-of-14, 86%) and junior 2B Sollmann (12-of-14, 86%).
RARE BREED – Notre Dame’s 2003 pitching staff includes the unique commodity of senior J.P. Gagne, whose 92 career appearances span 34 starts, 58 relief outings, 25 wins and 18 saves … Gagne this season joined former greats Chris Michalak (34-13, 12 SV) and Aaron Heilman (43-17, 12 SV) as the only ND pitchers ever to post 20-plus wins and 10-plus saves … Gagne is the fourth ND pitcher in the last 10 years to reach 25 wins, with the others including Heilman, Darin Schmalz (30-13, ’94-’97) and Alex Shilliday (25-17, ’96-’99).
TALE OF THREE NUMBERS – Freshman DH Steve Andres ranks 11th among ND’s regulars in season batting average (.258) but still has made a significant impact on the 2003 season, thanks to a .452 slugging pct. and .410 on-base pct. (both 4th-best on the team).
SLUMP BUSTER? – Sophomore RHP John Axford was cruising along in mid-April with a 9-0 record and a 2.21 ERA but the hard-throwing RHP closed the regular season with three subpar outings, followed by a rough relief stint in the BIG EAST Tournament … Axford has posted a 17.10 ERA in his last four outings while losing all three of those starts (vs. WVU, RU and VT), with 17 hits allowed and 18 walks in 10 IP (10 Ks).
BET NOTES – Since joining the BIG EAST concurrently prior to the 1996 season, Notre Dame (140-49, .741) and Rutgers (136-60, .694) have ranked as the winningest teams in BIG EAST regular-season play … ND and RU are the only teams to qualify for each of the last eight BIG EAST Championships, followed by Seton Hall (5), West Virginia (5), St. John’s (4), Providence (3), Virginia Tech (3), Boston College (2), Villanova (2), Pittsburgh (1) and Connecticut (1) … the last eight seasons have seen ND earn the top seed four times (’97, ’99, ’01, ’02) while RU has earned that distinction in 1998, 2000 and ’03 (Villanova was the top seed in ’96) … the BIG EAST baseball championships have seen the top seed claim the title just five times: Seton Hall in 1987 and ’90, Rutgers in ’98 and 2000 and ND in 2002 … 2002 marked just the third time in the 18-year history of the BIG EAST baseball championship – and the first since 1992 – that a team (ND) had repeated as the top seed (also Seton Hall in ’89 and ’90 and St. John’s in ’91 and ’92).
ALWAYS NEAR THE TOP – ND has finished near the top of the BIG EAST regular-season standings or in the postseason tournament during each of its nine seasons in the conference … in 1996, the Irish played their way into the tournament on the last weekend before extending West Virginia to a winner-take-all title game … in ’97, ND posted the best winning pct. in the conference but lost twice to upstart Villanova in the postseason … in ’98, the Irish finished second to Rutgers in both the regular-season standings and the title game … in ’99, ND became the first BIG EAST team ever to win more than 18 conference games (20-5) en route to the regular-season title before finishing 18-7 and tied for second in 2000 (ND went 1-2 in the ’99 and 2000 BETs), followed by first-place regular-season finishes in 2001 (22- 4) and ’02 (18-8) and the 2002 and 2003 tournament titles.
Record Book Watch -Several Notre Dame individual and team records are within reach … here are some career and season record-book updates:
Junior 2B Steve Sollmann
- 88 hits, needs one more to crack ND season top-10 list.
- 64 runs, needs six for that top-10 list … also has scored 169 career runs (needs five to crack ND top-10)
- 33 stolen bases rank 4th on ND season charts, behind his brother Scott (52 in ’96), Pat Pesavento and (38 in ’88 and ’89) … already 6th in ND history with 62 SBs, six back of Dan Bautch (’90-’92)
- .365 career batting avg. would rank 8th in ND history, behind his brother’s .372 (4th)
- His 11 career triples are one shy of ND top-10 (three back of 3rd)
- 6th in career fielding assists (489), just four behind Craig Counsell (’92)
Freshman CF Brennan Grogan
- 12 sacrifice bunts rank 9th (two shy of ND record held by three players)
Sophomore 3B/1B Matt Edwards
- His .367 career batting avg. would rank 7th in ND history.
- 64 RBI, needs five for ND top-10 (last ND player with 70-plus RBI was Mike Amrhein’s 71 in 1997)
Freshman DH/OF Cody Rizzo
- His 26 times hit-by-pitch already has shattered ND record (15 by Eric Danapilis, ’93; also tied for 11th in NCAA single-season history) and stands 7th on career HBP list.
Senior RHP J.P. Gagne
- 28 appearances rank 4th on ND season list, two back of 4th … his 92 career appearances are tied with Chris Michalak’s ND record (’90-’93)
- His 296.2 career innings rank 8th in ND history, could become 6th with 300-plus IP
- Tied for 8th on career wins list (25-15)
- Already has set ND single-season save record (12) while his 18 career saves are two shy of John Corbin’s record (20; ’97-’00).
- 9th on ND career strikeouts list (205), one back of Tom Bujnowski (’52, ’56-’57)
- His career walk avg. of 2.52 BB per 9 IP is just outside the ND career top 10 (2.48)
Sophomore RHP John Axford
- Needs one more win to become 14th ND pitcher with double-digit Ws in a season (9-3), after becoming 6th ND pitcher ever to start a season at least 9-0.
- Posted 13 consecutive winning decisions spanning the ’02 -’03 seasons (5th-best in ND history and 2nd-best in 75 years)
Sophomore RHP Chris Niesel
- Needs one more win to become 14th ND pitcher with double-digit Ws in a season (9-1), after becoming 6th ND pitchers ever to start a season at least 9-0.
- His 82 Ks are nine shy of the ND season top 10
- His season walk average of 1.49/9 IP would rank 6th … his 1.83 career walk avg. is 3rd
- 5.5 season K-to-walk ratio would rank 5th … his 4.36 career K-to-BB ratio (144/33) is ahead of Alan Walania’s ND record (4.00)
- His 2.99 career ERA is just outside the ND top 10 (2.93).
- Next start would be his 15th of ’03 (just 10 previous ND pitchers have made 15 starts, including six with 16-plus).
Senior RHP Ryan Kalita
- 13-1 career record, needs two more decisions to qualify for career win pct. list.
Senior RHP Brandon Viloria
- 2.61 career ERA would rank 5th in ND history (min. 60 IP) and 3rd-best since 1961.
- His career walk avg. of 1.63 BB per 9 IP is just below the standing ND record (1.64, by Alan Walania).
- His 1.64 season walk ratio ranks 11th.
- 8th on ND career saves list (7).
- .218 opponent batting avg. would rank 8th in ND season record book.
- 3.51 staff ERA is 2nd-best at ND since 1994 (3.22 in 2001)
- .971 fielding pct. ahead of ND record .965 (’82, ’92, ’00)
- 71 times hit-by-pitch ranks 2nd in ND history (75 in ’93)
- 17 saves one shy of matching team record (’02)
- 452 strikeouts thrown rank 5th in ND history, just behind the 2000 (454) and 1998 (456) totals
- .248 opponent batting average is best since 1992 (.239)
- Pitchers’ 2.26 K-to-walk ratio ranks 4th