May 28, 2004

Box Score

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – The steamroller that has become the Notre Dame baseball season rolled on Friday afternoon as the 7th-ranked Irish posted a 9-2 win over St. John’s in the BIG EAST Tournament winners-bracket game, giving Notre Dame wins in 15 of their last 16 games while extending the team’s record to 48-10.

With the NCAA regionals just around the corner, all the ingredients are in place to give the Irish a fighting chance at more postseason glory. Solid and – more often than not – dominant outings from the starting pitchers. A dependale bullpen that is backed by one of the nation’s top closers. A versatile offensive unit that can erupt for early runs or stage a late rally, with any player from 1-9 capable of being the day’s hero. And a stellar group of defensive infielders who can make the tough plays look routine but are not shy about turning in big-league plays.

The Irish now turn their sights to Saturday’s championship round, with a 3:30 EDT matchup set for Commerce Bank Ballpark versus Boston College. The Eagles (who beat SJU, 6-4, in Friday night’s elimination game) must beat ND twice to claim the league’s automatic NCAA bid while Notre Dame needs just one more win to become the first team ever to win three straight BIG EAST titles.

Notre Dame will send sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton to the mound while BC was expected to throw sophomore righthander Joe Martinez.

Sophomores Matt Bransfield (RBI, R, 3B), Steve Andres (2 RBI, R, 3B, 2 2B, BB) and Greg Lopez each had three hits to lead a 14-hit attack from their respective 3rd, 5th and 9th spots in the batting order while junior righthander Chris Niesel improved to 8-2 for the season and 21-3 in his career.

Junior first baseman Matt Edwards – who stroked the game-ending single to beat BC on Thursday – continued to swing a hot bat, hitting 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI, 2 runs scored, a walk and his 10th home run of the season.

Niesel avoided the big inning while scattering nine hits and two walks over 7.1 innings. He struck out just two batters but also collected 11 outs via groundballs (including three double plays) while locating 64 of his 100 pitches for strikes. Five of Niesel’s seven leadoff batters reached base but he then allowed just 2-for-18 batting with runners on base and 1-for-8 with 2 outs.

Notre Dame had struggled with early offense for much of the season but the Irish now have scored 1st-inning runs during nine of the last 12 games, including two runs to open the matchup with SJU. Junior third baseman Matt Macri had hit a leadoff single and stole second before being thrown out trying to steal third with one out. But Bransfield came through on a 1-2 count, poking a single into right-center, and the inning extended when third baseman Jim Martin threw errantly on Javi Sanchez’s groundball.

Andres then came through with his own 1-2 hit, driving a double into the right-center gap to plate a pair of unearned runs.

Notre Dame came right back in the 2nd (its most dominant inning each of the past two seasons), using three hits, a walk and another error to plate three more runs. Edwards led off with his trademark deceptive long-ball swing, connecting on a 2-0 pitch that kept sailing over the leftfield fence for his 10th home run of the season (giving ND three double-digit home run hitters for the first time since 1998).

Sophomore centerfielder Cody Rizzo then drew a full-cout walk (just his third BB of the season) before Lopez delivered another two-strike hit, sending a 2-2 pitch into right field and taking an extra base when the rightfielder overran the ball. That ended the day for Delaney (3-1) and brought on Matt Tosoni, the freshman lefthander who had beaten the Irish earlier this season in a starting role.

Macri plated Rizzo with a rightside groundout but Tosoni then threw out Lopez on a ball hit back to the mound. But Bransfield produced another run and nearly left the park, driving a 1-1 pitch that hit high off the wall in left-center.

Andres pulled a pitch down the rightfield line for a leadoff double in the 5th before coming around to score on Craig Cooper’s sacrifice bunt and Edwards’ linedrive that glanced off Tosoni in a scary moment. Tosoni, like former ND pitcher Ryan Kalita in the 2002 BIG EAST Tournament, was able to return to the mound and logged a solid 6.1 innings (6 H, 2 R/1 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks).

Edwards continued his stellar two years of play at the BIG EAST Tournament with a leadoff walk in the 8th before moving up on Lopez’s one-out single to left (on an 0-2 pitch). A smash off the bat of Macri was ruled an error on veteran shortstop Mike Rozema, ending the day for Tosoni and bringing another freshman out of the bullpen in righthander Anthony Sullivan. Senior second baseman Steve Sollmann then showed his classic plate discipline by coaxing a full-count walk, bringing Edwards home for a 7-1 lead.

The Irish capped the scoring with two in the top of the 9th, sparked by Andres’ first-pitch triple that nearly cleared the wall in right-center. Cooper then delivered yet another two-strike hit with a single into left (1-2 count), Edwards was hit by a 3-1 pitch, Lopez sent a two-out single to right and Macri flied out to right for a sacrifice fly.

Notes and quotes follow below the linescore:

#7 Notre Dame 2-3-0 0-1-0 0-1-2 – 9 14 2

St. John’s 0-0-0 0-0-1 0-1-0 – 2 11 4

Chris Niesel (W, 8-2), Joe Thaman (8), Ryan Doherty (9) and Javi Sanchez.

Robert Delaney (L, 3-1), Matt Tosoni (2), Anthony Sullivan (8) and Joe Burke.

Home Run: Matt Edwards, ND (solo in 2nd, 10th of season).

Triples: Matt Bransfield (ND), Steve Andres (ND).

Doubles: Andres 2 (ND), Joe Martin (SJU), Burke (SJU).

Steve Andres Quotes: “The at-bat before the triple I had just misssed it. I got under both of them just a bit but I was surprised it went that far. I’ll take the triple. I was seeing the ball a lot better. I felt like I was in a groove and I’ve adjusted to sit on the offspeed pitches. It has helped me to get the base hits, you’ve just got to adjust and be patient. You don’t feel like you have all the pressure on this team because there’s a guy behind you who will get the job done. It’s really nice to have all those guys who can hit the ball. I didn’t worry too much about the BIG EAST awards. I’m more happy that we’re here and in the championship game.”

Matt Bransfield quotes: “What we are trying to do is a team thing and make it as far as we can get. You have to put aside selfish things like awards and those are distracting things. I thought that triple might have been out, I was just running around the bases hard. I’ve just been battling, adjusting to being a three-hole hitter. I’m going to see their best and you have to sit on curveballs and adjust. We adjusted (to Tosoni) a little bit. We were kind of embarassed the first time when we faced him. We just needed to adjust and get hits off him.”

Matt Ewards Quotes: “I was really feeling good in batting practice. It was a good pitch to hit on a 2-0 count. I kind of like that lefty too, it’s just a whole different approach. For some reason, I feel good when I come to this field. Right now I’m right in the middle of getting in a groove at the plate.”

Chris Niesel Quotes: “I really had to battle today. I threw some great pitches but they put the bat on the ball and were tough to stike out. I try not to get too frustrated but there were some pitches that were really close that were called balls, but that happens and you have to adjust. This whole week, I worked on keeping the ball down and that’s why I got some groundball outs that were huge for our team. We’ve put ourself in a great position for the final day and aved our bullpen these last two games.”

Notre Dame Baseball Postgame Notes – vs. St. John’s (second round, BIG EAST Tournament; May 28, 2004)

* Notre Dame has won 15 of its last 16 games this season and now is 8-2 in its last 10 games at the BIG EAST Tournament, after going just 12-12 in its first six trips to the championship.

* The Irish will be looking to win an unprecedented third straight BIG EAST Championship title (no team has accomplished the feat in 19 previous BIG EAST tournaments) and could become the first BIG EAST champion to go through the tournament undefeated since Seton Hall did it in 2001 (also done seven other times, by SHU in 1987, Villanova in ’89, UConn in ’90, St. John’s in ’93 and ’97, Providence in ’99 and Rutgers in ’00).

* With three 2nd-inning runs today, the Irish extended their season domination of the inning to 55-10.

* Just two previous ND teams have won more games than the 2004 squad (48-10): the 2002 College World Series team (50-18) and the top-ranked 2001 squad (49-13-1) … the ’04 team’s current .828 win pct. would rank 4th-best in 112 seasons of Notre Dame baseball team and best since the 1910 team went 19-3 (.864).

* Junior RHP Chris Niesel (21-3) boosted his career win pct. to .875, still 2nd in the ND record book behind Herb Kelly’s .917 (22-2) during the 1912-14 seasons.

* Sophomore DH Matt Bransfield – who ranked among the BIG EAST power leaders all season – was left off the all-BIG EAST teams despite leading the league in RBI (only three of the league’s 26 previous RBI leaders/co-leaders have not been named all-BIG EAST, with each of those coming from 1985-93 when there was only one team named) … Bransfield went 3-for-5 from the 3-hole vs. SJU, with an early RBI single, a triple and run scored.

* The Irish now have scored in the 1st inning in 9 of the last 12 games.

* Notre Dame has three double-digit home run hitters – the “three Matt’s” (Macri with 12, Bransfield with 11, Edwards with 10) – for the first time since 1998 (prior to the change in bat restrictions that led to a nationwide dropoff in HRs) … ND’s top 1998 HR hitters included Brant Ust (18), Jeff Wagner (14) and J.J. Brock (13).

* Matt Macri’s stolen base today makes him the first ND player in the 10-year Mainieri era to post 12-plus home runs while also swiping a dozen bases or more in the same season (he has 12 of each).

* Sophomore SS Greg Lopez’s error was his first in 17 games and 81 fielding chances while his double-play partner Steve Sollmann made just his second error of the season.

* The Irish won by 5-plus runs for the 25th time this season.

* The Irish improved to 29-2 this season when scoring 7-plus runs, 31-1 when holding the opponent to 0-3 runs, 38-3 when outhitting the opponent and 25-3 when issuing 0-2 walks.

* Junior LF Steve Andres drew his team-leading 40th walk of the season while batting 3-for-5 from the 5-hole, with a triple, a pair of doubles, 2 RBI and a run scored.

* Notre Dame now is 26-5 in all games away from home this season.

* The Irish are 31-4 this season with Steve Sollmann in the lineup (15-6 when he was out due to injury).

* Today’s game marked ND’s 34th of the season with double-digit hits.

* The Irish batters now are one hit-by-pitch shy of 100 for the season.

* The 2nd-longest scoring streak in ND history now stands at 144 games (373 of 374).

* The Irish now are 192-59-1 during the past four seasons.

* Junior 3B Matt Macri logged his 49th error-free game of the season.

* ND’s 58 home runs are nearly double the 2003 team’s total (31).